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I intend, in the near future, to dust off my Marxist theory.*

I am going to need a framework through which to express my growing conviction that much of our politics can be understood as a function of the collapse of the alliance of classes that underlay the national democratic revolution – and the African National Congress.

The big driver is the strongly emergent black middle class – or perhaps competing versions of that class. In the background is a sort of bad kung fu movie fight scene involving the industrial working class, various parasitic elites within the state and party, a comprador bourgeoisie and a whole mess of tribalists, proto-fascists, landless peasants and  lumpen proletarians of various stripe.

(The camera occasionally flicks across the deeper shadow behind, where we almost catch a glimpse of Moeletsi Mbeki’s lurking oligarchs, watching us.)

It’s my job to have some kind of understanding of what is going on … and I will need all the help I can get theory-wise.

In the last week the ANC has given strong hints that the Labour Relations Act amendments are being held up because government wants balloting prior to strikes and a ‘forced mediation’ strike-breaking mechanism. (See here.)

Also we have the astonishing re-emergence of the (excellent) idea that we should break up Eskom and sell off some of  the bits and get the private sector to build other bits. (See here  … and btw I can’t help but notice how much interesting news is written by Carol Paton of Business Day.)

What’s going on?

Well, one things is government is facing further downgrades because it can’t pay its bills.

The biggest bill of all is public sector wages, which will be renegotiated before  the current wage agreement expires in March 2015.

That bill will represent above 35% of non-interest government spending and the wage level the employer and the employee eventually agree upon and the degree of disruption that accompanies the bargaining is extraordinarily important for South Africa and therefore for the stability of the governing party.

Also government is burning due to its apparent inability to get the endlessly promised infrastructure built. At least part of the reason is the constant labour stoppages, for example at Kusile and Medupi.

Having lost much revenue (and political support) during the recent strikes led by Amcu and Numsa, the ANC government is forced to find a way to rewrite the terms of engagement between employer and employee.

Also Eskom is bleeding … or potentially bleeding … government dry.

The case for privatisation is threefold: you get money from the asset sale to pay your debts, you don’t have to keep bailing out the loss-making enterprise and you get the ‘efficiencies’ (the removal of structural impediments to growth) that supposedly come from the private sector running the enterprise.

(As an aside: privatisation seldom works quite like that. This government, and the people of South Africa, have barely recovered from the the drubbing we received from the ‘private sector’ following the partial privatisation of Telkom in the 90’s.  But desperate times, desperate measures … and all of that.)

The groups that traditionally oppose these policies are in disarray. Cosatu has essentially collapsed in a heap – and the most energetic sections of organised labour are actively hostile to government/ANC anyway and no longer require wooing … or rather, following Marikana and various statements of outright hostility by the ANC and government leaders, are no longer susceptible to those old sweet lies.

The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.

A growing mystery to me is where the SACP is in all of this?

So its all: hello 1996-class project, we who threw you out with the bathwater at Polokwane in December 2007 would like to apologise and welcome you back. Don’t worry, the communist are in China learning how to deal with corruption and with the labour force … you can chat to them if they ever come home.

So meanwhile here is a sort of ancestor to my questioning the ‘class character’ of the moment; a column I wrote for the Compliance Institute of South Africa in November last year:

Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

I admit that on the face of it the comparison seems something of a stretch.

For example I can’t think of an ‘Nkandla’ equivalent in Baroness Thatcher’s world – although her son seemed to benefit from parental political power in much the same way as Jacob Zuma’s myriad offspring seem to be enjoying.

Maggie1

The point, though, is Thatcher came to power with the reforming mission to roll-back back the influence of organised labour and to make labour markets more flexible– all as part of her attempt to stop an on-going recession, bring summer to the ‘Winter of discontent’ (paralysing wage strikes by public sector unions in Britain in 1978-1979) and increase employment and economic growth.

(‘Thatcherism’ as a political-economic ideology is also considered to include attempts to keep inflation low, shrink the state – by privatising state owned enterprises – and keep a tight rein on money supply … (and is not famously concerned about employment – Ed) … but let’s leave those details aside and stick with the matter of organised labour.)

Much to my surprise there is growing evidence Jacob Zuma is forcing a showdown within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – and between the members of the ruling alliance (the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu).

Since 1994 it has been a good bet that tensions in the ruling alliance would flare up and then subside – but that the constituent ideological factions and organisations would always back off from a real split.

The ruling alliance has always seemed to me like a vaguely unhappy marriage that none of the parties have the resources or discipline to leave.

I have been covering South African politics and financial markets since 1997 and in 1999 I commissioned this cartoon :

Maggie2

 

The original caption read: ‘She means nothing to me’, he pleaded unconvincingly. ‘You’re the one I will always love’.

The report that accompanied the cartoon – which I originally published for the then stockbroker Simpson Mckie James Capel – made it clear that the man in the middle represented the ANC and his entreaties were addressed to Cosatu and the SACP … while his real passion (and the furtive fumbling behind his back) was for business, global and domestic. (Cathy Quickfall drew the cartoon and did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.)

It has looked for many years as if the dysfunctional relationship would continue for ever – that the parties involved (both the institutions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu but also the myriad ideological factions that exist across those organisations) have more to gain from being inside and more to lose from being outside.

But, surprisingly, it appears that the ruling faction within the ANC (the incumbent leadership, represented by Jacob Zuma) appears to have finally drawn some kind of line in the sand with the ‘left’ unions within Cosatu, most obviously the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

The first signs that this was happening appeared when evidence surfaced that Jacob Zuma’s allies within Cosatu were moving against Zwelinzima Vavi, the now suspended secretary general and strident ‘left’ critic of corruption in the ANC and critic of the slightly more business-friendly economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) of the Zuma government … (remembering that this was written late last year and Vavi has now been reinistated … sort of – Ed).

At first it appeared that Vavi would be got rid of by being accused of corruption or some form of financial mismanagement related to the sale of Cosatu House for a price less than it was worth. While that investigation was still on-going, Vavi handed his enemies a perfect excuse to suspend him by having sex with a junior employee in the Cosatu head-office earlier this year (last year – Ed).

Since the suspension of Vavi his allies in Cosatu, especially the biggest affiliate (the 350 000 member Numsa) has been on a collision course with both Cosatu itself and with the ANC.

The conflict is likely to come to a head at the Numsa special congress to be held on December 13 – 16.

Why do I see this as, partly, Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

Well, Vavi’s suspension is only the proximate cause of the impending collision. The ‘real’ or ‘underlying’ causes are what are important.

Vavi, Numsa secretary general Irwin Jim, his deputy Karl Cloete – and probably a majority of Numsa leaders and shop stewards … and several other groups and leaders within Cosatu) appear increasingly of the opinion:

  • that Cosatu has been bullied by the Zuma leadership into accepting policy positions with which it (generally) disagrees
  • that the ANC under Zuma has attempted to turn Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC and the alliance summits have become nothing but a ‘toy telephone’ rather than a real joint decision making forum for the ANC/Cosatu/SACP alliance
  • the policy positions with which this group disagrees are, particularly, the National Development Plan, but also e-tolling, the Youth Wage Subsidy and the ANC government’s failure to ban labour brokers. (The reasons why this ‘left’ group opposes these policy measure are crucial: they oppose the NDP because it is seen as ‘neo-liberal’ and anti-socialist; e-tolling because it is seen as covert privatisation of public infrastructure; the youth wage subsidy because it segments the labour market, threatening Cosatu’s monopoly and potentially exposing ‘protected’ Cosatu members to competition from ‘unprotected’ youth workers; and the failure to ban labour brokers because those institutions are also anathema to Cosatu’s monopoly.)
  • that the ANC under Zuma has been captured by a crony-capitalist regionally based (possibly ethnic) elite bent on looting the state
  • that the gamble to back Zuma against Mbeki has badly misfired

 

There is widespread press and analyst speculation that the tensions within Cosatu could lead to the federation splitting – and in some way or another the more specifically ‘socialist’ pro-Vavi, Numsa-based group leading Cosatu – or a piece of Cosatu – out of the ruling alliance.

In what way is this ‘Zuma doing a Maggie’?

Well, because the disgruntlements of the Vavi/Numsa group (described above) are real and represent significant shifts against organised labour by the Zuma government.

If we add to the youth wage subsidy, the NDP, the failure to ban labour brokers, e-tolling in Gauteng to the very tight budgeting for public sector wage increases mentioned in my October column I think we have a strong circumstantial case that Zuma’s ANC has moved decisively to roll-back the power of organised labour.

Maggie3

 

Why Jacob Zuma and his allies might have done this is revealed clearly in the anaemic Q3 GDP growth figures of 0.7 per cent compared to the previous quarter, or 1.8 per cent on a year-on-year basis . Almost across the board analysts and economists have ascribed most of the weakness to labour unrest, particularly in the motor vehicle sector – where the recent strikes were organised by Numsa! (Again, remember that this was written in November last year … just imagine how many exclamation marks he would have used if he had written that sentence today? -Ed)

Numsa has also helped plague Eskom’s flagship Medupi project – and has undoubtedly contributed to government’s infrastructure plans looking shaky.

The ANC’s motivation is not purely an attempt to fix economic growth – and bring to an end our own ‘Winter of Discontent’. Vavi and his allies in Numsa have harried and harassed the ANC leadership over corruption – and particularly the upgrade to Nkandla – and this has clearly helped force the hand of the Zuma ANC to drawn a line in the sand with the left-wing of Cosatu – especially as the ANC enters an election and struggles to cope with this level of internal dissent and criticism.

The resignation earlier this week of Numsa president Cedric Gina (who, unlike the majority of his Numsa colleagues, is close to the current ANC leadership: his wife is an ANC MP and he probably has similar ambitions himself) is probably an indication that the Zuma/ANC allies intend contesting Numsa’s direction in the lead-up to the Numsa special congress in December. The ANC leadership has probably decided to fight it out in Numsa – and Cosatu more generally – making sure that if/when a split occurs the faction that sticks with the ANC/Zuma/SACP is as large as possible and the faction that defects is as small as possible.

The big risk for investors and financial markets associated with a possible split in Cosatu is that Vavi/Jim group is likely to contest with unions within Cosatu that currently support the ANC and Zuma’s leadership – most obviously and most unsettlingly –  with the National Union of Mineworkers which has complained repeatedly that Numsa is poaching its membership. This potential for a widespread contestation of each workplace and each economic sector between a new ‘Cosatu’ and an old ‘Cosatu’ is probably the most important threat represented by the unfolding crisis.

Politically the Vavi/Jim group will likely be campaigning against the NDP, the youth wage subsidy, e-tolling and Nkandla-style corruption just as the ANC’s election campaign peaks early next year. I do not think a split in Cosatu will translate automatically into specific electoral declines for the ANC – it is possible and even likely that Numsa members who support a split could still vote for the ANC.

However, one of the big unanswered questions is whether the defecting faction has any possibility of linking up politically with the EFF. Up until now the defecting faction linked to Vavi and Jim have unequivocally rejected the EFF on the grounds that its (the EFF’s) leadership are ‘tenderpreneurs’ (much like the Nkandla faction of the ANC) who just happen to be out in the cold.

However, the EFF’s support for nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white owned farms with or without compensation does dovetail with aspects of the Vavi/Jim faction’s essentially socialist ideology.

My own view is that in the event of a split it is possible that the Vavi/Jim faction forms a ‘labour party’ which could only feasibly contest elections in 2019.

The motivation for Thatcher moving against the unions was as much about weakening the Labour Party as it was about repairing the economy – so we shouldn’t dismiss the Zuma/Thatcher comparison purely because his motivations are mixed.

If Zuma and the ANC succeed in reducing the militancy and power of organised labour it is possible that they will have contributed in a small way to laying the grounds for an improvement in public education, for a period of recovery and even extended economic growth.

It’s a risky – and complicated – business, but it was for Baroness Thatcher as well.

 

* It was, in our eyes,  a fine hat and we cocked it jauntily. And thus attired, and to our very great satisfaction, we successfully answered all the important epistemological questions of the day. We let the  cowards flinch and traitors sneer as they boastfully proclaimed the end of history. We were history … or at least, through the complex functioning of the intelligentsia in Marxist Leninist theory … we were history’s engine made flesh. And the race wasn’t over … we were merely getting our breath back.

For the record – and on the off chance that  someone may one-day want some background on the (at time of writing) unresolved metalworkers strike – here are the bits and pieces I have published over the last two weeks; ordered from most recent at the top.

The piece from the eve of the strike was written jointly with my colleague (economist at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities) and friend Jeff Schultz … and just while I am on that, well done Jeff on your accurate 25 basis point hike call  from the SARB’s MPC.

(btw, I am publishing in something of a rush … I will attempt to clean up the formatting and editing over the next day or so.)

 

Numsa and SIEFSA – so near yet so far – 13th July 2014

The engineering strike has reached an impasse that is less insignificant than it first appears. Numsa, representing the majority of the 220 000 workers on strike, has gradually reduced its demand from 15% to 10%. SIEFSA is prepared to meet the 10% for the coming 1 year period but only if this is part of a 3 year agreement with 9.5% in 2015 and 9% in 2016. Numsa has rejected this offer (which SIEFSA subsequently withdrew) saying it will only agree to a 3 year agreement at 10% for each of the years

So what

The strike is entering its 16th day and the knock-on effects into the rest of the economy are severe; threatening our already anaemic GDP growth estimates.

Numsa has adequately jumped the hurdles to ‘prove’ that it is not opportunistically pursuing the industrial action purely as a way of building momentum towards launching a political party. By moving towards the employer organisation at each bargaining round (from 15% to 12% for 3 year agreements and then to 10% for a single year) but staying just out of reach of SIEFSA’s mandate, Numsa can now dig in its heals without losing the backing of those of its members who feel unwilling to be used in the Numsa leadership’s broader political game.

Numsa now promises to produce “a detailed Programme of Action (PoA) to intensify the (indefinite) strike action” – Numsa press release 14/07/2014. Numsa is hinting that this means getting other sectors in which it organises (especially the automobile manufacturing industry which is already negatively affected due to parts shortages) to strike in sympathy.

At issue here is that if our assumption that Numsa has ‘hidden’ motivations is correct, then predicting how and when the strike will end is that much more difficult.

Numsa’s trade union movement to the left of Cosatu and political party to the left of the ANC are an historical inevitability – and likely to garner significant support

A useful background article by Eddie Webster and Mark Orkin concerning the historical origins of, and potential support for, a ‘workers party’ appeared in Monday’s Business Day (15/07/2014). The article is based on “a large nationally representative sample of adults of all races” conducted in February and March this year and concludes that the party (which Numsa is pushing to form) could win as much as 33% of the national vote in an election. While we think these estimates are a bit rich, the article is a ‘must read’ for anyone wanting to understand the ideological origins and potential size of the initiative emerging from Numsa and other dissident Cosatu sectors and leaders.

To restate our oft restated view on this matter:

  • the initiative will cause heightened industrial unrest in the medium term (over 2 years) as the breakaway unions compete with established Cosatu unions;
  • the resulting ‘political initiative’ could push the ANC to a marginal hold on its absolute majority in future elections (potentially leading to more schizophrenic policies … but potentially having more positive impacts).

 

The National Union of Metalworkers is ready to fight – 30th June 2014

A strike in the engineering sector is on – and Numsa will attempt to extend the action to Eskom.

“The national executive committee has agreed to the decision from our members to embark on an indefinite strike action, beginning on July 1,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of Numsa yesterday at a media briefing (SABC News).

Numsa claims membership of 341,150 (making it easily the largest union in the country) and it organises 10,000 companies across the motor, auto, engineering, tyre and rubber sectors – although it is officially only the engineering sector that is targeted by the strike (see here for the strike certificate and the full lists of all unions and employers involved in the dispute).

(Note that the strike is not directly in the automakers’ sector. Numsa took 30,000 workers out on strike here in 2013 – in an action that ostensibly led to BMW shelving plans for a big South African investment. However the strike will affect the auto parts sector and hence could impact directly on the automakers’ sector.)

Irvin Jim, Numsa Secretary said members would also picket the headquarters of state power utility Eskom on July 2 as part of a push for a wage increase of 12% – in a linked, but separate action. Eskom is defined as an “essential service”, making strikes illegal.

(Note that while the Eskom action is separate but parallel to the strike against SIEFSA, Numsa says that Eskom will feel the impacts of the main action because of the mechanical and engineering contractors on the Medupi and Kusile building sites.)

SIEFSA (the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa) is the counterparty in the negotiation with Numsa (and five other unions). SIEFSA represents 27 independent employer bodies and 2,200 companies which employ over 220,000 hourly-paid workers – although 62% of those companies employ fewer than 50 workers (see the SIEFSA website here).

So what?

We (Jeff Schultz BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities economist and I) covered on Friday evening – quite extensively – the political and economic issues around the strike(see below).

The key points worth reiterating here are:

  • the potential impacts on the broader economy are profound – a characteristic that Numsa hopes to leverage off, helping to bring pressure on the employers represented in SIEFSA;
  • Numsa’s motivations include its political ambitions to set up a mass-based workers party – which makes the length of the strike and the tractability or otherwise of the union negotiators difficult to predict.

How government deals with Numsa’s apparent attempt to break the ‘essential services’ clause in the industrial relations regulatory framework is going to be interesting. Numsa is threatening to call 9,000 workers at the power utility out on strike after mobilising them through a protest action on Tuesday. “The intention is to move toward a full strike,” said Steve Nhlapo, Numsa’s sector coordinator for energy and non-precious metals. SIEFSA has offered a 5.6% wage increase and Numsa, coordinating its action across sectors, is demanding 12% (City Press 29/06/2014).

 

Numsa’s Industrial (political) action – June 27, 2014

Industrial relations

The possibility that 2014 would be another tumultuous year for South African labour relations looked good in January, and is coming true with a vengeance.

The cycle meets a secular trend

The five-month platinum sector strike – perhaps the most costly mining strike in the country’s history – and the metals and engineering workers’ strike from 1 July (based on confirmed reports in the media) might have happened as part of the normal cycle or normal part of the negotiation cycle – but we think the main drivers are secular.

NUMSA’s political ambitions coming to the fore

NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete against the ANC. We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike next week and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party (although we lay out several qualifiers in the main text.)

The risks to the real economy remain large

It is too soon to even estimate the numbers but a metals and engineering sector strike on the scale NUMSA plans could spell disaster for SA’s growth and investment outlook – at least in 2H 2014. We reiterate the large downside risks to our current 1.9% GDP growth estimate for 2014.

(The above  is the summary, below is the body – Ed)

SA industrial relations: The cycle meets the secular trend

Our long-held view that the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) are looking to vigorously compete for membership with other COSATU affiliated unions in different sectors of the economy is at the forefront of our concerns here. We believe this week’s press release by NUMSA sums this up quite succinctly:In our 2014 Outlook document released in early January we highlighted our expectation for another tumultuous year for South African labour relations and our concerns therein. With the more than five-month-long strike in the platinum sector likely to be one of the most costly in the country’s history and confirmed reports this week that the metals and engineering industries are now about to embark on a strike from 1 July, our concerns seem to have been warranted.

“Our NEC wishes to send a congratulatory message to the courageous mineworkers for securing a decisive and historic settlement in the platinum belt. This settlement is not only a victory for mineworkers, but for workers in South Africa as a whole. The settlement secured after bitter battles between workers and the mining ruling oligarchy has called on workers to not simply unite beyond the logos or t-shirt colours of their unions. It has renewed workers battle assertion of “an injury to one; is an injury to all”.

“Furthermore, it has called on the progressive trade union movement to go back to basics, and not to be used by politicians to garner electoral support and parliamentary seats, while worker grievances and challenges remain unresolved. Doing so will continue to lead to the implosion of those trade unions that possess a rich heritage in our struggle.”
NUMSA and the numerous elements/questions to considerIt seems to us that the ‘normal’ cyclical nature of industrial action in South Africa’s winter months is now also meeting a trend specific to this political-economic moment. We believe NUMSA (and AMCU’s motivations) are playing a role here, as is the orientation of government and the ANC towards these unions.

The questions on our minds concerning Numsa since at least January this year have included: ‘will NUMSA engage in industrial action primarily to build momentum for its soon to be launched political party or movement?’; and: ‘will NUMSA ride the anti-ANC momentum implicit in the platinum strike – and implicitly and explicitly build a relationship with AMCU?’ and finally: ‘how will this mobilisation relate to the Economic Freedom Fighters?’NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete with the ANC.

The EFF question is more difficult. NUMSA has been extremely cautious not to be seen to be sidling up to the EFF. NUMSA has widespread credibility and respect – and was a leading critic of Julius Malema’s ‘tenderpreneurial’ habits and the ‘proto-fascist’ nature of Malema’s mobilisation around mine nationalisation and expropriation of White-owned farm seizures. However, the actual policies of NUMSA and the EFF are extremely close, and, in our opinion, the EFF has successfully occupied a political niche very similar to the one the leadership of NUMSA would like to occupy. It would be in the interests of both the EFF and NUMSA to cooperate rather than compete directly – especially when they are both up against the ANC. This might end up resembling the careful courtship of porcupines – but we think it will be courtship nonetheless.We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party. And we do think that NUMSA is flirting, politely, with AMCU. On both these issues, however, we have many provisos, disclaimers and cautionary notes – which we deal with in the bullet points below.

Cautionary notes

  • A union, especially one as well organised and sophisticated as Numsa, understands that is does not have a free hand to pursue obviously political objectives around a wage strike. Strikes are costly to workers who are often indebted and whose lives and families can be seriously disrupted by a strike.
  • NUMSA’s grand ambitionsIn the NUMSA central executive committee statement this week, NUMSA presented its demands by stating “We have now made a significant compromise to decrease our wage demand to 12%”. This is NUMSA making sure it can say it has done what it can to avoid a strike while refusing to budge even one cent from 12%.
  • Remember too that in the communities where NUMSA’s membership lives, the African National Congress is electorally overwhelmingly dominant. Numsa must be cautious and limited in how it attempts to turn strike mobilisation into political mobilisation.

From the early 1990s, NUMSA has been the ‘left’ edge of COSATU and has long criticised the ANC – especially the fiscally conservative Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy adopted in 1996. However, throughout the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, NUMSA made the assessment that there was more to be had by being within the Ruling Alliance than without it – an assessment that is probably true, given the pro-union regulatory and legislative labour regime that was developed during that time.

NUMSA conceives itself as occupying or potentially occupying the centre of the economy. The trade union aspect to its political ambitions is that it hopes to ‘vertically integrate’ along the supply chains of energy (including construction of generation capacity – Medupi, Kusile), mining (including smelting and associated industries) and metalwork/engineering/manufacturing.However, NUMSA has always harboured an ideology way to the left of the ANC, i.e., explicitly socialist. It preached caution in dealing with the ‘African nationalist political formation’ (i.e., the ANC) which would try to co-opt socialist unions into the struggles of an aspirant black bourgeoisie. NUMSA preached a kind of ‘partyism’ (the belief that unions should only support a worker’s party) and ‘workerism’ (a belief that unions should stay away from politics to avoid co-option by political parties). In many ways, where things are heading is rooted in NUMSA’s long held ideology.

The real economy 

So what does all of this mean for the SA real economy and where do the risks lie?For almost 10 years, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been complaining that NUMSA constantly trespasses on its turf – poaching its members. NUM has also warned for many years that NUMSA has political ambitions driving its contestation for members with NUM and other COSATU unions. The seldom explicitly stated strategy (or fantasy) of the NUMSA leadership is that they can build a union or alliance of unions that can occupy the whole centre of the South African economy and spin or leverage that into powerful political influence – leading naturally to the formation of a mass socialist workers political party that contests with the ANC. We think this week’s actions by NUMSA are the next phase of these ambitions.

While we concede that it is a little premature to ascertain or quantify the 2H 2014 economic implications of the impending strike in the metals and engineering sector, we nevertheless find it necessary to highlight the risks and our concerns here.

The SARB calculate in its most recent quarterly bulletin that the impact of the loss of production in the PGM sector in 1Q thanks to strikes equates with a decrease of 0.3% in real GDP (or 1.3% at an annualized rate). The indirect effects of the strike (i.e., onto household consumption and the manufacturing sector, etc.) reveals that annualized GDP growth would have been around 2.2ppt higher at +1.6% q-q saar versus the headline 0.6% contraction (i.e., 1.3% due to direct effects and 0.9% due to indirect effects – (i.e., a ratio of 60/40). The current account deficit, the SARB estimates, would have been around 0.3ppt smaller than the 4.5% of GDP it registered in 1Q.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) represents 23 affiliated employer associations, representing 2,072 companies and employing around 200,000 workers. Comparing the damage done to the local mining sector from the recent PGM strike which had only around 70,000 members down tools over three companies’ operations, the negative impact of this strike could prove to be much more damaging.

A breakdown of SA’s gross value add by sector indicates a risk to around 40% of the production-side of the economy (mainly direct). Add to this the massive risks to the country’s export base (being conservative, we roughly estimate such a strike has the ability to hinder at least a quarter of SA’s total export receipts), and the strong linkages between the manufacturing and mining sectors (from an intermediate inputs standpoint), and the outlook for the real economy in the second half of the year has the potential to be very damaging. We continue to highlight the large downside risks to our current 1.9% 2014 GDP projection as a result.Furthermore, next week’s purported strike action in the metals and engineering sector in gross value add terms accounts for a much more sizable chunk of the local economy’s GDP composition than just the platinum industry.

Numsa 1 Numsa 2 Numsa 3 Numsa 4

 

Below are my comments about Sunday’s cabinet announcement followed by my comments about the elections from a week or so earlier – a sort of trip back in time.

In both cases the originals were written under tight deadlines and in both cases my initial impressions have been moderated by time, drifting towards the insipid end of the spectrum.

But for those who might be interested these were my first, slightly more vivid, impressions …

(Sent out 06h00 Monday 26th May):

Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet 2014 – through a glass darkly

From a narrow ‘financial market’ perspective the Cabinet announcement by Jacob Zuma last night was disappointing and confusing.

(Note: it would be possible to find much good in this Cabinet and the strategy it implies, but because the announcement was so late – about 1900 hours last night – I have decided to focus almost exclusively on the risks and problems, mostly because they dominate. Apologies if this makes me sound whiny.)

Cyril Ramaphosa

The appointment is finally made. It’s largely a good thing from a financial market perspective – given his understanding of how business works. However, the damage done him by his comments before the Marikana massacre should not be underestimated (he called for greater police action against strikers – see here) and his power within the ANC should not be over-estimated (he has, essentially, played hand-maiden to Jacob Zuma from assuming office of the ANC deputy president at Mangaung in December 2013). However, Ramaphosa was a clever and powerful negotiator for the ANC at Codesa I and II. It is likely that Ramaphosa’s authority and influence will gradually increase in the next few years, possibly leading to his ascension to the ANC’s and the country’s presidency.

Nhlanhla Nene – Minister of Finance

Nene became Deputy Minister of Finance in November 2008 and served in that role till May 2014. He is technically competent and liked by the few in the markets and in business who have dealt with him. As chairman of parliament’s finance committee Nene urged in October 2008 that “utmost care should be taken that parliament does not undermine macroeconomic stability” – see here for that reference.

Issues, problems and basis for assessment

Nene is the ‘continuity candidate’ in the absence of Pravin Gordhan – but it is this absence that increases uncertainty. Nene is not well known in the markets and he is particularly ‘lightweight’ politically in terms of his seniority and influence in the ANC (as opposed to his predecessors Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan).

This becomes more of a problem when GDP growth is as sluggish as it is in South Africa and when the President himself summarises his intentions (as he did prefacing his cabinet announcement): “I announced on Saturday that we have entered the second phase of our transition to a national democratic society. I also said this would be a radical phase of socio-economic transformation.”

One must assume such “a radical phase of socio-economic transformation” would put even greater spending pressures on the Finance Minister. Gordhan (and before that Trevor Manuel) had proven levels of toughness and authority in holding the fiscal line – although at least in Manuel’s case the ‘markets’ were nervous for some time after his appointment in 1996 (and Gordhan was not, initially on the ANC NEC when he was appointed).

The problem is made worse by the fact that DTI and EDD are unchanged

One of my early concerns with Zuma’s first Cabinet in 2009 was that it distributed economic policy-making power around government apparently (to me) as a gift to the SACP and Cosatu for having backed Jacob Zuma in his struggle against Mbeki. Thus Rob Davies in DTI and Ebrahim Patel in EDD have been left in place in yesterday’s cabinet announcement. As it turned out after 2009 Pravin Gordhan was eventually able to establish the Department of Finance as the centre of government’s economic policy-making function. Appointing Nhlanhla Nene to head the Treasury while leaving the other (now more experienced) economic Tsars in place rather reawakens the original concern.

If public sector wages and public service productivity are key variables for balancing government books …

The removal of independent and powerful Lindiwe Sisulu to the backwaters of Human Settlements (formally housing) and her replacement with the quiet and self-effacing Collins Chabane, previously of monitoring and evaluation in the Presidency, is another cause for concern. Again, he is admired and liked and should be given the chance to rise to the challenge of this key portfolio, but my first take is this is another weak appointment. The major negotiations for 3-year wage agreements in the public sector come up for renewal this year. I would have preferred someone in this post who had the political weight to stand up to the public sector unions (and various other political interests).

The key idea seems to be to house the NDP in a politically beefed up Presidency

The new ‘centre’ of economic policy making will actually be within the Presidency where Zuma has appointed Jeff Radebe as a sort of Prime Minister of the National Development Plan into which he (Zuma) has collapsed performance and monitoring as well as ‘youth development’.

Radebe swings a lot of weight – and a more general comment is that Jacob Zuma has made weak appointments throughout his cabinet but has very significantly strengthened his own office. There are several problems with this, but I will mention only that Jeff Radebe has never played a role where he has been required to establish or defend (or even understand) macro-economic policy stability, but he has played the role of party fixer, strongman and bully in the ANC. If these talents can be deployed in giving flesh to the NDP bones that will be a good thing.

Supply-side misery

The Governor of the South African Reserve Bank consistently has expressed concern about various ‘supply side’ constraints (see here for the Monetary Policy Committee statement of May 22nd).

These constraints include energy prices, labour unrest, transport bottlenecks, broadband penetration and regulation and failures in the education system among a host of issues.

So here are just a few of the appointments in this area:

Energy: After a disastrous term in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Minister Tina Joemat-Peterssen has been appointed Minister of Energy. She has been the subject of several Public Protector Investigations and she has courted a highly confrontational relationship with the fishing industry. However, she is strongly supported by Jacob Zuma. Her new department will be central to the decisions about the biggest public tender in South African history: R1-trillion worth of  nuclear power stations.

Telecommunications and Communications: The functions have been split, with the  Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele moving to Telecommunications and Postal Services. The bigger problem is how many changes have been made here, with the telecommunications industry  having expressing the hope that Minister Yunus Carrim would stay in the post and finally move towards stabilising the policy framework under which the local loop would be unbundled and the sector regulated – after a long succession of disastrous appointments. There are no grounds to be confident that Cwele is up to this task. The only grounds that we can see for the appointment is if the sector is conceived of as an extension of the country’s state intelligence function.

Communications: Ms Faith Muthambi has been appointed to head this department which will include the functions of the independent regulator Icasa, the state broadcaster SABC and government information services, the GCIS. It still needs to be assessed whether the structural change and appointments here and in telecommunications will be positive for the industry, but on the face of it is peculiar, to say the least, to group the regulator of the private sector (Icasa) with the ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’ capacity of the government and state.

(See here for the eviscerating comments on the ‘communications’ decisions in the cabinet from the SOS Coalition (‘trade unions, community media and content producers hoping to support quality public broadcasting’).

Education, transport and labour: It can have escaped no-one concerned with South Africa’s economic development that these functions of government are failing or significantly underperforming. But Jacob Zuma has left education and training with Blade Nzimande, basic education with Angie Motshekga (which, btw, some NGO’s and the DA reckon is a good thing), transport with Dipuo Peters and labour with Mildred Oliphant.

(Because I don’t know him that well, I didn’t discuss Adv Ngoako Ramathlodi as mining minister in that note. But here  is the new minister in 2011 essentially arguing that the South African constitution was a compromise from weakness on the ANC’s part and the the courts need to passop stepping on toes of government, the ANC and the Executive’s …. and here is constitutional expert Pierre De Vos apoplectic response to Ramatlhodi’s disturbing views.)

Full Cabinet

(The Deputy President is Cyril Ramaphosa)

1. The Minister in the Presidency is Mr Jeff Radebe.

2. The Minister of Women in the Presidency is Ms Susan Shabangu.

3. The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services is Mr Michael Masutha.

4. The Minister of Public Service and Administration is Mr Collins Chabane.

5. The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans is Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

6. The Minister of Home Affairs is Mr Malusi Gigaba.

7. The Minister of Environmental Affairs is Ms Edna Molewa.

8. The Minister of State Security is Mr David Mahlobo.

9. The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services is Dr Siyabonga Cwele.

10. The Minister of Police is Mr Nkosinathi Nhleko.

11. The Minister of Trade and Industry is Dr Rob Davies.

12. The Minister of Finance is Mr Nhlanhla Nene.

13. The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is Mr Senzeni Zokwana.

14. The Minister of Water and Sanitation is Ms Nomvula Mokonyane.

15. The Minister of Basic Education is Ms Angie Motshekga.

16. The Minister of Health is Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

17. The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation is Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

18. The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform is Mr Gugile Nkwinti.

19. The Minister of Higher Education and Training is Dr Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande.

20. The Minister of Economic Development is Mr Ebrahim Patel.

21. The Minister of Transport is Ms Dipuo Peters.

22. The Minister of Mineral Resources is Adv Ngoako Ramathlodi.

23. The Minister of Social Development is Ms Bathabile Dlamini.

24. The Minister of Public Enterprises is Ms Lyn Brown.

25. The Minister of Sport and Recreation is Mr Fikile Mbalula.

26. The Minister of Labour is Ms Mildred Oliphant.

27. The Minister of Arts and Culture is Mr Nathi Mthethwa.

28. The Minister of Public Works is Mr Thulas Nxesi.

29. The Minister of Small Business Development is Ms Lindiwe Zulu.

30. The Minister of Energy is Ms Tina Joemat-Peterssen.

31. The Minister of Science and Technology is Ms Naledi Pandor.

32. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs is Mr Pravin Gordhan.

33. The Minister of Communications is Ms Faith Muthambi.

34. The Minister of Human Settlements is Ms Lindiwe Sisulu.

35. The Minister of Tourism is Mr Derek Hanekom.

ends ….

 

(And then this, sent out Monday 12 May 06h30)

Election 2014 results

South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced the following election results for the country’s National Assembly on Saturday 10 May 2014:

Elections1

The ANC has 15 fewer National Assembly seats and the DA 22 more than they achieved in the 2009 election.

The provincial results followed a similar pattern, with the ANC winning 8 out of 9 provinces (with the Western Cape remaining in DA control). In three of those provinces the ANC increased its majority (Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape – and increasing its percentage of the vote in the Western Cape) and in five provinces the ANC majority was reduced.

ANC drop more significant in Gauteng and some other major cities

The most significant reduction in ANC support occurred in Gauteng, the country’s economic and industrial heartland and the province with the highest population and highest population density. In the provincial poll in Gauteng the ANC fell 10.45% to 53.59% from 64.04% in the 2009 election.

In the table below the trend is clearly revealed in the three major Gauteng metropolitan areas and is reproduced to some degree in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape:

 

Elections2

 

(As an aside, News24’s coverage of the election as well as it’s app from which the above is a cut-and-paste was truly excellent –  it’s set the new gold standard for election coverage in South Africa. To get a taste of that, visit here.)

‘Racial voting’ patterns persist

A feature of South African voting trends is that, in general, the parties have quite distinct racial or ethnic support bases.

This trend clearly persists (from City Press 11/05/2014)

Elections3

 

So what?

A close examination of ward data changes between 2009 and today reveals that there is a blurring of the racial voting patterns in Gauteng’s metropolitan areas – but only to a limited degree and only in the most developed urban centres. The persistence of ‘racialised’ voting patterns is unsurprising given the country’s history and the persistence of apartheid’s spacial planning and economic, demographic and cultural disparities in the present. The implication is that party support patterns are as suborn and persistent as other social patterns. From a financial market perspective this can mean both that the political environment is stable and predictable but also that such secure incumbency is likely to gradually increase patronage and complacency.

(You might want to temper these conclusion with the views of Pallo Jordan who wrote in a Business Day column: “Racial interpretations of voter behaviour might be very comforting for analysts who confuse public manifestations of discontent with the rejection of the governing party. Unless the coloured voters of the Northern Cape are being included in the “racial solidarity” African voters are accused of, their political choices can only be explained in terms of attractive policies”. I think Jordan’s argument is taking on something different to the points I make above, but I include them – Jordan’s comments – here in case I am missing something.)

The main implications: government, the ANC, the NDP, the middle ground and the EFF

These are, in my opinion, the main financial market implications of the election:

  • The result is generally financial market positive: it leaves the ANC with a secure enough majority to be able continue ‘grasping the nettle’ of macro-economic policy stability, including fiscal consolidation.
  • However, there may be just enough voter admonishment implicit in the ANC’s loss of 15 National Assembly seats and the more dizzying drops in the major metropolitan areas to cause the party to attempt a clean-up of the behaviour of some of its top leaders.
  • My reading of the relative ANC losses in the main urban centres of Gauteng is that these were only partly driven by the introduction of unpopular e-tolling gantries in that province. A more fundamental divide is the kind of leadership Jacob Zuma has brought to the ANC: with his ‘rural big man’ characteristics, the casual diversion of public funds for the development of his Nkandla home, his backing of patriarchal legislation like the Traditional Courts Bill and his too cosy, mutually beneficial, relationships with business people like the Shaik and the Gupta families (see here and here). The most educated urban voters are the least likely to tolerate this kind of behaviour by the country’s top politician – and this is reflected in voting patterns.
  • There is very little disagreement between the ANC and the DA (and most of the smaller opposition parties, except the EFF) as to the broad outlines of economic policy. Thus the National Development Plan and a broadly stable macro-economic policy platform is the consensus of over 90% of the political establishment.
  • It has long been a feature of South African politics that ‘the real opposition’ and political contest is not in parliament, but actually within the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance itself. This alliance has not, since 1994, been less divided over economic policy. The SACP is firmly backing the Zuma government and Cosatu is in disarray, leaving the ANC/SACP to pursue the NDP and related policies.
  • While I do not think the NDP is a panacea for South Africa’s myriad economic problems, the programme’s holistic approach to economic development, it’s emphasis on improving infrastructure and its greater reliance on market mechanisms for the allocation of capital (more so than previous such policies like Asgisa, IPAP 1 & II and the New Growth Path) make it broadly financial market positive.
  • The ANC is signalling its intention to ratchet up Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action in the workplace (through legislative, regulatory, political and state spending mechanisms.) This will get loud – and will become a more central feature of the valuation of companies and economic sectors in South Africa.
  • The rise and vibrancy of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters has been, perhaps, the most notable feature of this election. Malema faces a final sequestration hearing on May 26 – and if his provisional sequestration is upheld he will be barred from being a member of parliament.
  • With or without its leader in parliament the EFF is already vigorously attempting to link up with striking platinum workers and with service delivery protesters.  This will become an increasingly noisy feature of South African politics. The upside is the ANC will probably become less ambiguous in its attitude to such strikes and protests. The downside is there will now be a parliamentary pressure group backing the radical populist policies of land seizures and mine nationalisation. My view is this is, on the whole, a healthy development. The radical populist views have been present in the ruling alliance and the society more generally since 1994 anyway. Having those views directly represented by a minority party in parliament formalises the debate and contest within the democratic and constitutional structures of the country. Of course that doesn’t mean the EFF won’t constantly attempt to take its struggle to the streets, but it does mean that the ANC will be clear on where it stands in relation to those issues.
  • All attention will now move to Jacob Zuma’s new cabinet (which will be announced soon after his inauguration – which I expect on the 24th of May) and to succession issues within the ANC.

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

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