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There is something strangely compelling about Chris Griffith’s now infamous comments about his salary and perks – published in Business Day last week.

Remember these are the words of the CEO of Amplats, the biggest platinum company in the world. It cannot have escaped your notice that a bitter and grinding strike throughout the South African platinum sector is entering its 17th week. The Business Day story about the comments also refers to the 2013 Amplats annual report that mentions Mr Griffiths was paid R17.6m, of which R6.7m was a basic salary, for that year.

I have put the following quotes from Chris Griffith in the order in which they appear in the story but they did not necessarily flow together like this in the original interview:

If this debate is around the comparison of CEO pay and somebody else, then we’re completely missing the point. There is a greater supply of lower-skilled people … What the unions are doing is putting more people out on the street … Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth.

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

I wish to apologise to the employees of Anglo American Platinum and the readership for comments I made in a Business Day article on Wednesday … My choice of words was inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

But the truth of the matter is that Griffith’s original comments are clearly what the company believes because this is what it does. Everything else is public relations and spin.

At the AGM of a listed company shareholders vote approval or otherwise of executive remuneration. So in one way or another the actual owners of this company are happy to pay Griffith’s fee. The company either believes he is worth that (and they pay him for it) or they do not believe he is worth it (and they pay him less … and perhaps he doesn’t accept the job.)

This might feel monstrous and unfair to you and me – especially when we read of the hardship experienced by the workers on those mines and the sacrifices they seem prepared to make to improve their lot. But in the world in which these hugely powerful companies operate, supply and demand is the basic mechanism that determines the price of everything.

I don’t like euphemisms – it is (almost) always better to see the snarling teeth of the beast rather than to be beguiled by its fake smile.

The whole exchange reminds me of a P. J. O’Rourke essay I read several years ago.

He’s talking about bigotry in apartheid South Africa (and be warned he uses language often considered to be rude or impolite*):

Everywhere you go in the world somebody’s raping women, expelling the ethnic Chinese, enslaving stone-age tribesmen, shooting communists, rounding up Jews, kidnapping Americans, settling fire to Sikhs, keeping Catholics out of the country clubs and hunting peasants from helicopters with automatic weapons. The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The problem with South Africans is they admit it. They don’t say, like the French, “Algerians have a legal right to live in the sixteenth arrondissement, but they can’t afford to.” They don’t say, like the Israelis, “Arabs have a legal right to live in West Jerusalem, but they’re afraid to.” They don’t say, like the Americans, “Indians have a legal right to live in Ohio, but oops, we killed them all.” The South Africans just say, “Fuck you.” I believe it’s right there in their constitution: “Article IV: Fuck you. We’re bigots.” We hate them for this. And we’re going to hold indignant demonstrations…until the South Africans learn to stand up and lie like white men.

That’s P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays In Hell,  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. It’s very, very funny – albeit irritatingly smug and right-wing. I have long since lost the book, but I found that quote here.

 

(Below anxiously added a few hours after initial publication.)

* And be further warned that he (O’Rourke) is sneakily winking at apartheid … weellll, at least they** don’t lie about it! 

** And be even further warned that he talked about “South Africans” in 1988 as if the term referred elusively exclusively to white South Africans who supported apartheid.

(Lawdy, enough already! Just leave it alone, the damage is done – Ed.)

(… and finally, despite Ed’s protestations, and after having glanced over this several weeks after publishing it: PJO also failed to understand the systemic and systematic nature of apartheid …. ‘hunting peasants from helicopters’ is an outrage, but comparing that to ‘apartheid’, the specific historical system of government and social control for a whole country,  is a category error.)

 

 

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Herewith some of my latest news updates.

(Just as an aside before I start: I couldn’t help but smile at Richard Poplak’s seriously over-the-top take on the Nkandla report in Daily Maverick this morning: “But Madonsela has certainly nailed Zuma to history’s grimiest post—he will be forever remembered as a thief, a fool, and a Zulu man who was incapable of managing the affairs of his kraal … Jacob Zuma will not escape his fate as one of this country’s more reprehensible figures. And Nkandla will be the crown he wears as he slithers into historical ignominy” … anyone who reads this column probably realises that I am not overly enamoured of Jacob Zuma as our president, but Richard seems to think he is a sort of Vlad the Impaler in leopard skins, which I think is a metaphor too far.

… and while I am making asides did I just hear Gwede Mantashe throw Riah Phiyega under a bus for the fire pool/swimming pool confusion in the Presidential mansion? So she is going to take the fall for Nkandla and Marikana? Shem, as they say on Twitter.)

… anyway:

  • South Africa’s Public Protector ruled that President Jacob Zuma improperly used state funds to upgrade his Nkandla homestead and “failed to act in protection of state resources”.
  • The Public Protector said Mr Zuma’s behaviour amounted to misconduct, but that she couldn’t conclude that the president had misled parliament. He will have to repay some of the funds.
  • The report is negative for the ANC and will cost it votes in the May general election.
  •  Trevor Manuel’s exit from parliament has not been quite as smooth and painless as it first appeared. He will end up as a public critic of the ANC, but not, as yet, in an opposition party.
  • A thickening seam of discontent and activism opposed to growing government intervention in the economy is beginning to reveal itself in the South African financial press.
Zuma deemed guilty of misconduct, but not of misleading parliament

After a 28-month investigation, South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced that President Jacob Zuma and his family had improperly benefited from upgrades to his private Nkandla home worth around ZAR 246mn. “Expenditure on Nkandla was excessive,” Ms Madonsela said and involved the “misappropriation of funds”.

Ms Madonsela said President Zuma knew of the scale of the Nkandla project and “failed to act in protection of state resources”, allowing extensive upgrades beyond security. She explicitly said Mr Zuma’s failure to protect the state’s interests during this saga amounted to “misconduct”, that his failure to protect state resources was a “violation” (of what we are not exactly sure yet) and that his conduct had been inconsistent with the constitution. However, she said that he did not wilfully mislead parliament on the matter. That would have been a criminal offence.

Mr Zuma will now have to respond to these findings to parliament within 14 days and repay some of the misappropriated funds. It doesn’t look like anyone will go to prison or be forced to resign and the actual practicalities of the crisis are not desperately serious for the ANC and President Zuma (or rather not in a new way … they were already quite serious in terms of general respect for the integrity of the President.)

So what?

Ms Madonsela recently described the function of the Public Protector as being to “curb excesses in the exercise of state power and control over state resources”. However, there is some confusion as to the status of her rulings and consequent recommendations to the president for remedial action.

Getting President Zuma to take remedial action against himself for the misuse of public money would seem like something of a non-starter. Already, ex-police chief Bheki Cele, former minister Dina Pule and Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson – all of whom had adverse findings against them by Ms Madonsela – have found their way onto the ANC’s election list.

Still, this is very much a negative for the African National Congress (ANC) – even more so than the general public expected, though probably not more than the ANC expected. The party knew the report was going to be damaging and has been stiffening its spine for some time, weighing up the costs of attacking Ms Madonsela – an illegal act – or taking it on the chin.

The party will lose votes as a result of this, but we think it was losing votes anyway because of Mr Zuma’s general probity (please see our most recent rough guide overleaf for an idea of how we think support is shaping up). Mr Zuma’s position in the ANC will be weakened (but remember he is strong in the sense that he controls the majority of powerful ANC structures).

Still, the brand value of the ANC is being damaged and this is likely to trigger a self-correcting mechanism. While the changes are still 40-60 against, we think a rescue mission by the party’s ‘old guard’ is now more likely  and that it might successfully mange to shift Mr Zuma aside by around 2016 (a sufficiently strong group just needs to emerge that can cut him a deal with proper guarantees). Obviously the worse the ANC does at the polls, the more the under performance is ascribed to the character and probity of the president … the more likely it is that such a group emerges and coheres to a degree that it is able to offer any enforceable guarantees.

votelates

Trevor Manuel: Concealed weapons

Last week, warm tributes were paid to former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel as he took his leave of parliament and it appeared that his sometimes fractious relationship with his party and cabinet colleagues would, for once, be smoothed over. However, in a high-profile Sunday Times interview, he proceeded to warn that “attacks on public bodies, such as the Public Protector and the courts, would weaken these institutions — and that democracy would then battle to survive”. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mathanshe responded sharply to Mr Manuel, saying: “We do not attack the public Protector, but criticise her where we feel we should … Trevor refuses to participate in the activities of the ANC NEC, and if you refuse such, you want to be a free agent.”

So what?

Trevor Manuel has been something of a ‘market darling’ and (according to himself and in his own words) the rand “fell out of bed” when the news broke that he had resigned after Thabo Mbeki had been recalled on 22 September 2008 (The Zuma Years, Richard Calland, August 2013, Zebra Press … read it, it really is quite good!!). There is no love lost between the country’s longest-serving finance minister and architect of the National Development Plan (NDP) and the incumbent leadership of his party.

In a coded farewell speech in parliament, he quoted a seemingly benign passage from a work by historian Tony Judt: “For thirty years, we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.” There were knowing nods all around, but Mr Manuel usefully forgot to mention the title of the book he was quoting, Ill Fares the Land. We expect Mr Manuel to emerge as a critic of the ANC in its present form, although he is unlikely to join any of the existing opposition parties.

Mr Manuel was also interviewed by the Business Times, in which he criticised the short-sighted way in which some trade unions were approaching negotiations, saying it has sparked a “race to the bottom”. He accused National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) General Secretary Irvin Jim, who has constantly attacked the NDP, of “speaking a lot of rubbish”.

Mining companies told to “get off their knees” and stop sucking up to government

Tension in the mining sector under the twin pressures of serious labour instability and increasing government regulatory pressure is causing unusual fractures and pressures, according to Business Day and the Sunday Times, provoking something of a growing campaign of activism in some sectors of the ‘private-sector intelligentsia’, for want of a better term. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the tension (it gets complicated, but stick with it):

  • Eight weeks ago, a respected Chamber of Mines negotiator in the platinum strike (now in its eighth week), Elize Strydom, said Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) mediators in negotiations between employers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) had ”showed an absolute lack of economic acumen” by suggesting companies meet the AMCU’s wage demands “half way”. The mediators had suggested they accept a rise of 25-30% for entry-level miners with basic pay of ZAR 5,700 (the AMCU had demanded ZAR 12,500 a month, a rise of 120%, the companies had offered 8.5%).
  • Ms Strydom (and the Chamber) were immediately attacked by the CCMA and accused of ‘‘white-anting” the mediation process. The CCMA insisted the Chamber either apologise or endorse Ms Strydom’s comments. If the Chamber did endorse Ms Strydom, in the words of the CCMA, it would indicate that the Chamber clearly had “no faith in the institution that is made available by the state and which is accepted by all social partners in other economic sectors”.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce says in his Thick End of the Wedge column this week: “But the mines did nothing. Until, that is, they flung themselves into the arms of the state and savaged Strydom for what she had said … A depressing scene.” Mr Bruce’s comments, bitterly critical of the Chamber and the mining firms, underpin Rob Rose’s column in the Sunday Times, in which he says: “So, when some maverick breaks the conspiracy of silence, it’s no surprise that there’s a hullabaloo of outrage. Spin doctors reel blindly … the gutless Chamber of Mines, and the even more enfeebled legion of platinum CEOs [fail to take a stand]. Now, this is why this issue is so important: the platinum industry is on a precipice. Workers have been on strike since January 23 and the mines have lost billions in revenue and even more in terms of international investment goodwill.”
  • Also in the Sunday Times, a report on the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) amendment bill says “the ANC rushed through controversial changes … that opposition parties feel will create further uncertainty in the mining sector.” The article notes that the new regulations will give government the right to a free stake of up to 20% in any new oil and gas projects, with a right to acquire the rest at an “agreed price”. The story quotes the Democratic Alliance’s James Lorimer as saying that only “cronies, comrades and cousins” would benefit from the bill, which he said would “severely damage” the industry. Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said critics were resisting change and transformation, “representing white minority interests” and “wanting to sell the country’s natural resources to the highest foreign bidder”.

So what?

The Chamber of Mines said that “while further work is required on developing the regulations that will help give effect to the MPRDA Amendment Act, the chamber is firmly of the view that through this problem solving process, greater regulatory certainty is emerging for the mining sector.” Obviously, for the Chamber and the companies engaged in negotiating the details of legislation and regulation with government, or engaged in the constitutionally created structures of the labour market, there is no upside in attacking the government or the institutional framework. Equally obviously, key sections of the financial press disagree and are essentially sounding a call to arms and arguing that the growing institutional, regulatory and legislative hostility to the private sector is becoming a crisis.

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.

The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles – on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.

Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?

When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.

But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technolog(who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.

My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.

Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.

I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book.  Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).

However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.

(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)

So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.

Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.

This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.

Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.

Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.

I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.

Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.

Once a week I take my mother to an audio book library.

My car radio only picks up SAFM and because the dreary worthiness of our national broadcaster occasionally tempts me into driving my car off a cliff, I sometimes pick something out for myself.

I have recently finished listening to (over and over again – at least eight times in a row) “About the Size Of It – the Common Sense Approach to Measuring Things” by Warwick Cairns.

Aside from being a charming, old-school, discourse on how our bodies and what we do with them have determined the various measuring systems humans have adopted, the book hints, to my mind, at deeper philosophical insights into the nature of society and history … and, ultimately, our evolving humanity.

The flow of “About The Size Of It” traces the use of feet, hands and thumbs in determining the measures that humans have used throughout Europe and Asia – right back to the builders of Stonehenge who appear to have used a “megalithic foot” as the basic unit of construction – i.e. one about as long as a man’s foot wrapped in a leather slipper, as opposed to the later “foot” of European and US measurement which is about as long as a workman’s boot.

Warwick Cairns sounds like an amiable old duffer – which is not entirely due to the fact that my consumption of the text was via the reading by clearly ‘amiable old duffer’ Christian Rodska. But you will see below that if anything Cairns looks like a young and clever Hobbit.

The charm of the book lies in its gentle admonishment of endless attempts to impose measuring systems (especially the metric system) on humans who inevitably revert back to methods and units that suit them and that are practically based on hands, feet, thumbs, how far we – and our horse or ox –  can plough in one day, the amount of liquid we can comfortably drink (or hold in our bladders) and the weight of small rocks we can easily hold in each hand and compare.

The “deeper” implications of the book are revealed in a quaint cascading explanation that I had actually come across before in one of those awful “Isn’t this Amazing – PASS IT ON!!!” emails.

It goes something like this: the size of the rocket boosters on the space-shuttle are ultimately determined by the width of two horses’ backsides. The sweet – but I suspect not entirely accurate – explanation consists of describing the link between the rail system that carries the boosters, the carriage axle-makers who made the first axles for locomotives, the fact that their machinery was set up for horse carriages and that carriage tracks throughout Europe and the USA were precisely the width of two horses side-by-side … because that is the optimal configuration for drawing a carriage.

I am less interested in the accuracy of this illustrative example than I am in the idea that the structure and technology of our society – the momentum and trajectory of the complex system of human history – might be shaped by basic and natural limitations and potentials.

Jared Diamond’s 1997 “Guns, Germs and Steel – a short history of everybody for the last 13000 years” explores this matter more directly, although in a more difficult and in-depth way.

Diamond’s book deserves a full review of it’s own – it is a complex and extremely wide ranging explanation of why societies throughout the world had differential success – particularly competitively. He explores how climate and geography – down to the detail of which plants and animals where available for domestication – and how, for example, advantages get locked in through early urbanisation leading to the spread, and therefore growing immunity, to certain diseases – which in turn has led to the domination of some societies over others.

Both these books explore how our society and history is rooted in our nature and the nature of the physical world – and also how the momentum of our society and history resists change.

For me what is interesting is how our technologies are pushing at the boundary of the limitations imposed by our physical and natural being and by the complex ordering of our societies’ development – holding out the promise and threat that these might no longer determine what we could become.

Tokyo comes out to defend Julius Malema in the disciplinary hearing?

To be followed by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni?

It is an almost too perfect reversal of Julius Malema’s own metaphor after his victory at the Eastern Cape provincial conference of the ANC Youth League in August 2010:

“We will never surrender to Blade. He has never been a member and has no understanding of …  the youth league … Their people have been receiving serious lashings in the youth league conferences. As we said before, we will beat the dog (SACP) until the owner (Nzimande) comes out” … (a copy of The Herald editorial I took that from here.)

The boot, at the moment, seems to be on the other foot (or ” the stick is in the other hand” might have been better – ed.)

The “dog” that is now being beaten at the disciplinary hearing is Julius Malema himself and the owners that are revealing themselves are Tokyo Sexwale, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Tony Yengeni and friends.

And who is doing the beating? Why, the South African Communist Party and Blade Nzimande (as well as Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe and many – but by no means all – in the incumbent leadership of the ANC).

Last weekend, almost while the disciplinary hearing was sitting, SACP Secretary General Blade Nzimande said to  the SACP provincial congress in Esikhawini, near Richard’s Bay, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, that young people should be discouraged from participating in the ANC Youth League’s Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime marches and protests on the 27th and 28th of this month:

“Do not allow yourselves to be used by people with agendas that are not in your interest … We are not going to be supporting any march whose intention is malicious and to undermine the authority of the ANC and the government.”

Breaking ideological stereotypes and confusing the foreigners

Spare a thought for those of us whose job it is to explain to foreign investors why the communists are leading the fight against a youth movement calling for the nationalisation of mines, the expropriation of land without compensation and “Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime!”

I could, of course, have just sent them a few extracts from Fiona Forde’s An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New’ ANC (Picador Africa 2011).

Here she is, sitting outside a hotel in Caracas Venezuela chatting with a sulking Julius Malema on his way back to South Africa (from a conference of the World Federation of Democratic Youth taking place in downtown Caracas in April 2010)  to face his previous disciplinary hearing. She has been getting a lesson from Julius on the importance of matching the leather of his watch strap with his belt and his shoes.

Venezuela has never seen so many designer labels as it has these past 48 hours since the arrival of the South African young ones. They descended on the city with their expensive suitcases and travel bags, top-of-the-range baseball caps, flashy T-shirts, snazzy shoes and sneakers, sleek manbags and a string of other expensive accessories hanging out of them – and a bodyguard in tow – all dressed up for a socialist youth conference.

I have been wondering how they must appear in the eyes of the other youth who have flown in from all over the world, and who are also staying at the Avila. The three-star hotel is swarming with casually-dressed, young delegates and among them, to my mind at least, the South Africans seem to stand out a mile.

When we understand that these delegates are the very same people who have formulated the “Economic Freedom In Our Lifetime” slogan, the implacable opposition of the South African Communist Party to the campaign becomes  obvious.

The campaign is a classic attempt by a parasitic elite to manipulate those who are really poor and dispossessed so that these disenfranchised citizens become the battering ram and the lever through which that elite can capture even more resources and assets than it has already – through tender abuse and diversion of state resources into their own pockets.

So the dog is being beaten.

But we would be unwise not to think deeply and carefully about the nature and intentions of the owners that rush out to defend their animal.

A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.

This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.

The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.

Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.

What an excellent metaphor.

The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.

Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):

(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)

One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.

As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm  of the overall contest for power.

One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.

When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.

There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.

It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.

One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:

‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”

But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.

“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.

Winter is coming.

* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)

(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa,  ANC treasurer general and  previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC;  Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there);  Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.

And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as  Minister,  NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga – minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC;  Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)

Architects of Poverty
Architects of Poverty
Architects of Poverty by Moeletsi Mbeki (Picador Africa – Pan Macmillan 2009) R152 at Exclusive Books in the V&A Waterfront

…it was the Africans who caught the people in the interior and sold them to the owners of the ships that transported them to the Americas to be sold into slavery. So it was the Africans who needed the guns to protect themselves against the communities they raided for people to sell. (Preface; page x)

Moeletsi Mbeki’s new book is not a scholarly work. It is, instead, an angry tirade against “BEE and its subsidiaries – affirmative action and affirmative procurement”; and a warning that these policies are at the root of the de-industrialisation of the country.

The underlying metaphor for Mbeki is the slave trade with the high consuming black elite implicitly compared to the tribal chiefs who conspired with the slave traders to deliver the flower of Africa’s youth into the holds of the slave ship. Those who actually ran and directly benefited from the trade  – the slavers and plantation owners – become, in Mbeki’s analysis, the resource extraction industries, the dreaded “Minerals-Energy Complex”.

At the outset he makes it clear that his complaint is something more than a moral critique of the corruptions and conspicuous consumption of the new elite. The consequences for Mbeki of the system that has “BEE and its subsidiaries”; at its heart is the condemnation of the vast majority of South Africa’s people to poverty and marginalisation.

The two crucial players in Mbeki’s drama are, firstly,  the black upper middle class, which:

… dominates the country’s political life today but … plays next to no role in the ownership and control of the productive economy of South Africa; its key role is overseeing the redistribution of wealth towards consumption. It manages (or should that be mismanages?) a few state-owned enterprises inherited from the National Party era. (page 73)

The second set of crucial player are “the “oligarchs” – an unfortunately loose concept in Mbeki’s lexicon, referring to “big business” and foreign investors, specifically those involved in the extraction industry:

The South African economy is dominated by the extraction of minerals from the ground, processing them into metals through the use of electric power and chemicals and selling them to the rest of the world. Most of the assets of the economy are devoted to these activities, which also account for most of the country’s exports

The “oligarchs” are at the centre of the Minerals-Energy Complex web and represent the overwhelmingly dominant set of interests in determining key aspects of policy, according to Mbeki’s analysis.

Other groups and sets of interests: organised workers, peasants and farmers, manufacturing capital and the poor and unemployed are all losers in the division of spoils between the MEC and the black elite, who between them are the “architects of poverty”.

The precise mechanism through which the narrow self interests of the MEC and the black elite converge to the detriment of the country as a whole is through a system of what can best be described as bribes.

The primary object of the economic oligarchy during the Codesa II negotiations was to ensure the preservation of the MEC. The quid pro quo for representatives of the black upper middle class, the ANC politicians, who agreed to the preservation of the MEC was the creation of BEE.

Thus BEE is, at its heart, a bribe intended to pay off – and ensure the corruption of – the political elite, and to cause it to drop its demand for nationalisation of the mines. However there is a hidden quid pro quo as well that is at the heart of Mbeki’s fears. The MEC is, in Mbeki’s analysis, addicted to cheap labour. One of the ways to keep down the price of labour is to subsidise its reproduction by supplying it with cheap manufactured goods. According to Mbeki, beyond the preservation of the MEC “the emerging black political elite” also agreed to strip open South Africa to cheap Asian manufactured goods and thereby maintain the supply of cheap labour to the MEC.

The consequences of this bribe is the hollowing out of the South African manufacturing sector – and Mbeki’s explanation of why the ANC elite and the MEC excluded the domestic manufacturing sector from the Codesa II negotiations. Thus the BEE bribe is the direct cause of the de-industrialisation of South Africa.

The second level of the “bribe” is the payment of social grants to the poor. Increased public spending on welfare has increased, according to “the doubters” (the group to which Mbeki clearly belongs) not out of the goodness of ANC leaders hearts:

… it has been done to placate the poor so that they do not rebel and, most importantly, it has been done to buy the vote of the poor. (p84)

Mbeki argues that a country develops when it is able to harness the energies of its people and put them to productive use. (P85) But that the “resource curse” is allowing/causing South Africans to live off the fat of the land – and not as a result of their own work and ingenuity:

This is precisely the trap into which the ANC government has fallen. At least a quarter of the population receives social grants that would not be available if South Africa were not rich in minerals. Without mineral wealth to redistribute government would have to work harder and be more creative about finding solutions to unemployment and poverty. Resource wealth makes it possible for the government not to have to put an effort into redeveloping the economy to create more jobs.

There is a psychological injury entailed in the bribe of social grants:

Grants also add to and/or accentuate the humiliation that unemployed people feel about being dependent and unproductive and therefore unable to look after themselves and their families.

Moeletsi pushes his analytical luck – and helps to explain why he is under the hammer of  the Alliance at the moment – when he goes on to argue that the poor, in a futile effort to regain their self-respect:

… support demagogues who claim they, too, are marginalised and therefore want to replace the ruling elites with people-friendly governments. This, in a nutshell, is what happened at the ANC conference in December 2007, when delegates voted out their president and most of his cabinet.

It seems justified to challenge Mbeki and ask what alternative he would pose to Black Economic Empowerment. Given the racially skewed system of ownership and control inherited by the ANC government, was redistribution not an inevitable priority? Even if purely for the purposes of containing political risk? Some of Mbeki answers to similar questions from journalists and at conferences imply that redistribution is, in his opinion, in and of itself, a bad thing.

In fact, it strikes a fatal blow against the emergence of black entrepreneurship by creating a small class of unproductive but wealthy black crony capitalists made up of ANC politicians, some retired and others not, who have become strong allies of the economic oligarchy this is, ironically, the caretaker of South Africa’s deindustrialisation (61)

Architects of Poverty takes many digressions into broader African politics – especially exploring the failure of Zimbabwe and of various strategies for regional  integration, as well as the evils of dependency on donor aid. But Mbeki keeps circling back to his consuming theme:

With the advent of parliamentary democracy in 1994, South Africa’s real bourgeoisie, (i.e. the “oligarchs” – ed) through the process of Black Economic Empowerment …. created a new class from among the African National Congress (ANC) politicians. But it is a pseudo-bourgeoisie whose purpose is to act primarily as an interlocutor in the inner circles of the new political elite on behalf of the real bourgeoisie. Like the pseudo-states in sub-Saharan Africa, these pseudo-bourgeoisie are not a class of entrepreneurs. At best they are crony capitalists who are patronised by the economic oligarchy, just as Africa’s pseudo-states are patronised by Western powers through foreign aid. (p157)

Mbeki’s book is great as a moral critique of the excesses of the new South African elites; but suffers from a weak and haphazard use of theory. ‘The political elite’ is an easy concept, not entailing great abstraction and ‘the beneficiaries of BEE’ can be named by a glance through the Financial Mail’s Little Black Book; but Mbeki should take more care when collapsing these commonsense concepts with “the black middle class” or even “the state”, “the bourgeoisie”, “the peasantry” and the Mineral-Energy Complex.

In general Mbeki casually slips in and out of the language of a Marxist critique and analysis of the contending interests in South Africa, but he appears to mean a slightly different thing almost every time he uses a concept. How an economic class emerges and comes to articulate its interests (in Marxist theory) is a useful (but strictly circumscribed) contribution to economics and social theory. But the “bourgeoisie” is not, for example, just another name for the secret meeting of a couple of businessmen getting together to advance their narrow interests. Unfortunately Mbeki’s lackadaisical use of theory is going to strengthen the hand of the communists, trade unionists and ANC heavyweights who are already baying for his blood.

So do not read the book for its accuracy and theoretical precision. Read it as the honest and angry critique it appears to be. Read it because Mbeki has dared to speak what he sees as the uncomfortable truth to the new and the old powers in South Africa.

An interesting aside is that Moeletsi is the brother of Thabo, South African president ousted from leadership of the country last year (and from the party at Polokwane in 2007). It is clear from much of the book that Moeletsi has made his views clear to his brother and that he blames him for putting in place the cornerstones of the system. But Moeletsi is even more strongly critical of the new ANC leadership and he is clearly angry with them for their ousting of his older brother. There is an interesting story published in the Citizen based on Moeletsi Mbeki’s comments at a recent conference in Johannesburg:

He said that the ANC had been “very good” at establishing a political system and the Constitution, but had not done well in economics.“I never expected them to because they have never run a business.” He said that at least he and his brother, President Thabo Mbeki, had worked in the family’s spaza shop as children.“But when my brother gets kicked out as head of government, you won’t have anyone there who has actually managed even a spaza shop.

It is difficult to imagine Thabo and Moeletsi Mbeki running a spaza shop – and even more difficult to imagine that this equips anyone to run an economy. However Moeletsi Mbeki’s critique is, at it heart, an assertion of the simple virtues, usually ascribed to the petit bourgeoisie: thriftyness, hard work, frugality and respect for the property of others and for your own. In this assertion the book succeeds.

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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