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Here are some bits and pieces I highlighted for investors over the last few weeks. Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for allowing me to republish these snippets here … it is also a touch more information that most people require, but I post it here for the record, if nothing else.

I write these under considerable time pressure  – deadline 06h30 0n Monday mornings. They can sometimes be a bit scrappy, but mostly (although with exceptions) still relevant a few weeks later. Where I say ‘yesterday’ or ‘today’ (or whatever) I mean: relative to the date in the highlighted headline above each section. The newest is on the top – stretching all the way back to the ancient history of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the US-Africa summit in Washington.

 

01/09/2014

Lesotho, South Africa … and the Guptas

Lesotho Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, was assisted by South African special forces soldiers to flee to South Africa in the face of a military backed ‘coup’ on early Saturday morning. The ‘coup’ (or ‘coup attempt’ – both terms are used extensively in the coverage) was allegedly orchestrated by Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing.

The key features of the event were the co-ordinated encircling of police barracks by the military, the disarming of the police and the seizing of the national broadcaster in the country’s capital Maseru on Saturday. (Sunday Times, Voice of America, City Press, Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014).

The Sunday Times story suggests the ‘coup’ was sparked by Friday’s firing of army chief Lieutenant-General Kennedy Kamoli by Lesotho’s King Letsie. The City Press reports that South African troops are on standby for further interventions.

Lesotho army spokesman Major Ntele Ntoi has denied there was a coup and says the army’s actions were purely to disarm police “who had been preparing to provide weapons to political parties” – Sunday Times.

Thabane, in a phone interview with Voice of America, said he was not going back until his safety was secured, that there was a situation of “total indiscipline” in the army and that soldiers were “running around the streets, threatening people” and “quite openly stating that they want my neck” – see here for VOA coverage.

So what?

This is almost too bizarre to type out, but here goes: a significant portion of the coverage of the event refers to the recent controversy surrounding the issuing by Thabane of diplomatic passports to the Gupta brothers (who we know better as key Zuma and ANC backers and funders, see Mail and Guardian coverage “The Grim Tales of the Brothers Gupta” for background).

At the time of the appointment Thobane said “(t)hese people (the Guptas) are good friends of the ANC and we have good relations with the ANC … I was introduced to them by ANC president [Jacob Zuma] and other ANC officials… I then appointed them to help scout for investment in my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho” – see here for that story.

In highly interpenetrated and interdependent systems of patronage and corruption, unsuccessful attempts to defend one part of the system can unravel the whole system and cause destabilisation throughout the linked networks.

 

Jacob Zuma’s Russian rest

Jacob Zuma visited Russia this week for six days. He had a light schedule and was, unusually, only accompanied by State Security Minister David Mahlabo and Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Nomaindia Mfeketo. There has been widespread but largely fruitless speculation about what the President was doing in Russia. (See City Press’s “Jacob Zuma’s mysterious mission to Russia” and former leader of the opposition DA Tony Leon in the Sunday Times in an opinion piece titled “How much more abuse can the constitution take from Zuma?” … unfortunately can’t find a link to that.)

So what?

The crisis faced by Russian President Putin is, by all accounts serious and urgent – and it might seem unlikely that he would have made time for a casual tête-à-tête with Jacob Zuma. Thus we can assume that Putin was in part motivated by wanting to demonstrate he still has friends in an increasingly chilly world. Also there is the sourcinig of agricultural products to fill the gaps left by European and US sanctions against Russia over Ukraine – a job South Africa could be well placed to do.

However Jacob Zuma appeared less to be representing South Africa and more on a personal visit – with several reports, including from government, that he would use the opportunity to rest.

It is difficult to escape the perception of two embattled leaders involved in a perhaps complicated exchange and attempting to secure their present and future:

  • there is the upcoming ZAR850bn nuclear build programme that probably depends on Jacob Zuma staying at the helm in South Africa – Russia reportedly hopes to be central to that programme.
  • Jacob Zuma’s key spy chiefs all reportedly resigned when he (Zuma) refused to allow them to investigate the Gupta brothers as a serious threat to national security (see back story on that here).
  • Jacob Zuma faces unprecedented blowback at home, including the possibility of a public discussion around the original fraud, corruption and racketeering charges against him (see here) now that the famous Spy Tapes are to be handed to the Democratic Alliance in the official opposition’s attempts to have the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision not to charge Zuma reviewed.
  • Also in yesterday’s Sunday Times was an important ‘leaked’ story that South Africa had sent a large group of intelligence officers to be trained in Russia and that “the Russians have recruited at least four of our people, which means we are sitting with double agents” – according to an unnamed source “with inside knowledge of the programme” – Sunday Times 31/08/2014.
Twinkle Toes (Pic from GCIS)

Jacob’s Ladder (geddit?) and check out the body languege (Pic from GCIS)

It is not inconceivable or unreasonable to consider the possibility that Jacob Zuma is asking for intelligence and security coverage and offering in return nuclear contracts and public expressions of support. It’s not a perfect theory, but some kind of explanation is required.

 

Ruling alliance divides itself neatly on defending or attacking the public protector – is Jacob Zuma becoming a cost the ANC cannot bear much longer?

Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu general secretary, broke ranks with the ANC on Saturday arguing that the Public Protector’s recommendations on resolving the Nkandla dispute (in which over ZAR200 million of public money was spent irregularly on Jacob Zuma’s private house) should be implemented immediately … “all of them, without exception.” Vavi went on to say that criticism of Madonsela were “absolutely disgusting, to say the least”– Vavi in the Sunday Times 31/08/2014.

So what?

While the main structures of the ANC and its government attempt to close ranks around Jacob Zuma as the multiple scandals unfold and the threats against him grow, the hegemony is crumbling and the edges.

The ANC still has a comfortable electoral majority although as I have pointed out on many occasions, at least part of the electoral declines the ruling party experienced in May, especially in the sophisticated metropolitan areas of the economic heartland of Gauteng, have to do with perception of corruption and mismanagement at the top. It is difficult not to concur with the implicit meaning of the headline of Barney Mthombothi’s column in the Sunday Times yesterday which reads: “ANC courts its own destruction”.

We must consider that the cost of defending Zuma’s multiple infractions is starting to tell on the ANC (as it is telling on the party’s alliance with Cosatu).

I would reason that the ANC’s brand value is being seriously impacted by Jacob Zuma’s presidency and that, almost as a natural law, such a threat to value will call into being an attempt to defend the value by those who have the most to lose (other leaders and members of the ANC)

It’s the future, so I am guessing, but I think it is an even chance that Jacob Zuma will be moved into retirement within the next two years and that the official reasons will be related to his health.

(This added as I post these comments here: the above several paragraphs might be wishful thinking. If you want to see a well reasoned opinion that takes the opposite view, see the interesting  Daily Maverick column by Ranjeni Munusami arguing that Zuma will see out his second term. I suspect that I just can’t live in a world where the thugs get away with it for ever (this paragraph was edited after posting – Ed)

 

Ebola spreads to Senegal – World Health Organisation warns of ‘rapid hike’ in infections

The Ebola (haemorrhagic fever) epidemic ‘sweeping’ West Africa has killed approximately 1500 people and the first cases have been confirmed in Senegal, having up until now being confined in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

So what?

Ebola was first identified in the north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976 and outbreaks have been common in Central and Western Africa since that time. The disease is isolated and confined to countries with weak public health systems and high levels of poverty. In all the news coverage, the headlines tend to be more alarming than the content of the stories. There are various experimental drugs in trial (including one made jointly by GlaxoSmithKline and the US government which has achieved high levels of success) – Sunday Independent – 31/08/2014.

 

25/08/2014

Pay Back the Money … or we’ll huff and we’ll puff

Julius Malema and his cohorts in the National Assembly didn’t quite blow the House down on Thursday last week during President’s Question Time.

JULIUS

They disrupted parliament by demanding that Jacob Zuma pay back a portion of the costs of upgrades to his Nkandla home, as specified by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. Their chanted refusal to accept the stock brushoff from Zuma and the poor management of the showdown by Baleka Mbete, Parliamentary Speaker (and ANC National Chairperson), is the leading edge of yet another storm that concerns Jacob Zuma’s integrity – and the ability of the constitutional mechanisms to hold him to account. (Here for a useful and interesting take on festivities.)

 

But political theatre becomes something more serious as the Public Protector and the ANC and its allies go head-to-head on the issue

Several Sunday papers reported yesterday ( 24/08/2014) that the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has sent a letter to Jacob Zuma criticising several aspects of his response to her Secure in Comfort report and specifically arguing that he (Zuma)  did not have the constitutional right to set aside or review her findings or to allow Police Minister Thathi Nhleko to do so (in essence Zuma has asked Nhleko to determine what his – Zuma’s – financial obligations are with regard to the Nkandla security upgrades).

According to constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos Madonsela is well within her rights. “This is not legally controversial,” he says, quoted in today’s Business Day (25/08/2014). “The president is either receiving appallingly bad legal advice or he is wilfully abusing his power and thwarting the law to protect himself in order to unlawfully benefit financially from the state.”

Both the ANC and the SACP came out late yesterday afternoon strongly critical of Madonsela, arguing that she had overreached herself, especially as a parliamentary committee was currently dealing with the matter.

So what?

The clash in parliament on Thursday made a significant media impact and it seemed for a moment that the damage being done the ANC by the party endlessly having to defend its wayward leader could conceivably lead to some profound political realignment.

But that feeling was brief.

The EFF has 25 MPs in the National Assembly, to the ANC’s 249 and the DA’s 89.  The chances are, the ANC in parliament will work out a set of rules that essentially disciplines the EFF (already MPs may be suspended for not more than 30 days and have their salary docked for the same period).

Jacob Zuma is a master at diverting crises like this into long (perhaps endless) processes that have a degree (or at least a semblance) of legitimacy and constitutionality. And there is a parliamentary process dealing with Nkandla underway and whether this process is an attempt to ‘set aside or review’ the Public Protector’s findings could be the subject of years’ of constitutional debate, such that many of the players will be long gone by the time it is resolved.

There is considerable stability in a system so tightly bound within itself through links of patronage and shared loyalties – although I suspect that when such a system eventually unwinds, it unwinds quickly and perhaps catastrophically.

Jacob Zuma is off for a week in Russia – to work and to rest – and the game will go on. “The visit will further strengthen the excellent bilateral relations with a view to consolidating and opening new avenues towards job creation, skills development, exchange and transfer of technology and trade and investment,” said the Department of International Relations yesterday.

There may be some future moment when the ANC could face electoral losses because of public perceptions about corruption of its leaders, but that day is still far enough ahead to not impact (in any meaningful way) upon behaviour in the present.

(So … that isn’t a direct contradiction on what Nic thought on September 1, but it is more than a little close. I strongly suspect it might be a biorhythm, or hormonal thing – Ed)

 

Julius Malema … how did he ‘Pay Back the Money’?

Julius Malema appears in court today to face questions about where he got the money to pay his R18 million tax bill. According to Rapport newspaper (24/08/2014) the South African Revenue Service (Sars), would ask for a two-month extension of Malema’s provisional sequestration to determine where he got the money to repay his tax debt each month. The newspaper reports that “impeccable sources” allege that “cigarette smuggler Andriano Mazzotti was helping to pay his tax debt” – as re-reported at the Independent Online 25/08/2014 – see here. (I don’t know the Afrikaans language Rapport newspaper well – it is part of Naspers’s Media24 stable – treat the claim with maximum caution). (Not because of Naspers of Media24 – for so are they all, all honourable men … the caution is purely because the claim is faintly outrageous, which doesn’t mean it’s not true – Ed)

So what?

While Julius Malema’s insistence that Jacob Zuma account to parliament is welcome, we should be careful to not lose our sense of discernment. Julius Malema himself has faced a long list of accusations similar to those he is making against the ANC and Jacob Zuma.

 

Land and wage reform – unintended consequences

Two interesting articles in the Sunday papers hint at some of the negative unintended consequences of attempts to protect the interests of the marginalised and vulnerable workers on South African farms.

Firstly, the Sunday Times (24/08/2014) has a colour piece titled “Good intentions pave the road to rural hell” in which the 1997 Extension of Security of Tenure Act is assessed as having “led to as many as a million farmworkers being evicted countrywide”.

Secondly, the Sunday Independent (24/08/2014) records an interesting discussion about the impact of ‘minimum wage’ determinations on employment. The article shares different views on the matter, but concludes that in SA agriculture “the impact was devastating: Employment fell from 819 048 jobs in 2002, just before the law came into effect, to 623 750 jobs in 2003 and continued to decline to 555 549 jobs in 2007 – a net loss of almost a third in five years.”

So what?

The ANC has signalled an urgent desire to ‘get serious’ about land reform.  As we have mentioned previously ‘the land question’ seems to suggest to the ANC an answer to a host of social needs: employment, housing, food security, and black economic empowerment, to name only the most obvious. Racially unequal land ownership patterns (it is generally quoted that SA had 87% of land in white hands at the 1994 transition and that less than 8% has been redistributed since – see here) are also a driver of political dissatisfaction, perhaps helping feed the growth of the EFF and other ‘radical’ forces emerging in the society.

For now government is preparing a host of new legislation and regulation all the while signalling to commercial agriculture that it wants to be met half-way. There will probably be unintended consequences of government’s land reform and rural development programme (including negative impacts) but the lessons from the banking sector (for example with regard to the formulation of the National Credit Act) is that it is always a better idea for the private sector to go out and engage with government and attempt to shape legislation than it is to wait and deal with the future when it is a fait accompli.

 

21/08/2014

Mining, oil and gas sectors: legislative and regulatory drift and a scary audit

Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi didn’t calm nerves last week during his address to the third annual Mining Lekgotla. The minister is overseeing two significant regulatory processes causing anxiety in these sectors, namely a major audit of mining companies’ compliance with the 10 year targets of the Mining Charter and the signing into law of a bill amending the Mineral and Petroleum Development Act of 2002 (which the private sector thought it had essentially cautiously agreed to in exchange for it – the private sector – being consulted in detail about the regulations that would arise from the legislation).

With regard to the audit, Minister Ramathlodi said: “(w)hile the review process on the implementation of the Mining Charter is still under way, initial results suggest that whatever compliance we may have achieved, much more work still needs to be done” – Business Day -14/08/2014

With regard to the legislation the Minister said he had not been informed by the Presidency whether or when the bill would be signed into law. “There are legal teams that look at any legislation coming before the president and they advise him. When they do so we’ll act on that advice” – Business Day ibid.  Download Minister Ramatlhodi’s full address at the DMR website here.

So what?

Firstly, the audit obliges the mining companies to meet various ‘transformation’ obligations and targets by 2014 e.g., 26% of the company must be owned, through “full shareholder rights”,  by HDSA (Historically Disadvantaged South Africans) by the end of this year – as a precondition for the retention of the mining right. Go to www.dmr.gov.za to see the “Mining Charter” and the “Scorecard for the Broad-Based Socio-economic Empowerment Charter for the South African Mining Industry” to get a full view.

2014 is the year in which several definite obligations must be met by the mining companies and there is a degree of nervousness by investors and management as to how strict the audit will be, how much leeway the ministry will give and how severe the consequences of failure will be.

Purely the administrative aspects of the reporting process are enough to be a serious burden for smaller mining companies, according to Nic Dinham, Head of Resources at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities

The apparent prevarication in signing the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill, after months of careful negotiations between the department and the mining companies, has caused the industry to worry that deals struck and compromises made might be up for renegotiation. There was a general expectation that the constitutionality of the amendments would need to be tested and examined (especially government’s 20% proposed free-carry interest in all new exploration and production rights in the oil and gas sector).  It appears to me that the delays are adding to a more generalised sense of uncertainty about the growing regulatory burden and costs associated with continuing to mine in South Africa.

 

Amcu set to go on the offensive at Num’s last toeholds in the Platinum sector – non-cyclical risk factors in the SA labour environment escalate

Nic Dinham (BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities Head of Resources referred to in a previous section) said yesterday that in the platinum operations where Amcu is not (yet) the major union (at several mines, but including those operations at Aquarius Platinum and Northam Platinum) there were significant indications that Amcu was close to recognition thresholds (specific to each company) and that it was reasonable to expect increased labour unrest at the particular operations and companies where Num was clinging to a majority.

“During the recent result presentations, several companies reported that operations previously dominated by Num are showing signs of losing ground to Amcu, especially in the Rustenburg areas”, said Dinham.

“This is the case at Aquarius Platinum as well as at Northam where Amcu membership has risen to 30% and 15% respectively, just short of both companies’ recognition levels. Clearly, this could be the harbinger of more labour storms to come. At the same time, only small numbers of workers in the existing Amcu fortresses switched to NUM after the end of the strike. So, despite all the rational arguments about the financial impact of the strike on labour, Amcu appear to have won the propaganda war with the mining industry” – Nic Dinham, 20/08/2014.

So what?

There are a number of important implications, not least of which is the confirmation (and deepening) of the implicit defection of mineworkers in the Platinum sector from a key ANC aligned union (Num) and the continued disintegration of previously powerful trade union federation and ANC ally, Cosatu.

In some ways this frees the ANC (and government) to decide on economic policy without having to kowtow to Cosatu, but it will also raise anxieties in the ruling party about the narrowing of its base – and a diminishment of its hegemony and moral authority.

None of that is necessarily a bad thing. It is my opinion that our legislative and regulatory environment has tended to suffer from a lack of clarity and focus as a result of the ANC attempting to keep a number of different legacy constituencies (and sectional interests) happy and on-board.

However, it is also worth noting that my general expectation of a deteriorating labour environment is strengthened by concerns about labour unrest driven by further contestation between Amcu and Num. This, together with a coming trial of strength in all (or most) Cosatu unions that will accompany the impending Numsa split out of Cosatu will be a strong, non-cyclical, driver of labour unrest for the next 18 months. Jeff Schultz (BNP Paribas Cadiz Economist) and I recently suggested that these strands driving labour unrest, along with what we expect will be a major confrontation that will accompany the lead-up to the expiry of the current 3-year public sector wage agreement in March 2015, will keep labour risks at elevated levels in the South African investment environment for at least another 18 months.

 

Cyril Ramaphosa – a hard week down at the Commission

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa last week faced an avalanche of criticism and heckling at the Farlam Commission (which is investigating the killing of 44 people at Marikana on and before August 16 2012 in the context of the protracted strike at Lonmin mines in the Rustenburg area at that time).

Cyril Ramaphosa was called to the commission to explain his actions in the lead-up to the Marikana killings. Ramaphosa was on the Lonmin board at the time and in an email to Lonmin managers he said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”. In both these cases I have added the emphasis.

At the Farlam Commission hecklers shouted “Blood on your hands” (City Press 11/08/2014) during Ramaphosa’s cross-examination. Hecklers wore T-shirts with several different slogans criticising Ramaphosa’s wealth, for example one showed a buffalo in reference to the fact that Ramaphosa bid – unsuccessfully as it turned out – R19.5 million for a buffalo cow and her calf at a wildlife auction a month after the Marikana killings in 2012.

So what?

There is a high level of speculation as to whether Cyril Ramaphosa will succeed Jacob Zuma as president (when the current presidential term expires in 2019 or at some earlier date due to Jacob Zuma’s purported ill health.) There appears to me to be a widespread assumption in the financial markets that Cyril Ramaphosa, as an experienced businessman and an experienced negotiator and conciliator who was central to easing the transition at Codesa 1 and 2 in the early 90s, would be more sensitive to the needs of the private sector, more compliant with global capital markets and, generally, run a cleaner and more efficient ship.

Implicit in that list of attributes is the person who Ramaphosa would be cleaner than, more conciliatory than, more understanding of private sector needs than, is Jacob Zuma. It is impossible to know either that Ramaphosa really has such attributes relative to Zuma or that it is really or primarily those attributes that make Ramaphosa a more attractive choice than Zuma for the financial markets … or, in fact, whether the ‘financial markets’ really makes these kinds of distinctions.

It is my impression that Jacob Zuma’s rise to power and performance as president has been accompanied (and in several cases directly caused) increased political risks associated with investing in the country. Almost any successor would probably be welcomed by the markets. However we would be cautious about seeing Ramaphosa as the knight in shining armour. He is badly damaged by his link to the Marikana killings (unfair as that may be) and he has not yet established a significant constituency within the ANC. The fact that he is a rich man can play both ways; it gives him resources to build his case but it makes him vulnerable to accusations of conspicuous consumption and being out of touch with common people. It is also inescapably true that his wealth has been accumulated more as a result of ‘empowerment deals’, the accumulation of large slices of equity, rather than the involvement in any of the underlying activities (mining, banking, health care etc).

More than anything we must keep front of mind that much ANC policy and politics is determined in the forums of the party – long in advance of such policies and politics becoming law and regulation. The particular character of leaders makes a difference, but in the South African case, not as big a difference as it might elsewhere.

 

The noise around land reform is (partly) bluster designed to get commercial agriculture to act voluntarily

Urging Commercial farmers to take voluntary steps ‘advancing the transformation project in the agriculture sector’, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said “change that is imposed is more painful” – Business Day 14/08/2014.  Mantashe told attendees at a conference on land reform and food production that land reform was necessary if South Africa was to deal with the “ugly past of racial land dispossession of black people” and that farmers must never allow themselves “to be victims of change” – Business Day ibid.

So what?

We previously described in some detail some of the legislative initiatives around land reform and one of the points we made about assessing the risks associated with the land reform initiative is reinforced by Gwede Mantashe’s choice of words.

The ANC feels keenly its failure to successfully complete a significant process of land reform and redress – and is, in part, being punished for that failure by the (still slight) electoral traction achieved by the ostensibly more radical Economic Freedom Fighters on their debut in the general election on May 7 2014.

However, the ANC feels, at least as keenly, the threats to investment that would result if property rights were ever threatened by an unruly and uncertain ‘land reform’ process à la Zimbabwe.

Commercial farming does not have the handy (from the ANC’s point of view) equivalent to the mining sector’s mineral rights to attach to a number of ‘transformation’ objectives. The ANC would be extremely cautious about bluntly attaching a ‘licence to farm’ (or in fact a ‘licence to operate any business’) directly to ‘transformation objectives’. There is a line beyond which such rights and obligations could constitute a nationalisation in fact and might be both unconstitutional and, certainly, a serious barrier to future investment.

Thus the ANC, in the form of its secretary general, is snapping at the heels of domestic commercial agriculture, attempting to herd it towards the ‘transformation’ objective, putting the argument that this is the national good, but hinting that a bite on the ankle could be the laggard’s reward. It is an open question as to whether farmers would respond to such incentives with greater compliance or with resistance, both covert and overt. However, for now, we think the ANC’s (and therefore government’s) land reform bark is worse than its bite.

 

Bits and pieces

  • Jacob Zuma put out a report last week which he and his spokespeople claim is a satisfactory response to the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s, “Secure in Comfort” report into the upgrades to the President’s private Nkandla residence in which she finds several faults with the President’s actions and inactions. The delay, over many months, of a response from Jacob Zuma to Thuli Madonsela was ostensibly as a result of him (Zuma) awaiting a report from the Special Investigating Unit. However, on Friday a spokesperson for the Public Protector said Zuma’s report was not a response, adequate or otherwise, to Secure in Comfort. ““That means a document that comments on the public protector’s report or indicates action taken or to be taken to implement remedial action in compliance with section 3(5) of the Executive Members Ethics Act must still be submitted to Parliament by the president” – my emphasis added.
  • Jacob Zuma’s team is preparing to hang expense overruns and incorrect categorisation of some items as ‘security related’ on Jacob Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya. The Mail and Guardian reports that the “Special Investigating Unit has lodged a R155-million claim against Makhanya” – 15/08/2014.
  • And in other news Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol who was shouldered with the blame for the landing of a large private wedding party at a secure military base by the close Zuma allies and business partners the Gupta brothers and family last year, was nominated by Jacob Zuma as Ambassador to The Hague. In August last year, Koloane pleaded guilty to all charges relating to his involvement in authorising the controversial landing of the jet.
  • It’s not (just) idle mischief putting these bullets together. If the President’s own actions around his accumulation of personal assets and special favours to his friends can impact on the formal judicial, disciplinary and constitutional oversight functions, if his party can go to extreme lengths to protect him from the consequences of his actions in accumulating personal wealth and influence, it is unlikely that private companies will be trustful of, or willingly and enthusiastically compliant with, the ‘transformation’ agenda emerging from the state, government and party he leads. Ultimately the private sector needs to believe that the value of its various social obligations ends up benefiting those who need the assistance the most. This is the price the private sector seems prepared to pay for stability and growth. Any sense that the public purse is hijacked or that equity transfers and affirmative action obligations have become a kind of asset that can be hoarded and dispensed as patronage by the politically powerful will cause the ‘transformation’ objective – and much else – to fail.

 

11/08/2014

‘Cabinet leaning to break-up Eskom’ – Business Day 05/08/2014 … I would be extremely surprised

Business Day reported that the idea of breaking up Eskom and privatising some of its power stations “is starting to gain traction in government circles, as a team of cabinet ministers and government officials seeks ways to alleviate the company’s financial crisis and restructure its business” – Business Day 05/08/2014.

The governing ANC’s alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) vowed the next day to fight any such privatisation “to the bitter end” arguing that electricity price inflation, driven by the ‘commercialisation’ of the utility in the first place, was “one of the key constraints” on economic growth and an important reason South Africa “is not creating decent jobs the country so desperately needs” (catch the full August 6 Cosatu statement here.)

On the same day Lynne Brown, the Minister of Public Enterprises, said “I want to indicate that there is a portfolio of options for the interministerial task team to consider. To my knowledge Cabinet has not discussed the matter of privatisation and there is no need to unnecessarily raise temperatures around this matter” – City Press Online, 06/08/2014. The ‘task team’ to which she refers was described (in the same story) as “representing energy, public enterprises and the treasury” and further, that the findings of the team had not yet been made public.

So what?

This is, supposedly, a defining issue for the ruling faction of the ANC and its allies in Cosatu and the SACP. Much of the motivation for backing Jacob Zuma (and ousting Thabo Mbeki) was – apparently – that Mbeki’s policies were a species of Thatcherism (especially the plan to privatise the major state utilities). The alliance backing Jacob Zuma defined its historical mission as the combating of this “1996 class project”, a catch-all phrase for neoliberalism, fiscal rectitude and the ‘Washington Consensus’.

It might well be true that the breaking up and privatisation of Eskom is an urgent necessity – or even a precondition for recovery from our dire economic state – but it is a political nonstarter, requiring the complete breakup of the alliance of groups that hold power, and is therefore vanishingly unlikely to happen, even symbolically.

 

National Prosecuting Authority in free fall and intelligence services are extensively deployed on behalf of senior politicians and criminals – and the storm is beginning to batter against the South African Revenue Service – this is as serious and urgent as it is confusing and complicated

There is an on-going meltdown at the heart of the criminal justice system which is increasing risks in doing business with, or in, the areas administered by the South African state.

Here are only a few of the most recent visible features of the (complex and confusing) disintegration:

  • Jacob Zuma has asked the National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana to give reasons why he should not be suspended. The apparent motivation is that Nxasana has problems associated with his security clearance (owing to his brushes with the law, including a murder charge, when he was a younger man). However, almost all the coverage and analysis suggests that the ‘real reason’ is Nxasana has pursued investigations of key Zuma allies in the NPA and Crime Intelligence Division of the South African Police Service and his (Nxasana’s) actions threaten to lead, eventually, to fraud and corruption charges being reinstated against Jacob Zuma.
  • Award winning journalist Mzilikazi wa Africa published his memoir last week which includes a detailed account of how Jacob Zuma and his allies vigorously undermined the credibility of the first National Director of Public Persecutions Bulelani Ngcuka by spreading the false information that he (Ngcuka) was an apartheid spy.(See an interesting examination of this thread from Business Day 07/08/2014 here.) In here is the source code of much of the chaos in the prosecuting authority and intelligence service: Bulelani Ngcuka led the original investigation into the allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering against the then Deputy President Zuma, concluding that there was “prima facie” evidence that Zuma was guilty, but not enough to win in court – a statement to which Zuma, not unreasonably, strongly objected.
  •  “Sex, SARS and rogue spies” announced the front page headline in City Press yesterday (10/08/2014). The accompanying stories allege that senior SARS official, Johan van Loggenberg, has been the subject of a ‘honey trap’ operation by the State Security Agency “Special Operations Unit”. The story is Byzantine, but the important bit is the detailed allegation that the secret spy unit operating against van Loggenberg has also been used to discredit and smear a ‘anti-Zuma’ camp in the NPA and in Crime Intelligence. Bizarrely, the Special Operations Unit supposedly includes drug dealer Glen Agliotti.  (Read some of this story here and here … if you have the time or the patience.)

So what?

This level of political and criminal infiltration into key state institutions and functions, especially of the security services, the prosecuting authority and the South African Revenue Service raises real questions about judicial, regulatory and legislative certainty in the operating and investment environment. Uncertainty about the application of law, the integrity of the criminal justice system and the functioning of the revenue service must all be considered by anyone wanting to invest in South Africa or in assets regulated by South African institutions of state and law. Frankly, given the deep connections between the instability in these key sectors of the South Africa state and the rise to power of Jacob Zuma I am pessimistic that we have the capacity to fix this problem while the current administration is still in power.

The National Prosecuting Authority has appointed highly respected retired Constitutional Court judge Zak Yacoob to head an inquiry, or ‘fact finding mission’ into its dysfunctional state. Unfortunately Yacoob almost immediately (on Thursday last week while speaking at a workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand) happened to mention that he would have “set aside” the judgement that found Jacob Zuma not guilty of rape in 2006, because he would have put less emphasis on the alleged victim’s sexual history – see here. An outraged African National Congress said it learned of Yacoob’s comments “with shock and dismay” saying they “opened old wounds” and were “an attack on  principles of our jurisprudence and the judiciary.” Yacoob attempted to clarify his comments here but either way he is no longer likely to be the instrument that cleans up the National Prosecuting Authority.

 

 

Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission today as succession debate begins

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will have to explain today at the Marikana Commission what he meant when emailed other senior Lonmin managers just before the August 12 2012 killing of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana and said: “(t)he terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.” In another email he urged then police minister Nathi Mthethwa to “take appropriate steps”.

So what?

It is unlikely that the Commission will find anything untoward in Rampahosa’s messages. He was, after all, doing nothing other than responding to the growing violence of the strikers and Lonmin’s increasing anxiety about the strike. We are of the view that there is some political harm done Ramaphosa by his identification with mine management and government – and the police killing of the 34 mineworkers. There is a considerable degree of unease within the broad structures of the ANC and the electorate about the Marikana killings. The ANC is obliged to stand with its Deputy President on this matter, but it can’t be comfortable. This will play against Ramaphosa (although perhaps not decisively) in the coming succession contest in the ANC.

 

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Chairwoman of the African Union, fresh from pride of place at the US-Africa summit in Washington announced yesterday that she was undecided as to whether to stand for a second term in the AU (her current term expires in 2014 2016) This is inevitably raising questions about whether she will compete with Ramaphosa to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the country.

So what?

She is in the running – and is clean and capable. She is perhaps more of an insider in the ANC’s power elite than Cyril Ramaphosa and her winning this race might mean (unwelcome) continuities with the current administration. It’s too early to call it one way or another, but the ANC Women’s League has indicated that it could back Dlamini-Zuma (or Baleka Mbete) while the Gauteng ANC has indicated it could back Ramaphosa.  Officially succession would only take place after elections in 2019, but there are constant rumours that Jacob Zuma might want to retire early (or be forced to do so due to failing health). An early retirement of Jacob Zuma would probably be a significant positive for perceptions about South African political risk, but the specific circumstances of such a move would determine whether it would, in fact, be positive, negative or natural.

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

 

I am on my way to London to speak to the funds that buy and sell South Africa’s corporate and government bonds i.e. the market that sets the price at which the world is prepared to lend us money.

Daily I become more convinced that the South African political economy is, like quick clay so unstable that when a mass …  is subjected to sufficient stress, the material behavior may transition from that of a particulate material to that of a fluid.” 

The other metaphor I was fiddling with was: all the cards have been thrown in the air and where they will land, nobody knows. (I’m sure there is an elegant song or poem that says something like that, any help there would be appreciated  … that request  is the WordPress equivalent of a  #twoogle – Ed) 

But before I get onto the more lofty questions about the future of life, the universe and everything, I thought I would send you my latest news update – so you can see the gradually building case for my sense that everything has changed. (Thanks as always to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities for generously allowing me to republish this – albeit a few days later – here.)

  • A new socialist party appears on the horizon of South African politics … it’s not all good news, but nor is it all bad
  • Murmurs about vote rigging – a leading indicator of political instability 
  • Mining policy meets with surprising levels of push-back from the private sector – in the Business Day at least
  • The future push for the NDP, Hitachi and the ANC, final takes on the budget and why South African telecommunications infrastructure is a very fat golden goose

Numsa confirms it will launch socialist party

The biggest union in the country is effectively in the process of being expelled from the ANC- aligned Cosatu and has announced its intention to establish a party, provisionally to be called the United Front and Movement for Socialism.

“We need a movement for socialism,” general-secretary Irvin Jim told reporters in Johannesburg on Saturday.

He (Jim) continued on to argue that ‘leadership of the national liberation movement as a whole had failed to lead a consistent radical democratic process …’ (Jim paraphrased in numbing detail in SABC Online, Sunday, 2 March 2014, 17h49.)

Numsa has been given seven days (from last Thursday) by the Cosatu NEC to provide reasons why it should not be suspended from the federation. The main issues motivating the suspension are that Numsa has been openly critical of the ANC and the Cosatu leadership and that Numsa has begun competing with, especially, the National Union of Mineworkers, in defiance of Cosatu’ s one-industry-one-union slogan.

So what?

This is unfolding much as predicted. The ANC under Jacob Zuma has decided (or been compelled) to impose discipline on the ruling alliance and force a degree of compliance with the various policies of the ANC and its government. The discipline sought by the ruling group within the ANC is motivated by apparently divergent concerns. On the one hand, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to get the left-wing to stop attacking them (Jacob Zuma and his allies) as corrupt and incompetent. On the other, Jacob Zuma and his allies are attempting to force a degree of support for the National Development Plan (NDP), a policy that the left-wing generally sees as ‘neo-liberal’, anti-poor, anti-working class and conservative in fiscal and monetary terms.

There is a fine tension here between positives and negatives (for the audience NB writes for … mainly fund-managers – Ed). The NDP has been widely welcomed in financial markets. But the corruption associated with the holding of high office in South Africa is becoming something of a crisis for investors of all stripes. It is as inaccurate to think of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla faction as purely the champion of market friendly policy as it is to think that Irvin Jim, Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa are purely the anti-corruption champions of South African politics.

For now, we need to watch for the formation of the socialist party, probably at or before the year-end. Such a party will have a multiplicity of impacts including (but not limited to) undercutting areas of ANC support and forcing the ANC towards finding policies that stimulate economic growth.

(By-the-way I feel it is likely that this new party will have more substance and longevity than the EFF and through a variety of possible mechanisms – including some kind of alliance or even amalgamation – could subsume much of the EFF support and intellectual leadership. But that sort of speculative concoction will follow this post some time over the next few days.)

UDM says beware of vote rigging

The Sunday Independent (2 March) reports that Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement claimed that ‘rogue elements’ in the Independent Electoral Commission will help rig the 7 May election to ‘facilitate the underperforming ANC’:

“The ANC is very concerned (about shedding votes), hence they are pinning their hopes that those rogue elements will run the elections, so rigging will be on the high. There is no doubt about that” – Bantu Holomisa in the Sunday Independent, 2 March 2014.

So what?

The effectiveness, reliability and constitutionality of the Independent Electoral Commission have been important guarantors of aspects of South African democracy. While Holomisa’s allegations are not substantiated (in the aforementioned interview), the fact that such allegations are made can be an important leading indicator of long-term political stability. People and political parties must trust the electoral system if they are to accept the outcome of elections.

(Holomisa’s ‘rogue elements’ probably refers to Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the IEC, who was found last year by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to be guilty of improper conduct and maladministration with regard to the R320 million lease contract for a new head office for the IEC. Tlakula is currently challenging Madonsela’s finding in courts. The IEC and the Public Protector are both institutions established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution with specifies that they are designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic” – Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.)

Mining policy pushback – in the Business Day anyway

Today’s Business Day leads with a story claiming that there are ‘growing rumblings’ from the mining industry about the ‘once empowered, always empowered’ equity provisions in the Mining Charter. The issue in this case is that the government will this year audit the mining companies’ requirement to be at least 26% black owned. Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye Gold, is threatening to go to court to have Sibanye’s empowerment transactions counted in the audit, even if the black beneficiaries have since sold out of their equity.

Mining companies are issued licences pursuant to them meeting certain criteria with regard to Black Economic Empowerment, employment, social, community and labour obligations.

So what?

The series of stories in the Business Day about this matter smacks a little of a campaign by the newspaper – nothing wrong with that but then consume them tentatively. The story is worth reading just to catch the tone and tenor of Neal Froneman – who sounds fed-up to the point of rebellion. Catch it here.

The article quotes Mike Schroder, a portfolio manager of Old Mutual’s gold fund, at a mining conference last year: “One cost that I can’t chart is BEE (black economic empowerment). It doesn’t affect the bottom line or the EPS (earnings per share) or PE (price:earnings) ratios, but every time a BEE deal is done, our pension funds, our provident funds, our unit trusts have to chip in.”

I expect these legislative interventions by the government to strengthen not weaken over time. It is my initial impression that part of the ANC’s answer to the populist incursions onto its territory by the EFF will be to significantly strengthen ‘transformation obligations’ on the private sector – and in return the government will back the private sector against the labour unions. I think these trends will become visible before the end of the year and will be accompanied by greater emphasis on the NDP and by the axing of the ANC’s left-wing elements. Thus, the ANC will attempt to reconfigure South African politics, basing itself more tightly on the emerging property-owning and middle classes than previously, and in a loose alliance with the private sector.  This feeds into my ‘hoping for the best’ view of last week – although we should be cautious, because these complicated trade-offs will as likely end in tears as smiles.

Bits and Pieces

  • Last week, Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, became involved in an unseemly Twitter spat with City Press journalist Carien du Plessis. Actually, it was only Zille doing the spatting and (probably to Zille’s mortification) du Plessis wrote a calm and thoughtful defence of herself in the City Press on Sunday (2 March 2014). In the Twitter exchange, Zille essentially accuses du Plessis of apologising for being white (as far as I can make out). Zille is feisty and combative and there have been several ‘scandals’ around her phraseology and views. She definitely skirts the boundary of what is acceptable in the highly circumscribed and sensitive language of political debate in ‘post-apartheid South Africa’. Will this lose the DA any votes on 7 May? Will it gain the party any? I have no idea.
  • Business Day editor Peter Bruce’s Monday morning column, ‘The Cutting Edge The Thick Edge of the Wedge: The Political Basis for budgets (if he perchance comes to these lonely shores and find’s that error, I ask his forgiveness in advance) should be required reading for anyone interested in the speculative intersections between South African politics and economics. This morning, he claims that a normally reliable informant, someone “spectacularly close to the Presidency”, told him that Trevor Manuel will stay on in government as a super-minister in the Presidency in Zuma’s next administration, that other ‘left leaning ministers in the economics cluster’ (he probably means Ebrahim Patel in EDD and Rob Davies in DTI) will be shifted aside, that the ANC will hold its vote above 60% on 7 May, that the new administration will make “a big and forceful push after the elections to begin implementing the National Development Plan”, that the EFF and Numsa’s new party will not fly, and that Zuma will secure his safety from prosecution for fraud post his presidency by ensuring that his ex-wife and African Union President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is his successor. (The argument in Peter Bruce’s article being: “She would not put the father of her children in jeopardy – which I don’t necessarily buy, but is interesting anyway). This view concurs quite closely with my view articulated last week that it appears, shorn of its ‘left’ and ‘right’ factions, the ANC will be obliged (and set free) to pursue vigorous economic growth if it is to win the 2019 election.
  • Hitachi has bought back the ANC stake (held by investment company Chancellor House) in Hitachi Power Africa as the shareholding constituted ‘a conflict of interest’. You don’t say. Hitachi Power Africa won R38.5 billion of contracts from Eskom for the Medupi and Kusile power plants. Nuff said.
  • The weekend press had a few ‘final takes’ on the budget. The two I found most interesting were Peter Bruce, in his aforementioned column, writing that it was “a budget of almost unsurpassable banality”, and Numsa’s Irwin Jim saying at his Johannesburg press conference on Saturday that the budget “more than anything else confirms the right-wing shift in the ANC/SACP government”. I won’t say anything.
  • Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko wrote a paid-for ‘open letter’ in the Sunday Times yesterday accusing MTN SA and Vodacom of acting against the public interest (of expanding access to and lowering costs of a ‘modern communications infrastructure’) by opposing lower termination rates. Maseko claims that Telkom had subsidised Vodacom and MTM to the tune of R50bn over two decades. Professor Alison Gillwald of Research ICT Africa was quoted in today’s Business Day (by the excellent Carol Paton) as saying “Telkom is right. MTN and Vodacom had an extraordinary termination rate asymmetry with Telkom over 20 years.” She went on to say that, during the period of asymmetry, the private companies rolled out “enormous infrastructure that has improved access.” Finally, she says: “While one wouldn’t want to kill the golden goose, she was a very fat goose”  … which I thought was a good enough turn of phrase to deserve republication anywhere.

* That is deliberately missing an apostrophe – the ‘*’ makes you think it might be there and you are forced back and forward between the noun and verb meaning. (Get a life! – Ed.)

I am struggling to make up my mind whether there really is a small accumulation of good news, clearly visible against the looming night … or if I am just desperate. Today’s Business Day story by the always interesting Carol Paton looking at Manuel and Sisulu on a stern clean up the public service drive must be positive, surely?

… and several points in my take on the political news in the English language weeklies from last week are postive:

Cabinet reshuffle

The Sunday Times says Jacob Zuma is planning to axe Dina Pule, Minister of Communications and Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Pule’s tenure has “limped from one scandal to another – including the questionable millions paid to her boyfriend from sponsorship money meant for the ICT Indaba last year” – Sunday Times.

So what?

The Department of Communications has failed to unbundle the local loop, missed innumerable opportunities with Telkom, under-resourced the regulator Icasa and generally failed to appoint/settle/keep senior management … and has had three ministers in 3 years. Fixing this is a priority area in the National Development Plan and one of the key ‘bottlenecks’ or ‘obstacles to economic growth’ that need to be removed. So Pule’s removal has (if it actually happens) to be seen as a good thing.

(Interesting – to me – speculation on the side is that Zuma might move Thulas Nxesi (Public Works) to replace Angie Motshekga (Basic Education) and have Motshekga replace Xingwana. This means that Jeremy Cronin (deputy minister in Public Works) might then replace Nxesi. But, as the Sunday Times says “there are concerns in the Zuma camp about whether he (Cronin) can be relied on to protect the president from the repercussions over the controversial R206-milliion Nkandla upgrade.”

Public service

Lindiwe Sisulu (Minister of Public Service and Administration) is quoted in the Sunday times about planned amendments to the Public Service Act setting in place ways of stopping senior administrators benefiting from government contracts. She also promised a “super-director-general’ who would ensure that all heads of department adhere to performances linked reward systems.

So what?

Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi lauded Sisulu plans, saying this would stop the “looting” of public funds by government employees. “We can only say halala (congratulations) to that!” he is quoted in the Sunday Times. I have to agree with Vavi. The biggest political failure that is actually in control of government in South Africa is the poor performance and monitoring systems – and therefore delivery failure and corruption – in government and public sector institutions. Sisulu’s intentions are to be welcomed – and she probably has the steel to follow through. So another plus.

Ramphele wanted DA to be dissolved

The Sunday Times quoted several DA members essentially claiming that Mamphela Ramphele almost joined forces with the DA, but wanted the party to be dissolved first and for her to have an equal share of a new institution. “She wanted a new political party and not to join the DA … she came with nothing but wanted an equal share” said one unnamed source.

So What?

The week has been beset with rumours about the impending announcement by the respected academic and business person Mamphela Ramphele that she is to set up a new opposition party. Speculation reached a climax when it was announced that she had resigned as Chairperson of Goldfieds on Wednesday last week. Ramphele would make an excellent addition to opposition parliamentary politics in South Africa – but the idea that one person, with no party structure or obvious constituency in hand, will change the South African game is hopeful at best. However, on the balance, this is undoubtedly another positive. (That’s three in a row for those who are counting.)

Zimbabwe referendum

Several of the weeklies reported that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday setting March 16 as the date for a referendum on a draft constitution. Most expressed concern that local activists felt that that gave very little time to explain the draft constitution (it took 3 years of bickering to cobble together) to voters and that the draconian Public Order and Security Act would need to be suspended or repealed before campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote could take place. All opposition parties have  called for a referendum ‘Yes’ vote to allow the constitution to be accepted and signed into law without any further changes.

So What?

Zimbabwe’s stability and growth prospects impact on South Africa in a myriad ways, for example in the floods of economic refugees and the shifting size of the export and investment markets in Zimbabwe. An interesting story in the Sunday Times by senior editor Mondli Makhanya argued that Zanu-PF is likely to benefit from opposition disarray and an improving economy. “With the elections just months away, Zanu-PF is smiling and looking forward to strolling to victory. After having brazenly stolen four parliamentary and presidential elections between 2000 and 2008 Zanu-PF will not have to resort to violence and skulduggery this time.” If Makhanya is correct (which he may well be) it is going to stick in a lot of craws that through a combination of looting, patronage networks, repression and the chasing of the urban poor into the arms of the South African informal economy and welfare system, Zanu-PF might remain in power.

New Iran claims hit MTN

The jailing of Iranian born US citizen Mohammad Hajian for supplying “sensitive and potentially dangerous equipment to MTN’s mobile network in Iran” (Mail & Guardian) deepens MTN’s woes in relation to its Iranian operations.

So what?                             

“The conviction is damning for the South African mobile giant, as it provides judicial corroboration that the company used sanctions-busting networks to beef up its technical infrastructure in Iran” (M&G).

State of the Nation Assessment

Most reviews pointed to the key absence of any binding theme in Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.

City Press probably had the best coverage.

  • It (CP) correctly points out that there was a specific “shift on land reform” –  with a move from “willing buyer, willing seller” to a “just and equitable” formulation.  This refers to the establishment of a “valuer-general who intervenes on behalf of the state … who then oversees land valuation …to keep the price … affordable for the state to redress” – CP quotes Gugile Nkwinti (Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform).
  • It argues that the youth wage subsidy has been swept aside and that government, business and labour in negotiations through Nedlac will announce a plan soon whereby “growth industries with young workforces will attract state support to hire the young and jobless … unskilled young people will also be offered a second chance to write their matric exams”. So no across-the-board subsidy … but a directed one, only in selected industries.
  • It picks away at the infrastructure programme and the various roles that will be played by Malusi Gigaba (Minister of Public Enterprises) and Ebrahim Patel (Minister of Economic Development). City Press interviewed the ‘up-and-coming’ Gigaba and asked him if Ebrahim Patel had left him much of a role to play. Gigaba replied: ““Economic Development is responsible for a broader plan. My department is responsible for three big infrastructure projects: the roll out of broadband, electricity infrastructure and logistics like rail. Other departments are responsible for roads, transport and dams.”

So What?

The State of the Nation address is always over-anticipated and usually bitterly lamented as not having been specific or visionary enough. This year, not unexpectedly, Zuma enumerated the successes of government and hyped the plans.  Much of what Zuma and his government will do and say in the next while will be focused on the national election in 2014 – and expectations likely to be disappointed.

Bits and Pieces

  • City Press reports that the department of fisheries, headed by Tina Joemat Pettersson is in “total free fall” – raising serious concerns about government’s ability to conduct research required to determine quotas of ‘allowable catch’ for key species.
  • Sunday Times business section reports that industrial unrest and violence at the Medupi construction site make the “chances of the R91bn power station feeding power into South Africa’s overstretched grid by the end of this year … slim”.
  • Sunday Times reports Harmony Gold made history by making individual workers at its Kusasulethu mine sign a treaty with the company in order to lock individual workers into a contract with the company. “This is quite a revolutionary move … (it) means that individual workers can now be taken to task when stepping over the line” says Peter Major, Cadiz mining analyst. Major argues, according to the report, that if similar agreements had been put in place a year ago when trouble first started brewing on the mines at Impala Platinum, a “Marikana” might have been prevented.

(Added as an afterthought: I realise I haven’t made any kind of conclusion given that the opening paragraph suggests I was going to indicate either that I am more positive than negative or vice versa. Frankly, I can’t make up my mind. Which probably makes me a fairly bog standard South African.)

No-one can take serious issue with the leopard for pouncing down on the neck of a wayward sheep and dragging the carcass back up the rocky outcrop to her cubs for a leisurely feed. It’s what leopards do.

Engaging the leopard in any special pleading about the benefits of keeping this particular sheep alive is, well, it’s just silly, isn’t it?

The gathering wave of strikes means the scent of blood is thick in the air and Cosatu’s haunches are bunching and its tail is twitching.

The trade union federation is sniffing the scent of blood. As the strike season gains momentum the coincidence with the Fifa World Cup is causing Sipho and Sally Normal deep anxiety.

“How can Cosatu hold the World Cup to ransom?” I hear our good citizens gasp.

But the real question should be: ‘how could Cosatu not seize this once in a lifetime opportunity?’

The trade union movement has leverage right now – and for a limited time only – like it has never had before.

Our politicians have inevitably embedded themselves with the Fifa invasion – with about as much moral fortitude as those journalists who embed themselves with superior invaders in other kinds of wars.

Cosatu member unions already had the extra leverage they derived from having backed the right gang in the Polokwane Putsch, but it is the potential to disrupt the Fifa World Cup that gives its voice a new continent cracking resonance.

You want a settlement three times the inflation rate? You’ve  got it, baby –  just don’t take the focus away from a moment as potentially rich as that perfect Zidane head-butt.

When management and unions stare each other down, a thousand considerations come into play – and while much hinges on the price of the package that will be paid for labour this is not the only consideration.

Management might accept a higher settlement if labour agrees to lock in an acceptable rate of increase in the years ahead – and vice versa. Or the parties can shift bits of the package around so that either management or labour feel that they are getting a better deal.

But there are other and more complicated influences on the bargaining process and one of them consists of getting a fat guy to lean on the other side for you.

If this was the USA 70 years ago organised crime might have lent a hand to one side or another, depending on the interests of some business oligarch, a connected Senator or a union boss playing the field. In South Africa the fat guy is the state and for a variety of reasons he is likely to lean on management and business owners.

When striking Transnet workers marched on parliament last week to insist that Minister S’bu Ndebele back their demands, the politicians sent Mawethu Vilana, a former Cosatu researcher out to speak to the angry workers. This from The Sowetan

Vilana said the government took the strike very seriously and that Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin and Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Enoch Godongwana were “involved” in trying to find a resolution.

The strike against Transnet appears to be close to resolution, but a larger national strike against the electricity price increase is gathering its skirts in the wings.

Cosatu is led by the kind of people whose instincts are to think of Fifa and the astonishingly named Sepp Blatter as just another gang peddling products that ensnare the user with false promises of bliss. But Cosatu also represents a constituency that loves the Beautiful Game and like a small boy is having to sit on its hands it is so excited about the coming festivities.

So Cosatu is not without limits on its behaviour and nor are its member unions. Cosatu has increasingly failed in the last several years to win over the “ordinary citizen” or ‘the middle ground’ when its strikes have spilled over into public protests. Just one too many image of groups of fat people dancing down a road with sticks, turning over rubbish bins and breaking shop windows has meant that anyone who is not a Cosatu member is less likely to stand as firm as those fabled Apartheid oppressed communities that stopped buying Fatti’s and Moni’s pasta to support the brave workers and their leaders who eventually went on to form Cosatu and drive the revolution itself.

The heroes always live long ago and their legend gleams more with time. But it is difficult to imagine a world in which Cosatu’s leveraging the World Cup for narrow financial gain is celebrated as a blow struck for transformation and liberation.

But in the same breath it is important to remind ourselves that Cosatu is just doing what it must do. It’s purpose is to ruthlessly fight for the advantage of its members over both the vested interests of the powerful, the collective interests of the nation and/or the desperate interests of the weak and downtrodden. In truth, the leopard really has no choice and cannot change its spots.

The quarterly Labour Force Survey from Statistics SA is a timely reminder of what really matters when assessing political risk associated with investing in South Africa.

Julius Malema’s predations,  Jacob Zuma’s extraordinary sex life, Cosatu’s and the SACP’s millennial economics would just be irritating noise, unless they relate to the country’s chronic levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality – and the racial overlay of the same.

Think of society as a complex system and unemployment, poverty and inequality as deep tectonic stresses that honeycomb and hollow out the underpinnings and foundations of the system. As the stresses grow so does the potential for catastrophic events.

South Africa has the highest jobless rate of the 62 counties tracked by Bloomberg and the unemployment rate rose for a fourth consecutive quarter in the first three months of this year – that’s a 1.3% contraction in employment or the loss of 171 000 jobs in that period. The following graph shows the general trend – and also demonstrates slight seasonal increases in the fourth quarters of 2008 and 2009, the result of the obvious stimulations from the holiday season and the rush to get things done.

Employment contracted in all industries but Agriculture, Private Households, Transport and Community and Social Services.

Read this alongside these points:

  1. More than 50% of South Africans live within the most common definitions of “poverty” or “below the poverty line”,
  2. South Africa has dropped approximately 30 places in the UN’s  Human Development Indicators index (to 125) since 1990;
  3. South Africa shares with Brazil and a few other Latin American countries the highest measures of inequality (the “Gini-coefficient“) in the world.

Add to this the dismal outcomes of Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment and you have a system shot through with instability.

When we worry about the ANC and its performance – and the increasingly profound failures of its key leaders –  when we worry about State Owned Enterprises like Eskom being hijacked by a predatory new elite, when we worry about the collapse of governance and service delivery in poor townships; our worry is actually about the impact on the deep, underlying trends in unemployment, poverty and inequality- and the possibility of fixing these problems.

When the bombast coming from the political and economic elite draws the national focus away from the real issues and challenges, then the trouble we are in becomes more threatening and more concerning to investors.

Herewith a note I wrote a week ago for a South African client concerning a recent whip around the London fund management industry

Foreign fund managers perceptions of South African political risk

I recently had an opportunity to interact with a few London-based global emerging market fund managers. These were generally from long-only equity funds, but included a smattering of everything else.

The main lessons I learned were

  • not to be overwhelmed by the negative news flow;
  • always think in relative terms – a negative and obsessive focus on South Africa is meaningless without realistic peer comparisons.

This was brought home to me again as the weekend news of the brutal killing of Eugene Terre’Blanche hit the local and international press. The media focus alone seemed to suggest that this was a potentially destabilising event. However the story has quickly descended into the squalid domestic tale it really is, and the over-the-top alarmism should be faintly embarrassing to those who trumpeted it over the holiday weekend.

Here are the main questions I raised in London and the main responses I received*:

The news explosion around Jacob Zuma’s latest romantic and similar engagements does not drive capital flows

This point did not need emphasising with the fund managers I saw. If anything they were faintly puzzled as to why I would bother to raise it. For them the emerging market universe has much colourful (and sometimes ugly) personal behaviour by the political leadership and other powerful members of society. Zuma’s polygamy and latest love child are way down the list of “transgressions” in that universe.

Conflict over economic policy making the investment and operating environment difficult

The point I was making was that Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech differed in important ways from both the DTI’s Rob Davies’ Industrial Policy Action Plan II and Ebrahim Patel’s Two Year Strategic Plan. My issue with this was that Jacob Zuma had not settled important policy conflicts within his cabinet.

The different emphases could be summarised as follows:

  • Pravin Gordhan supported fiscal restraint, inflation targeting, a segmented labour market and a competitive and unprotected manufacturing sector – and for this he was heavily criticised by Cosatu.
  • The policies espoused in IPAP 2 and the Two Year Strategic Plan from the Department of Economic Development implicitly called for monetary easing, a weaker currency and a vigorous programme of interventions into the domestic economy through the use of tariffs and taxes – policies strongly supported by Cosatu.

Several of the fund managers that I interacted with had recently (within the last few months) met with all the ministers concerned either as part of a marketing tour led by Jacob Zuma or while in South Africa themselves. The detailed interactions with all these departments had convinced them that the policies of government were the policies as espoused by Pravin Gordhan and further that the more activist policies from Patel and Davies were not uncommon in emerging markets and at least did not include new capital controls.

I am not convinced the policy confusion is ‘investment neutral’ – although I do not think is catastrophic. Cosatu and the SACP clearly believe they have a chance to set policy – including monetary and industrial policy – through the DTI and the new Department of Economic Development. Thus Jacob Zuma seems to be clearer and more decisive about these issues in front of foreign fund managers than he ever is in front of a domestic audience. He will reap high resistance and anger from Cosatu and “the left” when they realise they have been lied to again. I think it is clear we are seeing the first signs of this realisation – in, for example, the threatened strikes during the World Cup against Eskom increases.

Julius Malema and the Nationalisation of the Mines

Julius Malema provokes a lot of reaction wherever he is discussed. Not many fund managers take him seriously and again it is because they have met and dealt with senior government and party officials who have spoken of Malema with patronising indulgence and a touch of exasperation.

Susan Shabangu, Minister of Mining, has done good work in assuring fund managers throughout the world that there is no possibility that the South African government will consider the nationalisation of mines as a serious policy option; and I came across several people who had met her and been convinced by her assurances.

Cronyism and tenderpreneurial flair – the threat to service delivery, stability, the functioning of the parastatals

Continuing on the theme of Jacob Zuma’s inability to solve the big conflicts in his government I argued that cronyism, nepotism and tender abuse are:

  • important contributing reasons for the poor functioning of the State Owned Enterprises – the Eskom example reveals that enrichment agendas in tendering and the appointment of senior personnel damages the utility’s ability to do the job;
  • key to understanding the failures of local government and hence the ongoing violence of the service delivery protests.

There were few fund managers I met who disagreed with this assessment, although some, yet again, argued that in the universe that includes Russia, the Middle East and Brazil, South Africa stands out less than we would imagine.

The World Cup and the waiting Hangover

It is perverse to argue that the downside of the World Cup includes:

  • it could become the focus terrorist attacks;
  • it could be targeted by organised labour and taxi operators to strengthen their hand against government or employers;
  • it will inevitably entail a let-down or ‘hangover” period.

This would be a little like arguing that the downside of life is death and that it should therefore be avoided.

I never met a fund manager in London, or elsewhere for that matter, who disagreed.


*Please note that this is a subjective process, over determined by my own interpretation and by a selection processes out of my control. Any real collation of “the views” of fund managers must theoretically translate into their holdings and the prices at which they buy and sell.

The local state – its politicians, agenda and bureaucracy, is under popular attack

It is starting to be whispered that there is a “hidden hand” in the service delivery protests*.

The problem (of the protests) is serious and threatening and government is starting to worry about high-profile violence during the World Cup.

These protest share a strong crossover constituency and architecture with the xenophobic violence that occurred May 2008. At that time, Thabo Mbeki’s spooks argued that a hidden hand was at work – in one bizarre version Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation was fingered as triggering the violence to punish the Mbeki government for some impenetrably Byzantine set of motivations.

This time around the speculation is that the spreading protests have something to do with Alliance tensions i.e. the conflict (endlessly discussed in these columns) is fueling service delivery protests – I suppose that would mean either the ANCYL or Cosatu/SACP using popular discontent against the sitting council dominated by either the leftists of the nationalists respectively.

To argue that Alliance tensions is the (or even a) main driver is a bit of a stretch. The protesters themselves foreground slow delivery of housing and the whole gamut of services (toilets, sewerage, water, refuse , telecommunications, roads) but also have a sharp focus on corruption, maladministration, nepotism – and therefore, indirectly, on cadre deployment.

From M&G – Modderfontein Road in Ivory Park after service delivery protests

The protests appear to be coordinated. They have similar beginnings: “elders” – or the moral equivalent –  meet in a town hall to discuss grievances; they decide to march to the municipal offices in the town centre; they carry placards about Eskom, housing, corrupt council officials; on the way they are joined by youth and the unemployed, and the march swells; somewhere near the edge of the town centre police stop the now more threatening and chaotic march; stones are thrown and rubber bullets fired; the protest breaks into smaller groups and spreads; councilors and council property are targeted and running skirmishes with the police occur over a few days; the ANC sends a SWAT team to the area and this team either moves against the council or stands firm against “anarchic” and “violent” protesters. At any point during this process the attention of the mob can turn to the foreigners – Zimbabweans, Malawians, Somalians , Mozambicans, Angolans, Nigerians and those from the DRC.

It has become something of a legend and commonly accepted “fact” by foreigners living in South African townships that post the World Cup and in the lead-up to the local government elections in 2011 the xenophobic violence will erupt on a scale beyond anything that has happened in the past.

The Davies-J Curve – the real hidden hand behind the violence

One of the reasons the government and the intelligence agencies are suspicious about the violence is that it occurs always in municipalities where there has been a degree of successful service delivery. The violence does not seem to happen in areas that are absolutely poor and unserved and have remained so for some time.

Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950’s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations is related to the possibility of armed conflict but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meets a downturn. His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.

What happens is that when material and other conditions are improving, expectations rise faster than the individuals own situation. The system seems to be able to cope with this, except when there is a downturn of some kind – this is the sharply curved “Reality” line in the diagramme above.

This predictive framework (usefully discussed by the Centre for Security Studies here) almost perfectly mirrors what has happened in townships and poor municipalities since 1994. The violence seems to spike in early winter and it seems to be concentrated in areas that have had by-elections. In general it seems to be at its worst after national local government elections.

We must assume that in the lead up to such elections the ruling party and its councils push service delivery and the promise of service delivery. After the elections delivery collapses.

Thus the expectations are on an ascending path as the reality of delivery veers sharply downwards.

Violence results and often the weakest and poorest are both the victims and perpetrators of that violence.

* Orange Farm, Sedibeng, Siyathemba township in Balfour, Leandra, Lesilie, Oogies, Accornhoek near Bushbuckridge, Chochocho near White River in Mpumalanga, Protea-Glen, Dobsonville-Gardens in Soweto, Ennerdale in Fine Town, Reiger Park in the East Rand, Parys, Diepsloot, Attridgeville and Mamelodi – all names of service delivery protest hotspots culled from recent press reports. While I cannot place all these towns on a map (and am not even sure that some are not colloquial names for the same place) it seems clear that there is an unfolding crisis of governance in many of South Africa’s 283 municipalities , especially in the poorest, semi-rural communities.

As promised another occasional slide that illustrates a major theme of the moment. I have put the meat into the caption – note the reversion to some traditional Marxist theory … fractions of capital and the working class fighting to wield the state?  Was that Althusser or Nicos Poulantzas … hmm, no, for them the state was a site of struggle and not an instrument …. gosh, I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew.

This slide illustrates discussion about the “real” conflict shaping our future – I use the Eskom saga and the nationalisation debate to illustrate how an alliance of the most  productive classes (the industrial working class and capital) is involved in a struggle with lumpen elements of the comprador bourgeoisie and ‘fugitives from justice’ over who gets to wield the state and to what ends
Absent from the slide itself are Zwelinzima Vavi and Bobby Godsell. Here they are wearing their respective  hats as, in Vavi’s case, a leader of the industrial working class; and in Godsell’s case Chairman of Eskom (but more revealingly Chairman of the World Gold Council). They are up against the ANCYL and the Black Management Forum.
The costs of defeat and the prize of victory concern the fate of Eskom: will it be looted or will it be used as an engine of economic growth and job creation?

The extreme nature of the reaction to the electricity price increase is about a number of things, perhaps most obviously:

  • the public and institutional suspicion that the crisis in Eskom is due to cronyism at a management level and looting via tender abuse by a politically connected elite, and
  • the Great Recession has left the society, but particularly the poor, deeply vulnerable to price shocks like this one.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa has granted Eskom the right to increase its tariff 24.8 percent this year and a further 25.8 percent for 2011, and 25.9 percent for 2012.

The problem Eskom is attempting to address is its increasing inability to meet growing demand for electricity because of capacity constraints in the generation, transmission and distribution process – with this capacity already having caused the economic and social chaos of the rolling blackouts two years ago.

The price increase immediately:

  1. makes it viable for Eskom to raise the more the R385 billion it has estimated it needs to upgrade its generation capacity;
  2. reduces demand.

Either way (or rather, both ways) the constant threat to the extremely narrow reserve margin (the small safety gap between what is demanded by industry/society and what Eskom can supply) is immediately relieved.

The SACP and Cosatu are outraged. The SACP calls this a “catastrophic betrayal of the poor” and places the blame squarely on “a neo-liberal economic regime that did not encourage increased state investment”. Cosatu speaks in similar terms, but also appears to acknowledge that the increase is less than the 35% per year that Eskom wanted.

The level and timing of the increase is a political matter and it is quite likely that Eskom built a margin into its request to give the regulator and, by popular implication, government room to wriggle and demonstrate its caring and thoughtful approach. And this is as it should be in the political kingdom.

To make a real assessment of the validity and necessity of the price increase one would need a detailed and comprehensive analysis of Eskom, its productivity and its commercial soundness. In the absence of such an analysis here are two general points:

  • We have to move towards costs recovery in this kind of utility. It is appropriate to protect the poor and possibly subsidise the use of this kind of product, but the society as a whole must pay the price of the secure and ongoing generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. Hiding those costs through the state subsidising Eskom is a mistake.
  • It is crazy that this far down the road we still have a state utility that has a monopoly on the generation and transmission of electricity. What is it about the last hundred years of human history that could suggest to anyone that a state institution is likely to generate electricity more efficiently, cleaner and more securely than a competitive private sector and a traded electricity market?
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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