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There were several times last week when I felt admiration for the protesting students, including those who crashed through the gates of parliament and, quite bravely in many cases, stood up to the SAPS’s counter attack, stun grenades and all.

I admit to some brief, irresponsible, trickster elation – Loki let loose upon the world – good for them … ha ha, let it all burn … that will show the fat bastards inside the building.

I didn’t lose my sense of judgement to the degree that I never felt sorry for some of the SAPS members who were woefully unprepared and overwhelmed, just as I felt disgusted with others for the unnecessary violence against the initially peaceful, if somewhat over-boisterous, students.

But by the time the Sunday papers rolled out I was becoming slightly nauseated by the ridiculously laudatory and pompous language being used to describe the protesting student of the #FeesMustFall and #shutdown campaigns.

I am not giving examples because these were mostly hyperbolic aberrations from commentators and journalists I otherwise admire (read City Press, the Sunday Independent or the Sunday Times of the 25th of October 2015 and the point will clearly and quickly be made). In general the pitch and tenor was thus:

Eugène_Delacroix

… which is Eugène Delacroix ‘s “Liberty leading the People”, 1830 – the French Revolution before it ate its children.

Well, this week the #FeesMustFall movement is also eating its children – although it’s a much smaller snack than the French feast after 1830.

However the students have banked the partial victory of the 0% fee increase for 2016. And can there be anyone in the SA news-consuming-public who has not considered the many accounts of black students shaving their nutritional intake so they can send part of their National Student Financial Aid money back to their parents and siblings?

This is what I wrote in a client note earlier this week:

Student protests – expect splits, fragmentation, radicalisation, isolation, ill-discipline and loss of momentum – but they kept it together long enough to change the game.

The student protests against fee increases have begun to wind down and fragment after the sometimes violent clashes at the Union Buildings on Friday where President Zuma acceded, in a closed meeting with student leaders,  to the 0%-increase-for-2016 demand.

In parliament Minister of Higher Education (and General Secretary of the SACP) Blade Nzimande had a torrid time defending his handling of the protests and explaining where the money for a 0% increase would come from. His main proposal was: “My view is that the government must have the political will to tax the rich and wealthy to fund higher education” – quoted in Business Day 28/10/2015.

So what?

The student revolt has deepened the opposition to government in general and increased disillusionment with party politics amongst students throughout the country. On balance the ANC has probably lost more ground than it was losing in this constituency anyway. However, the ruling party retains a variety of youth allies that operate on the campuses (including several SRCs, the ANC Youth League, the South African Students Congress – SASCO – and the Young Communists League – YCL.)

There will be fiscal implications that we will be exploring in the next few weeks as we examine the problem of funding for education generally and higher education in particular.

Zuma’s government must feel beset from all sides but the more focussed political attack is on the South African Communist Party – coming from within the ANC. Prior to its special national congress in July the SACP let it be put out that it wasn’t quite as gung-ho about Zuma’s increasingly corrupt and incompetent presidency than it appeared from its slavish defence of the man from Nkandla for the last 6 years. This in turn has led to Zuma’s most ardent (and patronage driven) supporters in the ANC Youth League (and the so called premier league) to escalate an attack on the SACP and its leadership. The student revolt against fee increases was a opportunity welcomed by these groups to join an attack on Nzimande.

It is still too early to predict with high levels of confidence a final collapse of the ruling alliance but the possibility is probably higher than it has been since 1994. An exit of the SACP (and probably Cosatu) from their formal ‘governing alliance’ status with the ANC might lead to ‘financial market positive’ changes in industrial and labour policy, but as likely might remove some of the constraints on corruption the SACP and Cosatu have brought to government and the alliance.

Okay, enough of all of that.

What I really wanted to say was that while watching the student and police confrontations my thoughts went back to the many protests and clashes  my ‘comrades’ and I had with with the police and army in the 1980’s.

On the ‘white’ campuses it was largely just teargas and beatings with shamboks or quirts – although I remember the panic and fear as much as I do the elation.

In the townships it was a different matter – shotguns, R5 rifles and necklacing  – excitement, yes; but also horror and terror.

I was explaining some of the differences between then and now to a close family member who is a student at a ‘previously white’ campus.

As I spoke I gradually came to realise something – funny at first, but then embarrassing. I was starting to sound remarkably like the Four Yorkshiremen.

The 1980’s was not worse than Marikana; and I am forced to remind myself that this, too, hovered over those students last week as the possible consequences of their actions.

So to lighten it slightly and to own up to my own pomposity, I sent that family member a copy of the famous Monty Python piece.

Four well-dressed men sitting together at a vacation resort.

Michael Palin: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.

Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?

Terry Gilliam: You’re right there Obediah.

Eric Idle: Who’d a thought thirty years ago we’d all be sittin’ here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?

MP: Aye. In them days, we’d a’ been glad to have the price of a cup o’ tea.

GC: A cup ‘ COLD tea.

EI: Without milk or sugar.

TG: OR tea!

MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.

EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.

TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”

EI: ‘E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN’. We used to live in this tiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!

GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!

TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o’clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.

EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”

MP: But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya’.

ALL: Nope, nope..

Single heroes who defend narrow approaches to the precious citadel against massed ranks of Orcs, barbarians or Persians are much revered in mythology.

I would like to nominate Gwede Mantashe to stand briefly amongst their legendary ranks.

He stood up yesterday in front of the South African Democratic Teachers Union and said (as quoted in Independent Online):

Sadtu … has neither clarity nor commitment to the education of the black child in the eyes of the public. We continue to use them (children) as pressure points and cannon fodder in the bargaining process. During the strike white children in general and Afrikaans children in particular continued to learn, many of you know this, whose children are in Model C schools. The children of many teachers go to Model C schools. When they (the teachers) go on strike their children continue to learn.”

He was booed and heckled off the podium.

After the booing and heckling had finally died down and he was allowed back onto the podium he said:

When comrades heckle me, they want me to express views about them… if that’s the issue I would suggest that Sadtu in future does not invite me.

So let this heroic stand – flawed like the stands of all the greatest mythological heroes* – not go unnoticed and un-revered. It takes a special kind of discipline and courage to stand up in front of your allies and dress them down in the clear and unambiguous terms Mantashe used.

There is little question that the activities and failures of the South African Democratic Teachers Union is making a singularly negative contribution to South Africa’s progress. There are other failures in government and in society that contribute to the unfolding catastrophe that is our public education system, but the lousy return on the considerable capital we as a country invest in education is in no small part due to the actions and inactions of Sadtu members.

So bravo Gwede Mantashe, the halls of Valhalla await you … hopefully later, rather than sooner.

* Note: Even legendary heroes are not perfect, so we just have to ignore that ridiculous assertion that Afrikaans children were the the least affected as a group by the public sector strike.

Here is the summary of South Africa’s performance in the Global Competitiveness Report 2010 – 2011. The highlights are mine and the seriousness of the problems is obvious..

While we quite rightly bemoan health, education and labour market failures it is interesting to note we were top ranked – in the whole world! – in two categories: in auditing and reporting standards as well as in the regulations that govern our securities (financial instruments) exchanges.

But on with the bad news: part of the process of the construction of the report involves asking the opinion of “business leaders” (see note below about methodology) about their concerns. The top four concerns they had about South Africa are not a huge surprise:

From a list of 15 factors, respondents were asked to select the five most problematic for doing business in their country and to rank them between 1 (most problematic) and 5. The bars in the figure show the responses weighted according to their rankings.

Methodology note from the press release: “The rankings are calculated from both publicly available data and the Executive Opinion Survey, comprehensive annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum together with its network of Partner Institutes (leading research institutes and business organizations) in the countries covered by the study. This year, over 13,500 business leaders were polled in 139 economies.”

Click here for a link to the full report.

The news media is full of toyi-toying fat people in red T-shirts blockading hospital gates interspersed with pictures of dead and dying babies.

Alternatively the coverage is of other fat people in red T-shirts clutching sticks and whips trundling around, with their fat bottoms swaying, looking for pupils (bravely trying to uplift themselves by continuing their studies during the public sector wide strike) to beat and otherwise disrupt.

There is a degree of truth in the story… I mean, turn on your television, they’re everywhere, with their megaphones and coffee flasks (and clearly a lot of biscuits and sandwiches), belligerent and unattractive as it is possible to be.

But I suspect that we should treat the picture and the solutions that seem obvious (and are being offered by every newspaper and television station in the country – with unusual unanimity) with more than a degree of caution.

It’s impossible to realistically analyse the strike here – and anyway that is work I have to try to sell to a paying client – but there are some questions I would urge us all to bear in mind.

I lay some of them out here as bullet points:

  • Government has offered 7% with a R700 housing allowance (an offer that amounts, according to the employer, to between 9.4 percent and 8.5 percent, depending on grade) and unions are demanding 8.6 percent wage increase across the board and housing allowance of R1 000. This seems closer than it is – the difference between the offer and counter offer, when aggregated across the public sector, makes a huge difference to the fiscus and to the actual take home value of the workers’ pay packages. Both parties have something to fight for.
  • Workers strike at great cost to themselves – generally, by-and-large and when all the exceptions are smoothed out. Try for a moment and to imagine risking your job and deliberately deciding to take on being portrayed as greedy, callous and on a kind of stolen holiday. This is especially true in the public sector, where the customers you are involved in servicing are your neighbours, their children and the sick of your community.
  • We have the highest levels of inequality (measured by something called the Gini coefficient) of any country that keeps realistic figures in the world – and if not ‘in the world’ then we are in the company of only one or two others. In a public sector wage conflict the employer is government (with politicians representing the owners and the senior bureaucrats the managers). The differential between the earnings of public sector workers and their employers – both of whom take their pay package from the public purse – is a factor many times higher than in most countries in the world. When you add to this the public perception (and the strikers are part of that public) that the politicians are engaged in a nasty, sharp-toothed feeding frenzy at the aching teat of the public purse, ransacking the long built up assets of the public sector and using every mechanism possible to extort money from the private sector, is their any wonder that public sector workers see their lot as unfair?
  • Cosatu and its various member unions and the worker leadership “on the ground”, so to speak, is getting the kind of press it deserves. The behaviour of too many striking workers is so unacceptable that the unions are inviting a Maggie Thatcher to emerge from these battered streets to crush them and reformulate the South African economy to be a growth machine that will benefit merchant bankers and the rich … and no-one else. And the public will cheer that politician on, because the unions have not bothered to see the middle-ground as worth fighting for.
  • This strike –  as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. It imposes upon the vague conflict between Nationalists and “Tenderpreneurs” on the one hand, and trade unions and communists on the other, a clear organisational character and a clear set of objectives and costs over which the contenders deeply disagree. Government might find more money. The unions might shift an inch to meet government’s next offer but I suspect this is the moment that South African politics has been circling ever since Mbeki slapped the unions and “the left” into a subservient position over ten years ago. I am not awaiting a formal announcement by Vavi that he is leading his cohorts into the wilderness. But I expect that in practice the unions and the communists will be out of government within the next few years (Perhaps even more than they were “out of government” under Mbeki … and I use “the next few years” to give myself a margin).

This week is going to be full of the strike and its consequences. It is, ultimately, not a hugely profound point,  but now, more than ever, we need to urge caution in seeing the world as a simple representation between good guys and bad. This impulse, to see things as if they were simple and easy to understand, is increasingly the direction of public discourse on radio, newspaper and television. We need a kind of private media tribunal in our heads.

I had been gearing up to say something snide about Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s ridiculous call for a reinstitution of national service.

I know many people will instinctively approve of her suggestion. It speaks directly to our despair about the failure of  the education system and the worry about the “Lost Generation”.

Well, be that as it may, I cannot overstate how bad an idea I think this is – and how arrogant and undemocratic the assumptions behind it are. I mean, she says in motivation of the idea, that the service delivery protest are being fronted by “our youth, with excessive anger and misdirected energy and frustration etched on their faces.” Misdirected? Huh, I don’t think so.

But my breathless indignation aside, how could anyone imagine that it would be an efficient allocation of our scarce national resources to have the bloated and increasingly ridiculous institution of the SANDF provide a rite of passage ritual for youth leaving school?

So anyway, while I was gearing up to say something I came across Jacob Dlamini’s opinion piece in today’s Business Day. It is so good and so well written that I humbly suggest you read what he has to say.

Click on the first few paragraphs below to go to the full story on the Business Day site.

Sisulu patronises SA’s legitimately angry youth

THEY just don’t get it, do they? Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Parliament on Tuesday that she wanted to reintroduce conscription. According to a report by Business Day Online, Sisulu said this “will not be a compulsory national service, but an unavoidable national service”. She was quick to say the government did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Sisulu reportedly told Parliament that she wanted the defence force to provide a rite of passage for young people “leaving school with no skills and no prospect of being absorbed into a labour market that is already glutted”. She said: “Every culture known to men has a process of coming of age. This includes some initiation into responsible adulthood, where the line is drawn from childish ways to purposeful, responsible adult behaviour. We can do that for this country, because that is the one thing we need, to build a future for our development and prosperity. A place where the young unemployed can find skills, dignity and purpose.”

Sisulu presides over the most pampered, but also the most inefficient military in Africa, what on earth makes her think the aged, generally obese, unprofessional and ill- disciplined South African National Defence Force is equipped to teach young people about “responsible adult behaviour”?

I have whipped through the State of the Nation address while Jacob Zuma is just getting started. My initial impression is good, maybe even very good …. but maybe there has just been so much bad news and poor performance that any detailed and thoughtful stuff from government is likely to impress me …

Here are some bits and pieces:

As always the address was long on the broad brush, leaving the details to ministerial budget votes over the next few weeks.

However, there were interesting bits:

First a claim that no-one appears to be believing …. I will have to check these figures and see how they arrived at them:

We are pleased to announce that by the end of December, we had created more than 480 000 public works job opportunities, which is 97% of the target we had set.

More money for public infrastructure – power and transport

Over the next three years government will spend R846 billion on public infrastructure.

One of the most favourable public expenditure/infrastructure statements was:

Among other things, this will look at the participation of independent power producers, and protecting the poor from rising electricity prices.

We will establish an independent system operator, separate from Eskom Holdings.

Money to subsidise the employment of first time young workers

Proposals will be tabled to subsidise the cost of hiring younger workers, to encourage firms to take on inexperienced staff.

He announced a plan to hold departments accountable:

The Ministers who are responsible for a particular outcome, will sign a detailed Delivery Agreement with the President.

It will outline what is to be done, how, by whom, within what time period and using what measurements and resources.

Very concrete education targets:

We aim to increase the pass rate for these tests from the current average of between 35 and 40% to at least 60% by 2014.

Results will be sent to parents to track progress.

In addition, each of our 27 000 schools will be assessed by officials from the Department of Basic Education.

This will be recorded in an auditable written report.

We aim to increase the number of matric students who are eligible for university admission to
175 000 a year by 2014.

Brutal admission on certain health failures:

We must confront the fact that life expectancy at birth, has dropped from 60 years in 1994 to just below 50 years today.

We are therefore making interventions to lower maternal mortality rates, to reduce new HIV infections and to effectively treat HIV and tuberculosis.

Policing:

We are implementing plans to increase the number of police men and women by 10% over the next three years.

Concrete stuff about housing and mobilising private sector funds:

We are working to upgrade well-located informal settlements and provide proper service and land tenure to at least 500 000 households by 2014.

We plan to set aside over 6 000 hectares of well-located public land for low income and affordable housing.

A key new initiative will be to accommodate people whose salaries are too high to get government subsidies, but who earn too little to qualify for a normal bank mortgage.

We will set up a guarantee fund of R1 billion to incentivise the private banking and housing sector, to develop new products to meet this housing demand.

Having  just returned from an idyllic holiday, I am forced to take stock of what I missed …

The Communists versus the TenderCapitalists

A “TenderCapitalist” is not an over-sensitive entrepreneur. It is a South African person, much loathed by the communists,  who uses his or her  race and/or political connection to win tenders from the state or from private companies hoping to fulfil their BBBEE requirements or just hoping to suck up to the ANC. The South African Communist Party has made it clear it thinks the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is the ring-leader of this faction in the South African political economy.

The SACP conference and the booing of Julius Malema brought things to a head and throughout December and early January there has been something of a toing and froing between Julius Malema and Blade Nzimande.

The spat continued at the Slovo memorial in Soweto on Wednesday 6th of January when Nzimande said that “narrow African chauvinism” threatened Slovo’s non-racial vision and that the slogan: “liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular” should not be “corrupted into a narrow anti-white African chauvinism” – quoted in Independent Online.

A few days later at the ANC 98th birthday rally in Kimberley Julius Malema suggested that there were “super-revolutionaries” that wanted to “co-govern” with the ANC. On Sunday, in a statement apparently coordinated with Malema, Jacob Zuma said in an SABC interview that the ANC does not “co-govern” with any other party. In response Blade Nzimande, quoted in The Times, said:

I don’t know who coined the term. It’s people’s figment of their imagination. This issue is manufactured by people who are anti-communists.”

The stage is set; let the theatre commence.

The death of Tshabalala Msimang

Manto Tshabalala Msimang died on December 16 of complications from a liver transplant. Msimang was minister of health from 1999-2008 and presided over a period of health policy uncertainty that began with Thabo Mbeki’s insistence that there was no evidence that HIV causes AIDS. A committed revolutionary who went into exile in 1962 under orders from the then banned ANC, Manto Tshabalala Msimang died as government policy and practice around the HIV/AIDS epidemic finally started to achieve traction.

Matric pass rate drops – again

On Thursday last week education minister Angie Motshekga announced the matric results which showed a two percentage point decline in the already dismal pass rate to 60.6. This is the sixth successive year of drops. The figures are, on closer examination, even worse than they first appear. The science pass rate (those who got above 30%)  dropped about 15 percentage points to 36.8 and the maths pass rate remained unchanged at 46 percent. Nothing is better predictive of future prosperity than improving education outcomes. Nothing (obvious) is more predictive of future troubles, on a number of fronts, than the converse.

Attack on Togo soccer team at CAF in Angola

On Friday January 8th the bus carrying the Togo soccer squad to CAF fixtures into the Kabina enclave in the extreme north of Angola. Several officials and players were injured. Rebels in the Kabinda enclave have been at war since the early 60’s (firstly against the Portuguese and later against independent Angola which has insisted that the oil rich territory stay incorporated as part of the country).

The South Africans have insisted that any suggestion that the security situation in northern Angola is in any way similar to that expected to obtain at the World Cup in South Africa later in the year is ludicrous and possibly racist. However all national security officials will have been reminded how easy it is to target an international sporting event to get maximum coverage for your cause, as I argued here. Watch this space …

President Zuma moves (way) up in the popularity stakes

Sapa reports (on South Africa – The Good News – and in many other places) that Jacob Zuma has increased in popularity amongst all groups but most notably amongst Indians, Coloureds and Whites since last April’s election. It’s a surprise, but mostly a good one.

Bad indicators in the direction of  trends in South African education and health  last week.

Very briefly:

Two recent studies reveal a low and/or deteriorating quality of matriculant entering university.   The national benchmarking test (NBT) tested 13000 first years at major SA universities and found only 43% proficient in academic literacy, 25% in quantitative literacy and, astonishingly, only 8% in maths. More worryingly a major study done yearly for the last ten years at traditionally Afrikaans speaking/teaching universities indicates a clear deterioration in academic readiness. (Note that while the NBT found absolutely poor levels of readiness the test is too new to establish a trend).

Secondly, Lancet, a highly respected international journal on health , published a special series on South Africa that indicated public health and the public health system was in serious trouble:

with the collision of four excessive health burdens: communicable disease (especially HIV/AIDS), noncommunicable disease, maternal, neonatal and child deaths and deaths from injury and violence.

The journal points out that:

Since 1994 life expectancy has reduced by almost 20 years – mainly because of the rise in HIV-related mortality – the average life expectancy at birth is now 50 years for men and 54 years for woman.

Devastatingly, the journal points out that there has been an increase in poverty and hunger as well as in child mortality since 1994.

Good public education and health are the best predictors of a country’s success. Effective investments in public health and public education are probably the most any government can do to change future developmental outcomes. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 taught us that the state can do a lot less than we hoped. The debt crisis and market crash we are experiencing is teaching that the state needs to do a lot more than it is doing. The South African state seems to be a special case: in the long term it will have to do more, but for now what it is urgently required is that it does better.

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

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Securities South Africa (Pty) Ltd.

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