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I have been agonising over whether to keep this website going –  or to consign it to the wastelands of the interwebs there to wander mournfully, accumulating lurid advertisements for secret ways of getting rid of belly fat and invitations from young, beautiful and lonely people, in your area, waiting by their phones for a call from you.

After weighing matters too arcane to bore you with here I decided to gird my sagging loins (that’s long and loose clothing, not that other thing you were thinking – Ed) and once more into the breach … and all of that.

So … I have written various 2014 previews. One you may have seen was for the Mail & Guardian and titled ‘What I will be telling investors in 2014’. I would have liked to give it a better edit – and I think I don’t adequately deal with the issue of the corroding effects of the original arms scandal – but you may be interested in reading it anyway. Catch it here.

I also published in early January, as part of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities’ 2014 Outlook, the overview below. (Thanks, as always, to my main contract holder for generously allowing me to republish a few weeks later here.)

(Remember, no-one has been to the future and returned with any useful information as far as I am aware … so treat the following with a healthy degree of scepticism – Ed)

Political outlook 2014: No safe haven in the storm

Introduction

At least part of our sanguine view of South African politics has rested on the belief that the ANC had several more decades of 60%-plus support at the polls. We were of the view that while this could lead to corruption, complaisance and cronyism, it would also allow the party to keep the country, government and constitution steady while SA undertook a wrenching transformation from its apartheid past to whatever the future held.

However, several important fissures have appeared in the ANC’s support base that suggest this assumption of indefinite ruling party dominance may not be correct and, therefore, that the essentially benign shepherding of that transition is under strain.

Amcu: bridgehead in previously safe African working-class constituency

Firstly, the success of the Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) in the mining (particularly platinum) sector has led to the virtual collapse of a key ANC labour ally, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num). Amcu is important for a number of reasons, but in this section, the issue is that it has created a bridgehead in the ANC’s core constituency that has every possibility of linking up with new left-wing (or in other ways radical) political formations that will challenge the ANC politically in the next few years.

Julius Malema and the formation of the EFF

Secondly, the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC and his formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party damages the ANC in two important ways. It draws disaffected young black South Africans, who are experiencing unemployment rates of about 60%, out of the ANC. And it captures ideological terrain that the ANC was previously able to control and finesse, namely, the question of the nationalisation of mines and land.

A strong and confident ANC has, since 1994, essentially been able to tell its electoral constituency that patience is required for transformation and that constituency has, with mutterings, accepted the ANC’s moral authority on the matter. However, that consensus is collapsing. Mr Malema’s ‘red berets’ are attacking the president at every opportunity and arguing that the ANC has sold out the birth-right of Africans and has been bought off by the opportunity to loot the state and by juicy empowerment deals. The message has a natural resonance among poor urban and unemployed youth – but up until Mr Malema’s expulsion, the ANC was able to articulate both sides of this debate within itself.

NUMSA split: The unravelling of the ruling alliance

Thirdly, it appears that the long-standing split within Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) over its relationship with the ANC has been forced to a head by the suspension of Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. A ‘left’ faction had, with a degree of discomfort, existed within Cosatu since the formation of the union federation in 1985. This faction has its roots in non-ANC liberation traditions and was concentrated mostly in Cosatu manufacturing unions, especially Numsa. The moves to get rid of Mr Vavi and close down Numsa’s criticism of the president and of ANC economic policy probably emanate from the hegemonic faction within the ANC itself, in other words, Jacob Zuma and his closest allies. Not unsurprisingly, Numsa has now formally called on Cosatu to leave the alliance with the ANC, has said it will not be supporting the ANC in the election in 2014 and has called for the immediate resignation of President Zuma.

Over time, this will impact ANC electoral support, though not necessarily profoundly in 2014. How Numsa members and their dependants vote in next year’s election was probably a ‘done deal’ prior to Numsa’s defection decision at its special congress in late December 2013. Numsa may link up with ‘left’ or ‘workers’ parties (and may actually form a ‘socialist party’ that could challenge the ANC for support in the ANC’s key black working-class constituency), but this will likely impact more profoundly on electoral outcomes in the 2019 election.

ANC swelling in rural conservative areas and shrinking amongst urban sophisticates

Fourthly, the patronage and diversion of state resources as depicted by the Nkandla saga, combined with the vigorous pursuit of the rural vote in Kwazulu-Natal, has meant that the ANC is gradually appealing less to urban Africans (although this is by no means a majority trend) and more to rural and traditional poor black South Africans. This appears to mean that parties like the Democratic Alliance, AgangSA and the EFF are picking up a degree of unexpected traction in such constituencies.

Labour environment

After a catastrophic 2012 as far as the labour environment was concerned – especially the repeated waves of illegal and violent strikes in the platinum sector – 2013 saw stabilisation, albeit at still unacceptably high levels of unrest and strike activity.

In the platinum sector, the Amcu is ‘bedding down’, but likely to continue contesting with the Num in the gold sector. The next public-sector wage round is scheduled for 2015, so we have a breather before that storm hits (and we expected it to be a big storm when it does).

The formalisation of the Numsa split from the alliance probably means that this union will begin to actively contest with the Cosatu unions and in several other sectors of the economy. We are looking for the formation of new and smaller unions in sectors where the incumbent unions have grown too cumbersome or complacent to deal with the demands of specialist groups of workers. Unionism is a growth industry in South Africa, with annuity income for those who set them up. As Cosatu shudders, there are many opportunities emerging.

Labour unrest, poor labour productivity and inflexible labour markets (price, size, skills) are among the biggest negative domestic drivers of economic growth and we expect the figures to show a slight improvement in 2013 over 2012 and a significant deterioration in 2014 and 2015 – which may have significant negative implications along the lines of the BMW ‘disinvestment’ decision.

National Development Plan: The political rise of the Treasury and fall of Cosatu

The ruling party and the ruling alliance’s approach to the National Development Plan (NDP) has appeared highly conflicted since the adoption of the plan at the 2012 Mangaung national conference of the ANC.

While our view is that the NDP is little more than a shopping list (and not the miracle cure some ratings and multilateral agencies hope it is) in the areas of large infrastructure roll-out and a disciplining/training/focusing of the public service, we may be in for upside surprises. The important political leaders to watch here are ministers Lindiwe Sisulu (public service and administration) and Malusi Gigaba (state-owned enterprises).

In several different ways, the Zuma leadership of the ANC has, over the last few months, appeared to back with a degree of fortitude previously orphaned policy thrusts from the NDP that are generally ‘financial-market positive’.

The first of these is the foregrounding of the NDP itself – both at Mangaung, but also in the medium-term budget statement in October 2013. Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan stated that that this budget statement and all future budget statements would be ‘the accounts’ of the National Development Plan, putting the plan at the centre of government policy.

The trade-union movement – especially the now defecting faction rooted in Numsa, but actually common to the whole federation – was outraged by this, as it sees the NDP as a capitulation by the ANC to (variously) ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘business interests’.

In conjunction with this foregrounding of the NDP, Jacob Zuma has recently signed into law two major policy thrusts that are bitterly opposed by the ANC’s labour ally.

The first of these is the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act, which allows for the implementation of ‘e-tolling’ on Gauteng highways and has been bitterly opposed by COSATU and other community groups in that province. Bond-market investors and ratings agencies have repeatedly said it is crucial that the ANC implement ‘e-tolling’ if the government is to maintain credibility on the global capital markets. It is significant that the Zuma administration has grasped this nettle, despite facing (by all accounts) a significant electoral challenge in Gauteng in 2014.

The second surprising nettle-grasping activity has been the promulgation of the employment tax incentive bill in the face of united Coatu fury. This is the ‘youth wage subsidy’ of yore, and the ANC under Jacob Zuma has obviously decided to accept thunderous criticism from its ally in the hope that longer-term employment growth benefits will weigh in its favour at the polls, in both 2014 and 2019.

Together, these initiatives are surprising positives and have probably come about because the Treasury has managed to persuade Mr Zuma and his cabinet that failure to take a stand on these various measures could lead to downgrades by the ratings agencies.

Policy and regulatory risks predominate

Thus, our view is that the Presidency, bereft of any real policy direction itself (because it is busy purely with rent seeking and hanging onto power) has been persuaded by Pravin Gordhan that the country is in trouble, that the deficit is looking genuinely threatening, that downgrades are a real possibility and that if this goes south, President Zuma might go with it. The National Treasury briefly has the reins, and this gives us a moment of respite.

However, hostile mining regulations, a fiddly and interventionist Department of Trade and Industry, an overly ambitious Department of Economic Development, a hostile Department of Labour, liquor legislation, more and tighter empowerment legislation and deepening regulations on all fronts, but especially in the credit markets, mean that, on the whole, government in 2014 will be an unreliable financial-market ally.

State finances: The deeper risks are fiscal

The country’s increasing dependence for stability on social grants and other forms of social spending is a real and deepening political risk. While the social grant system has lifted millions of South Africans out of poverty and the public sector has employed hundreds of thousands of others, it has also created a culture of dependency and paternalism and is an unsustainable expense that the government will at some stage be forced to reduce. This is definitely going to be accompanied by severe social turmoil, although as mentioned previously, the real ‘fiscal cliff’ is still some way ahead of the forecast period dealt with in this report.

Election 2014

The election results will be important, but in ways that are difficult to predict.

If the ANC’s share of the national vote plummets to the low 50% range, will this force the party into a process of renewal, or will it be panicked into populist measures? It probably depends on which parties take up the slack.

If the ANC gets 65% of the vote, will it be ‘Nkandla business’ as usual – an unhealthy rural populism à la the Traditional Courts Bill, combined with activities like the significant public resources (ZAR208m) spent on building the president’s Nkandla compound and accusations of corruption?
If Mr Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters get 10% of the vote, will that mean ANC policymaking is paralysed until 2019 as the party attempts to appease the angry and disenfranchised youth? Will it mean legislation relating to mining and land ownership swerves into uncertain and dangerous territory?

If the Democratic Alliance wins 27% of the national vote (which we think unlikely) and if it is able to form a provincial government in alliance with other parties in Gauteng (which we also think unlikely), how might that cause the ANC to behave? Better? To continue to allow the Treasury to set the tone of probity and effectiveness, concentrate on fixing education and focus on economic growth as the only guarantor of electoral success in 2019? Will this kind of threat cause the ruling party to attempt to make opposition strongholds ungovernable? We suspect different impulses are already at war within the ANC and investors should watch how that battle plays out.

Below, purely as a way of presenting our latest ‘guesstimates’, are our ‘most likely’ electoral outcomes for 2014 (these may change as campaigning performance changes before the election and as various crises emerge, eg, the booing of Jacob Zuma at the FNB Stadium commemoration for Nelson Mandela in December 2013).

votingresultsinpreview

BRICs and the uncertain rise of the SACP

A relatively new and difficult-to-unpick issue is the growing confidence the South African Communist Party (SACP) has in shaping the national agenda. The inappropriate focus on BRICS speakers at the FNB Mandela memorial (over Africans and European Union speakers, with Obama the inevitable exception) is probably evidence of the Communists having very significant influence.

We think this could have fed through into the announced Zuma/Putin ZAR 100bn nuclear deal.

This is a matter of growing tension within the ANC, with a previously dominant (under Mandela and Mbeki) group of ‘progressive Africanists’ having lost power to the Communists, who are now in an alliance with a patronage-seeking, provincial elite with strong links to state-security apparatuses and rent-seeking business interests (‘the Nkandla crew’.)

This struggle could play into succession issues and might be a driver of attempts to impeach Jacob Zuma (a strategy unlikely to succeed, in our view) over the next few years.

Succession and a ‘rescue mission’ in the ANC?

While this matter probably lies beyond the 2014 scope of this report, within the ANC, the possibility of a rescue mission is taking shape (driven, in part, by growing commentary about how many public resources are ending up on and around Jacob Zuma’s person and his tight control of security agencies). A group now on the outskirts of the party, and in very general terms representing the ‘old guard’, appears set to begin working on securing a succession process that reverses the decline (moral and in popularity) over which Jacob Zuma appears to be presiding.

This move has not yet taken shape, nor is it properly manifest, but in our view the important people to watch are previous President Thabo Mbeki, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.

A guest post from my friend and colleague Sandra Gordon. Sandra is a respected financial market economist and we increasingly present work as a team in what is often called “a dog and pony show” … although in our case there is some disagreement over who will be the dog and who will be the pony. Sandra is an excellent market commentator and I have known and respected her views since she was my client on the “buy side” at Nedcor Investment Bank Asset Management (Nibam) in the mid-90s.

My friend, colleague and author of this post on the National Budget, Sandra Gordon

Over to Sandra:

If there was one message from this year’s budget it is that, despite all the hype that economic transformation has finally arrived (the dreaded “shift to the left” which tends to give the financial market types sleepless nights), it’s actually probably more of a case of business as usual.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, there was serious debate worldwide about the merits of various economic growth models. In the 2010/11 Budget, Minister Gordhan noted: “The recent crisis and its aftermath have led to a serious introspection and rethinking of what were thought to be robust and superior economic models.” With the Washington Consensus in disgrace, South Africa was able to signal its intention of shifting towards a “developmental state” (essentially a more active role for government in the economy).

So it seemed South Africa was headed for a developmental state and real economic transformation. The new model was finally outlined by the New Growth Path (NGP), which was released by Minister Patel late last year. The primary aim of the NGP was the creation of five million new jobs by 2020.

This theme was echoed in the recent State of the Nation address, in which President Zuma announced a range of measures to encourage job creation.

Yet, despite all the talk of economic transformation – and the ongoing tsunami of change in the global environment – this year’s budget is essentially unchanged from the previous. The critical issues facing our economy were again identified as the twin evils of unemployment and poverty, while the best way to address them is to focus on job creation and encouraging growth in those sectors most likely to generate employment.

Admittedly this year’s budget had a greater focus on jobs than last year – with a grocery list of programmes and measures totalling R150 billion over the next three years. A key difference was also the absence of any mention of the “developmental state” – with government’s role limited to the provision of incentives and the creation of an environment conducive to growth – such as the easing of transport and logistic bottlenecks etc. Other than that, the key measures were familiar – more social spending to support the poor, huge sums for investment in infrastructure and a focus on skills development and training.

Essentially the budget delivered on the priorities laid out by the NGP – with one glaring exception: demands for a weaker rand. Minister Gordhan neatly sidestepped this particularly contentious issue by noting that government had already responded to excessive rand strength by easing exchange controls and accelerating the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves in October last year. Beyond those measures, Treasury will be “monitoring” the measures adopted by other countries – including Brazil and Thailand – which have had similar struggles with massive capital inflows and excessive currency strength. So effectively, “we’re looking into it.”

The other political hot potato that was neatly avoided in the budget was the issue of the National Health Insurance. This year’s budget included measures which “lay the foundations” for NHI. The implementation progress is going to take time – but things are undoubtedly going to get more interesting when the debate shifts to how the NHI is to be funded. Gordhan listed a range of possible funding sources including a VAT hike, a surcharge on personal income or a payroll tax. None of those options are likely to be particularly well received.

Essentially then, Gordhan was able to address all the priorities outlined in the NGP (barring rand weakness), while maintaining an element of fiscal discipline. With the deficit remaining at 5.3% of GDP in the new fiscal year – in line with the previous fiscal year but above expectations – debt servicing is now the fastest growing spending category.

While we are in a far better position than countries like America, the UK and various European economies which are slashing government spending and raising taxes, it could well be that this is our last chance to really get the economy moving. If the measures in this year’s budget deliver growth, tax revenues will ultimately rise and fiscal discipline will be maintained.

If, however, growth stagnates – perhaps due to a deterioration in the external environment – the state may find its finances stressed, providing less scope for social spending and job creation initiatives. As one analyst put it in the press this morning, this could be “the last throw of the dice”.

And it is on this front that the news is a little less reassuring.

It is positive that – amidst the global turmoil – the centre is holding and our basic economic policies remain on course. But our key weakness has always been not our policies but our inability to implement those measures. So for all the good news in this year’s budget regarding measures to encourage job creation and infrastructure investment, there have been no developments which would lead one to think that there is going to be any significant improvement in implementation and delivery.

In an increasingly unstable global environment, it is becoming ever more important that we finally start making significant progress on reducing our unemployment rate and pervasive poverty. We have the money, for now, but the ability to implement and deliver is becoming ever more critical.

With so much at stake, it looks set to be another interesting year.

‘Not as bad as I feared; perhaps even better than I hoped’ – is my reply to the question implicit in the title.

I have been flat-out covering the event for paying clients and I was at parliament in the gracious hands of the lovely people from Radio 2000 – where I commented for about an hour. Hence me only scribbling these short notes at this late stage in proceedings.

View from before

This is what I had to say before the event:

It is a ceremonial occasion; Jacob Zuma is there in his capacity as Head of State (not only head of government); it’s a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces; the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary is in formal attendance; there’s a red carpet, a twenty-one gun salute and a public gallery packed with ordinary people, senior representatives of the governing alliance and foreign and local dignitaries … this is just not a place where policy decisions, especially the various nettles Jacob Zuma will be required to grasp, could be spoken of in the clear and forthright terms that will, ultimately, be required.

View from the moment

I was initially very positive.

After a ten minute glance at the document I said to Reuters:

With surprising fluency Jacob Zuma managed to sound like a head of state dealing with an emergency – the crisis of unemployment.  He didn’t  grasp the nettle of the regulations that are strangling the labour market, but he placed more emphasis than expected on the private sector – especially manufacturing. There was also more detail than expected – and a confirmation that the interventionist aspects of the NGP will be issues to be dealt with this year.

I was impressed by the details namely:

  • The nugget at the core of the speech: the proposed R20 billion in tax breaks for manufacturing investments above R200 million for new projects and R30 million for expansions and upgrades – I do not expect the ANC’s trade union allies to be charmed by this idea (money in the hands of the bosses!) even if they will be amongst the ultimate beneficiaries.
  • Significant (and part of the New Growth Path’s underlying strategy of fiscal constraint and monetary easing) he foregrounded the statement that: “The Budget deficit is set to decline from the current 6.7% to between 3 and 4% by 2013. Concerns about the exchange rate have been taken to heart”.
  • The R9 billion by 2013 “jobs fund” – what is interesting about this is apparently Helen Zille interpreted this on an SAFM interview as the long-lost subsidy for first time youth workers … Cosatu is also going to hate that implicit segmentation of the labour market. ’

View from today?

I’m still positive. There was lots of ra! ra! in there, but that is to be expected in an election year and, quite frankly, every victory he claimed he said how far we still have to go.

He also spoke surprisingly like a statesman and he made the drive for jobs sound like a clarion call to mobilise the nation for war … which this campaign is or should be.

Finally, he mentioned that the Municipal elections will take place before the end of May. That will be enough grist for me mill … heady times to be a political analyst in this country.

Busy, busy … and everything is slower; the brain and hands struggle with what they did with alacrity before the December holiday.

Anyway …

It is becoming clear that South African Investment Risk is going to be all about the New Growth Path (NGP) this year. So picking up from where I left off from the two pieces I wrote last year about the NGP, here and here – I did promise a third and, I suppose, this is it.

Zuma’s 2010

I get irritated by those those interminable news features reviewing or predicting the calender year as if it was a natural unit of history into which discreet trends neatly fit themselves and await their unpacking by news organisations short of December and January copy.

But then that means I failed to point out one of the most interesting features of 2010, namely the peculiar arc described by Jacob Zuma’s fortunes over the course of last year.

Remember how badly the year started for him?

He stumbled from crisis to crisis and the consequences of his sexual behaviour (consequences we are going to feel again this year) began to make even his most fervent backers nervous.

The second phase was the World Cup and the apparent surrendering of his position to Blatter and his merry band of soccer thieves. That phase ended with the gathering woes of the public sector strike and a serious challenge from “the right” at the NGC.

That is the moment he turned it all around, to everyone’s surprise – mine included.

His administration managed to negotiate an end to the public sector strike and secure Cosatu’s aid to stop the political challenge from the right (fronted by Julius Malema, but emanating from higher up the ANC/New Elite food chain – I cover that – exhaustingly if not exhaustively –  here.)

As I discuss in the previous link, it is my contention that he secured the victory by making policy concessions to the left and Cosatu (which are essentially contained within the NGP document – clearly not acceding to the left’s full agenda but going some of the way) and this sets much of the tone for a discussion about political risk in 2011.

The New Growth Path (NGP)

The New Growth Path (NGP) document was produced by the Department of Economic Development (23/11/2010), an institution that came into being as a direct reward to Cosatu for having backed Jacob Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane and which is headed by a minister who hails from the heart of Cosatu’s leadership.

The origins of the NGP might be closely linked to Cosatu, but the fact that it is a real attempt to address unemployment that has been formulated in government (i.e. outside of the priority Cosatu objective of protecting the interests of the already employed) means it is full of suggestions that Cosatu has found itself unable to support.

But Cosatu’s doctrinaire and sectarian self-interest based criticism aside (see those here), this proposal is far closer to the policies of Cosatu than any macro and micro economic framework that has emanated from the ANC and government since 1996 – and this is because the document forms part of the payback to the trade union movement and herein is contained some of the risks associated with the policy.

The Activist Developmental State

The NGP is more than just a statement committing government to various broad economic interventions designed to achieve job rich economic growth. It calls for a fundamentally new approach to the administration of all aspects the economy and is highly interventionist and proposes that the the Department of Economic Development plays the lead role.

One of the most interesting critiques of the policy comes from the Chief Economist of the Sanlam group

It wants to regulate wages and salaries in the labour market, prices in the goods market, the rate of exchange in the currency market, interest rates in the money and capital markets, and dividend policies and therefore by extension equity prices. It even hints at rent control in its desire to reduce rentals for small businesses in shopping centres. (The New Growth Path – Does it really take us forward? – Jac Laubscher, Sanlam Group Economist – 01/12/2010 catch the full text of that interesting critique here).

The premise is that markets left to their own devises will not solve the problems, particularly of unemployment. Unemployment (as well as the full range of social ills in South Africa), in this paradigm (the paradigm of the NGP, not the paradigm of Sanlam or Jac Laubscher!), can only be addressed by vigorous state intervention.

The conventional or orthodox view in economics tends, in principle, to be wary of over regulation of the economy and markets by even the most efficient, vigorous and rigorous state or government agency. The potential for misallocation of resources, bureaucratic drag, distortions and inefficiencies (and therefore reduced growth) must be significantly increased when a new, untested and under-resourced agency nested in a national administration known for high levels of dysfunction is charged with leading interventions at every level into the economy.

Looser monetary, tighter fiscal policy

The stability and predictability of macro-economic policy has been one the great successes of post-1994 policy making in South Africa.

The NGP makes constant reference to achieving a “more competitive” currency – through the mechanism of “a looser monetary policy and a more restrictive fiscal policy backed by microeconomic measures to contain inflationary pressures and enhance competitiveness” (page 16 , The New Growth path – The framework – 23/11/2010).

Thus this policy holds out the hope/promise of stimulating the manufacturing sector (by making exports more competitive) but proposes to help control the danger of inflation inherent in this strategy by reducing state expenditure.

I do not expect government to either change the inflation target for the SARB or its general mandate “to protect the value of the currency in the interest of balanced and sustainable economic growth” (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996/1996/2009-04-17/Chapter 13 – Finance), but the assumption must be – at least – that there will be downward pressure on the currency.

Labour markets and wages – the source of the conflict with Cosatu

What is fascinating about the NGP is that it calls for wage restraint and is, inevitably, starting a serious discussion in government and the ANC about the conflict between “quality jobs” and any jobs at all. Charged with creating employment, the NGP is inevitably going to come into conflict with the labour regime established after 1995 that so profoundly strengthened the interest of workers inside the system against the interests of the unemployed outside the system.

Conclusion

2011 is going to be the year that government finally shifts beyond the set of macro-economic policies enshrined in the Growth, Employment and Redistribution document that defined the Mbeki leadership – and so angered Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC’s own left wing.

Political analysis for this year is going to have a strong economic focus. We will have the national local government elections (the rumour I hear is May 18) and the never ending cycle of tenderpreneurial abuse by party and government figures.

All of that will continue to provide grist to our mill, but the big story for this year is all about government economic policy. Will they go too far for the financial markets and other investors? Can a government, any government, do anything to fundamentally alter the content and direction of economic growth? Can the Ruling Alliance hold itself together if the ANC grasps the nettle of the labour market? These are the big questions for the year.

This is the second of three articles about the New Growth Path (NGP) Framework released last week by the Ministry of Economic Development.

One of the architects (I must assume) of the NGP, Neva Makgetla  (an economist long associated with Cosatu and now deputy director general in the Department of Economic Development) recently examined both the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy and the ‘industrial development plan’ alternative usually advanced (in my opinion) by members of the SACP.

Writing in the September 2010 special issue of the African Communist (journal of the South African Communist Party designed as a forum for Marxist-Leninist thought) Makgetla spells out what she thinks are the problems with both polices are.

Her views of what has gone before are interesting because the new policy tries to marry these frameworks by taking only the best of both.

Someone should have warned them that in policy marriages, as in human ones, you take the good with the bad … but more about that in the third post about the NGP which I will probably only get to by Monday.

The ‘anti-poverty framework’ associated with GEAR

“In effect, the transition to democracy built an implicit social compact: business would retain its property rights, and by extension its wealth and standard of living, while government would use its tax revenues increasingly to address backlogs in services for black communities left by apartheid.”

Makgetla sees the 1996 GEAR policy framework as having left in place the basic structure of the Apartheid economy.

Path dependency meant mining and finance continue to dominate and that property relations and inequality remained unchanged.

But the strategy, according to Makgetla, was attractive to successive ANC governments because it was quick to roll out and provided immediate benefits for the poor (particularly through social grants), while (hopefully) stimulating production and generating employment as the poor consume more goods and services.

“(The major benefit of the strategy) from the standpoint of the state was that it did not require explicit intervention in the economy. It relieved the government of responsibility for transforming the economy, with the associated risks of failure and potential conflict with business. Instead, government could focus on the more agreeable task of improving the lives of constituents through the more conventional public functions of providing basic services and housing.”

The risks were largely in lost opportunity – not achieving “new kinds of economic growth and by extension enhanced employment”. Because the strategy was dependent on state revenues, it was ultimately hostage to the booms and busts of the global economy.

Her key assessments of the policy are:

1. the transfers remained too small to provide the hoped improvement in the conditions of life of the poor and therefore the expected increase in demand and economic stimulation;

2. the relatively strong rand meant that new demand for manufactured goods, especially clothing, appliances and household furnishings was largely met by imports, and

3. the poor were ultimately dis-empowered and demobilised by top-down hand-outs that are central to the strategy.

Industrialisation strategy – SACP alternative

This is the policy proposal that ‘stands in’, in Makgetla’s assessment for the traditional left contribution to the policy debate. It is best revealed, in her opinion, by the Industrial Policy Action Plan (1 and 2) of the Department of Trade and Industry.

These strategies are designed to encourage production of manufactured goods, especially for export.

The industrial strategy has the potential, in her opinion, to access larger markets in order to drive mass based production, which in turn will secure more rapid growth and higher employment.

Crucially, the approach is modelled on the relatively rapid development experienced in Asia especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

The version of the strategy she deals with – which is the version in IPAP2 of the DTI – explicitly requires government to change which parts of “capital” it supports i.e. government would need to collaborate more closely with “industrial capital”, while reducing support for mining, farming and finance.

The state should focus its support on conventional manufacturing especially of capital goods, transport, electronics – and to a lesser  degree “light industries” like clothing, food processing and minerals beneficiation. The policy tends to assume that services and production to meet domestic demand are inherently less competitive “and hence less desirable.”

Makgetla thinks there is high political risk for government in this strategy. The chances of failure in such an unequal society are high and if government adopts a strategy largely dependent on its effective intervention in the economy, it will get the likely flak along with the less likely kudos.

Risk is increased because the strategy is hostage to global demand for manufactured goods and RSA will be competing with China and almost every other developing country that sees this kind of strategy as central to their development path.

Finally, the industrialisation strategy supports long term economic growth but not employment and equity, which are not automatic consequences of growth. It ignores labour intensive activities like agriculture, services and construction and often leads to proposals to hold down wages to support competitiveness – she was prescient about that, but then she did help write the NGP!

On Monday I will spell out more specifically what the NGP proposes to do and I will make an assessment as to whether the policy will ever be implemented by this government and if it is, what it’s likely consequences would be.

If any of you are still with me by then, I will be surprised and you will probably be slightly sick of grandiose government policy making.

This is the first of three articles that look at the political and policy bloodline of the New Growth Path and the main criticisms that have emerged about the policy in the public domain over the last few days.

This first post is a summary – using quotes and paraphrasing – of Ruling Alliance statements about macro-economic policy since 1990.

To understand the policy we have to understand:

  • firstly how the policy fits into the discussion/dog fight in the Alliance over the last 20 years;
  • and secondly the fact that the policy comes from Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, whose department and position, in my opinion, was a last-minute structural compromise to reward Cosatu (and to a lesser degree the SACP) for having backed Jacob Zuma against Mbeki.

So the big bulls (ANC and the SACP) have been butting heads for 20 years (see below) and now the little bull is trying to horn in on the action.

20 years in the trenches of the ideological squabble

Since the release of Mandela from prison in 1990 (and, in fact, well before that – mostly behind closed doors) different factions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have had a sometimes productive and sometimes vicious policy debate about economic policy. At issue has always been the stance the state should take towards private business and the appropriate amount of persuasion and coercion required to achieve redress and redistribution.

The first sign of things to come was the speech Nelson Mandela made on his release from prison in 1990.  After the excerpt from Mandela’s speech I will let the comments flow and tell their own story of the conflict within the Ruling Alliance.

A history of the conflict in quotes and paraphrases

“The nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable”

Nelson Mandela paraphrasing the Freedom Charter on his release from prison in 1990

“We are convinced that neither a commandist central planning system nor an unfettered free market system can provide adequate solutions.”

The 48th ANC National Conference, July 1991 from a conference resolution

“It was a demand-led and internal infrastructural development proposal, which envisaged less immediate concern with budget deficit reduction and inflation.”

African Communist No 147, third quarter 1997 discussing the Macro Economic Research Group’s (MERG’s) proposals from 1993

“Of particular importance was the proposal to restructure the economy by way of a policy of ‘growth through redistribution in which redistribution acts as a spur to growth and in which the fruits of growth are redistributed to satisfy basic needs’. This proposal was predicated on the central policy idea that the state needed to boost demand, primarily by ensuring that greater amounts of income would be received by the poorer sections of the population, which in turn would stimulate output and hence economic growth.”

Dennis Davis in From the Freedom Charter to the Washington Consensus 2002 discussing the RDP proposal of 1993

“Despite its ideology while in opposition, once in power the ANC government implemented an orthodox macroeconomic policy which stressed deficit reduction and a tight monetary policy, combined with trade liberalisation. The stated purpose of this package (the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution programme, or GEAR) was to increase economic growth, with a 4.2% rate programmed for 1996-2000. At mid-term of the programme, growth remained far below this target. The GEAR’s lack of success cannot be explained by unfavourable external factors; rather, the disappointing performance seemed the result of fiscal contraction and excessively high interest rates”

A standard left criticism of GEAR from: Stuck in Low GEAR? Macroeconomic Policy in South Africa, 1996-98 John Weeks Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1999, vol. 23, issue 6, pages 795-811

“Faced with deepening unemployment, poverty, and inequality, and with disappointing growth and investment, the GEAR policy framework has met with persisting criticism from COSATU and the SACP in particular. From the side of its principal proponents within the government, there have been several adjustments in the face of disappointment. Increasingly, GEAR has been redefined as a conjunctural stabilization program and not what its acronym suggested it once aspired to be (a growth, employment and redistribution strategy). In this rereading, GEAR was necessitated by global turbulence and by a very precarious foreign currency reserve situation in 1996. Its “success” is now measured not in terms of growth, employment, and redistribution outcomes, but anecdotally and by way of comparison—“whatever our problems, South Africa’s economy is not in the same predicament as Argentina, or Turkey, or Zimbabwe,” or “GEAR has helped us to survive the worst of global turbulence” (which may not be completely incorrect).”

Jeremy Cronin rephrasing GEAR as a conjectural stabilisation strategy – 1998

In an address to the Socialist International October 2003 and then in various speeches in 2004, Thabo Mbeki argued that solving unemployment, poverty and low levels of black participation in ownership and control of the economy had become very urgent. Further, he argued that to solve these problems an effective, strong and interventionist developmental state was needed – just proving that there is nothing new in heaven and earth. He put the case for improving the public service and extending the state’s influence and ability to lead the economy. “Influence” meant keeping hold of strategic state assets (and therefore a partial withdrawal from the privatisation specified in GEAR) as well as a detailing of micro-reforms including BEE. He placed a strong emphasis on private public partnerships as well as on galvanising a collective consciousness about the “common good”. From this shift the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) was codified in 2005/2006. While it set targets for growth and employment, Asgisa was primarily an infrastructure investment programme combined with various (mostly supply-side) measures to remove impediments to growth – much of which the economy continues to benefit from today.

My own summary of Thabo Mbeki’s initial motivations for AsgiSA

In the lead up to Polokwane this was the definitive statement from ‘the left’ attacking the direction that the Mbeki government had taken: “The post-1996 class project” was led by a “technocratic vanguardist” state with the mission for “a restoration of the conditions for capitalist profit accumulation on a new and supposedly sustainable basis” (as opposed to “a revolutionary … transformation … to resolve the .. contradictions in favour of .. the working class ..”). The document argued that “The post-1996 class project” rests on three pillars: Firstly, the ANC leadership has mistakenly bought into a myth of a gentler, kinder world, but imperialism is stronger and more hostile to popular democracy than ever; secondly, to fit into this world “the second pillar of the project is a powerful presidential centre” that necessarily installs a top state/ leadership group of state managers and ‘technocratically’-inclined ministers and (often overlapping with them) a new generation of black private sector BEE; and finally, the project calls for the organisational modernisation of the ANC … “to transform the ANC from a mobilising mass movement into a ‘modern’, centre- left, electoral party”. There is a “manifest inability of capitalist stabilisation and growth to resolve the deep-seated social and economic crises of unemployment, poverty and radical inequality in our society. The ravages to the ANC’s organisational capacity and coherence (are caused by) “the attempts to assert a managerialist, technocratic control over a mass movement, and in the crises of corruption, factionalism and personal careerism inherent in trying to build a leading cadre based on (explicit or implicit) capitalist values and on a symbiosis between the leading echelons of the state and emerging black capital.”

My paraphrasing of the SACP Central Committee Discussion Document. Bua Komanisi – Volume 5, Issue No1 May 2006 – difficult to read but a perfect summary of the position that exists to this day in the SACP

Then came the answer to the ‘left critique’ from the central ANC leadership: “…the trapeze act here is to co-opt the ANC, formally, as an organisation pursuing socialism; and then condemn it as having betrayed the socialist project”. First, and most importantly the ANC denies that it ever was or should have been an organisation whose objectives was to achieve socialism. The ANC, the document claims, is the organic result of the struggle of black South Africans for national liberation and redress for what they suffered and lost under Apartheid. Additionally the ANC prioritises the poor and the working class. Once this point is made, the ANC argues, all the rest of the SACP critique falls away. The ANC accuses the authors of the SACP document of “ahistoricism, subjectivism and voluntarism”. This is more than just name calling. In the argument of the authors of this document:  ahistoricism refers to the SACP’s alleged  failure to understand what led to the present conditions as well as the character of the historical moment in which they find themselves, subjectivism means that the SACP has used its own preconceptions to guide its views and has seen the world as they wish it to be rather than how it really is; voluntarism  means the SACP believes that through pure force of will, hard work and determination it can achieve socialism in South Africa, whatever limitations the domestic or global environment and balance of forces, especially the strength of global capital markets, impose on possible outcomes.

Managing National Democratic Transformation – ANC response to SACP discussion document – probably the last time the ANC spoke plainly and confidently about economics and the class struggle – 19 June 2006 the official NWC response to the above quoted SACP Central Committee discussion document

The next post will summarise the actual policy contest (from an economists point of view) of the last 15 years. This will essentially be the actual macro-economic policy of the ANC (run from the Treasury) and the SACP’s consistent “industrialisation” alternative (proposed from the Department of Trade and Industry).

I phrase it like that deliberately to suggest that the Department of Economic Development and the New Growth Path Framework represents a new political assertion even if the policy formulation ultimately turns out to be a hodgepodge of previous proposals – as suggested by my summary of Thabo Mbeki’s AsgiSA policy above.

I have been sickly and trying to pay the bills.

All my ‘paid for’ commentary on the NGC is done and I can finally get back to home ground where I feel more comfortable to make some wild accusations – and I will, finally, be more explicit in this post about who I think the bad guys are and who I think the less bad guys are.

At the outset, forgive me; this is long and requires a degree of effort to plough through. I believe your efforts will be rewarded in the end – but I would think that, wouldn’t I?

The NGC, just like the world itself,  becomes a cacophony, impossible to follow and impossible to interpret, without a guiding theory or a framing shape to look through.

The “theory” I am going to use here is that the NGC was the terrain on which two broad factions in the ruling alliance clashed. How you slice-and-dice a thing, conceptually, is always important for what you conclude, so much of what appears below is an attempt to unpick what and who those ‘factions’ consist of.

To think that what was happening at the NGC was “about” the nationalisation of mines call will lead to ‘error’ (you can see Lenin in my heritage when I use terms like that). Instead the NGC was “about” a more fundamental and complex power struggle.

The picture is additionally complicated when we consider that there were over 2000 delegates at the NGC (1500 from branches, 500 from the leagues/Cosatu/SACP/SANCO/PECs and 800 deployees/non-NEC ministers/DGs/premiers/CEO’s of SOE’s) and the interplay was vast and varied.

So instead of trying to cover everything I am going to look through the prism of an alleged power struggle between two broad factions or groups of interest.  This will ultimately be another attempt to “follow the money”.

Here then is the prism through which I believe it is most useful to look:

  1. The ‘nationalisation of mines’ (NOM) call was always a “stalking horse”. The term “stalking horse”  refers originally to  “a horse behind which a hunter hides while stalking game” (WordNet) and is defined in Wikipedia as “a person who tests a concept with someone or mounts a challenge against them on behalf of an anonymous third-party … if the idea proves viable and/or popular, the anonymous figure can then declare their interest and advance the concept with little risk of failure … if the concept fails, the anonymous party will not be tainted by association and can either drop the idea completely or bide their time and wait until a better moment for launching an attack.”  Oh yes, I love the language.
  2. The ‘nationalisation of mines’ call (hereafter called NOM because in fact, it has less do with policy and more to do with power) is best understood as the political platform of a particular alliance of groups and individuals and interests that has as its objective the winning  to power in the commanding heights of the ANC and the South African State. The NOM is therefore something more (and less) than a policy proposal. It is a contingent strategy for winning power – and getting the ANC to nationalise the mines would be a desirable side-affect for some of the participants.
  3. The first part of the NOM is the Youth League’s own specific ambitions, which have most obviously been expressed as a campaign to elevate Fikile Mbalula to the position of Secretary General of the ANC – the position currently occupied by Gwede Mantashe. Mantashe is despised by the League for a number of reasons, but mainly because he is part of those who believe the ANC Youth League is part of an ambitious rent seeking agenda. The League considers itself to be a “king maker” in ANC electoral processes and the organisation has energy and mobility and time to move quickly around the country to influence decisions at a branch and provincial level – a feature it demonstrated successfully at and in the lead-up to Polokwane.
  4. The second part of the NOM are those mining tycoons who want their BEE deals bailed out by the taxpayer. Who could have failed to notice the unified voices of those gleaming billionaire siblings Patrice Motsepe and Bridget Radebe as well as Minister of Housing Tokyo Sexwale backing the NOM in the lead-up to the NGC or at the conference itself?
  5. The third part of the NOM is the election campaign of Tokyo Sexwale to succeed Jacob Zuma. Has he specifically funded and backed the ANC Youth League so that it can be deployed in its traditional role of “king-maker” on his behalf – or because he wants his BEE deals bailed out … or both? It is impossible to prove – either that he has passed money/business/tenders the way of the League or why he might have done so – but that he has done so – with the intention of becoming president – is clearly the view of most of “the left” in the tripartite alliance.
  6. The clearest unifying principle behind the NOM and the most distinct characteristics of its participants is that they are first in the queue to gouge a rent out of the ANC’s economic transformation agenda. The nationalisation of mines call is tailor-made for the broader agenda of the NOM:  there are real material benefits for the backers, it allows the policy bereft Youth League to appear radical and pro-poor – and anti-white capitalist – to its potential supporters; it forces the current top leadership under Zuma (for the sake of investment and economic stability) to deploy itself to defend against something that would naturally appeal to the rank-and- file’s populist instincts.
  7. So who is the NOM challenging? Essentially “the incumbents”, which at one level just means Jacob Zuma, but at another level means everyone who has assumed a leadership role in government, party and the Tripartite Alliance as a consequence of Jacob Zuma’s elevation as well as the ideas and policies that have come to be crafted by that incumbent group.
  8. The “incumbents” should also be conceived of as including all those tenderprenuers, Nkandla hangers-on and Zuma family members whose fortunes are linked to the fortunes of the incumbent leadership.
  9. Do the members of the NOM even know who they are or what they are part of? Mostly they do – because there is an increasingly bitter conflict, for example, between the ANC Youth League and the SACP. When powerful factions clash, they strengthen themselves, make themselves more defined; they force anyone and any issue into the framework of their clash. We saw this in the Cold War, but more recently and specific to the groups here, we saw this in the struggle to stop Mbeki and elevate Zuma. eventually everyone knew whether they were “for” or “against” the motion. Attempts to stay sane, principled and above the fray are inevitably MIA in this kind of overblown factional dispute.

Given that framework, what actually happened?

NOM preparation

Firstly, the NOM did extensive (but insufficient) spade work around the policy that fronts their agenda. Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu have been on an extended road trip, selling the idea for over a year. They have written for newspapers and addressed conferences. Malema threatened to withdraw Youth League support from any leader who did not support the call. The Youth League attended all provincial preparation conferences for the NGC and was successful in getting its view represented in every delegation from every part of the country. There are extensive reports that members were instructed to infiltrate ANC branches and emerge later as NGC delegates. The style associated with “winning” this view at various conferences was a combination of exclusive focus on the issue and heckling, booing and threatening any opposition – in the now time-honoured traditions of the League and its members.

What the financial backers of the NOM and members of the broader NOM agenda were doing in the lead-up to the NGC should not be underestimated. Individual backers of the NOM have extremely extensive resources. Such wealth and power gives individuals the ability to reach people and process far from themselves – and snap them like a twig.

Incumbent preparation

It is difficult to say how much work the incumbents did. I have made the assumption that securing the Tripartite Alliance was key to the incumbents preparing for the onslaught they knew was coming at the NGC. In this context the brokering of the ending of the public sector strike and the carefully worded apology from Cosatu to the Zuma/government for the language workers and their leaders had used during the strike was, in part, an attempt to establish the ground for a united front against the NOM agenda at the NGC. Comprises and certain concession were probably made to “the left” – but I will discuss this in the conclusion.

The NGC opening – political and organisational reports

Jacob Zuma’s Political Report and Gwede Mantashe’s organisational report were interesting for a number of important reasons but what is relevant for this post is both reports were correctly interpreted as a significant shot across the bows of the NOM. We can all delight in the fact that Winnie Mandela had to physically comfort the distraught Julius Malema after the dressing down he received during Jacob Zuma’s opening Political Report and take to heart her now immortal words ” … every parent is allowed to talk to their children … Every organisation is like a parent.”

Commission 5 victory and then plenary defeat

The sighs of relief ‘the incumbents’ might have breathed after the NOM’s early humiliation were soon replaced by anxiety when the NOM decided to put all of its eggs in one basket (this is one time that cliché is justified) by sending 45 of the Youth League’s 66 delegates to the Wednesday economic transformation commission. It appears that all supporters of the NOM including Tokyo Sexwale and several other BEE mining tycoons flooded the commission to ensure a particular outcome. The best article in the public domain I have seen about the commission is by Moipone Malefane and Caiphus Kgosana in The Sunday Times of September 26 – catch it here.

Joel Netshitezhe , Lesetja Kganyago  (DG in the Treasury),Trevor Manuel, Enoch Godongwana (Deputy Minister Public Enterprises) and old stalwart on this issue, Jeremy Cronin, were amongst the key ANC intellectual and economic thinkers who tried to hold the line at the meeting. Their appeal for thoughtfulness and care around an issue likely to costs government hundreds of billions of Rand were reportedly overwhelmed with bullying, heckling and unthinking repetition of the demand: adopt the call, as we have defined it, as policy!

Without having seen the exact statement that emerged from this commission it is clear that the Youth League (and everyone else present) was under the impression that they had scored a clear victory and the inner cabal reportedly headed off to the Hilton Hotel to celebrate victory in the style to which they had become accustomed.

The ANC Youth League’s (and the NOM’s) celebration was premature. The next day at the plenary session of the NGC Minister Geoff Radebe (husband of Patrice Motsepe’s sister, Bridget, and someone who had expressed support for the basic premise of NOM earlier) delivered a watered down version of the results of Commission 5 – and the ANC Youth League leaders exploded, ultimately sealing their fate by appearing to storm the stage in an aggressive manner.

Conclusion

Ultimately, through the support of delegates from across the alliance at the plenary, a watered down version of Commission 5 carried – essentially calling for thorough cross-country comparison and analysis of nationalisation as part of government’s ability to influence economic growth patterns in favour of the poor and unemployed. This study was mandated to report back to the 2012 Bloemfontein/Mangaung 100th centenary elective National Conference.

In the end it was not ‘the incumbents’ that were overwhelmed by the “shock and awe” campaign of the NOM. In the end it was the NOM that lost the skirmish – they overestimated the efficacy of their own preparation and they underestimated the coherency of the opposition – as well as degree of anger that is now widespread towards the ANC YL and its leaders.

The paucity of facts in the public domain does not relieve us of the obligation to think about what may be going on and develop a view as to the potential risks involved in any situation. Wile E Coyote might have said ‘what we don’t know can’t hurt us’, as he wandered over another cliff, but in the real world what we don’t know can sometimes be deeply threatening. So the explanations I have given here are my best attempts to muster an explanation for as much of the story as possible. I am sure that at some point in the future some of the guesswork and necessary assumptions might prove misguided – but that is life in the threat analysis business.

Three final points;

Firstly, it is okay to delight in the set-back of a particularly voracious self-enrichment agenda at the ANC NGC. But it is important not forget that the conference left unscathed similar agendas in many other places in ANC and affiliated ranks, including in the Zuma family itself.

Secondly, the defeat of the NOM is a tactical, tangential issue. Like the Governator, they’ll be back.

Finally, the victory was bought at the expense of some kind of compromise with “the left”. I expect the upcoming Cabinet review of a New Growth Path to be more sympathetic to a host of issues traditionally seen as part of an SACP or Cosatu platform (including Rand policy, inflation targeting, downward pressure on interest rates, nationalisation of the SARB, tax on short-term capital flows, industrial policy, National Health Insurance and the establishment of a state-owned bank.) The consensus within “the incumbents” is inexorably moving towards a rejection of some of the basic tenants of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy as defined by Mbeki and Manuel.

Our future is full of as yet undefined state intervention. I wouldn’t feel so bad about this if I didn’t agree with Cosatu that this state, in this place and time, is rapidly becoming a predator.

Cosatu has released its long awaited document in which it provides the facts (as it sees them) and theoretical underpinnings for “A Growth Path Towards Full Employment” – and in doing so attempts to align its views with those emanating from Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Department of Economic Planning (the Two Year Strategic Plan) as well as Minister Rob Davies of DTI’s (IPAP2).

Stephen Grootes at the Daily Maverick has done an exemplary quick analysis (catch that here). I am not quite certain I am as gung-ho capitalist as the guys down at the the DM are … although I am as clear as Grootes is that Cosatu’s main planks of policy would turn us into a wasteland in two flicks of a lamb’s tail – as not even my old Granny was prissy enough to say.

I saved a copy of Cosatu’s full document here and hope to give it a more thorough treatment than the cursory skim I gave it in the middle of last night. Whatever I conclude will be faithfully reported on these pages.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a link to the full report.

… politicians and chief executives of all political colours become angry when anonymous markets do not take their assertions at face value. The anonymous market cannot be dictated to or defeated in debate. Leaders cannot shout down, fire or arrest the nonexistent Mr Market.

This from a fine piece of commentary from John Kay in the Financial Times, republished in today’s Business Day.

The article is premised on US and UK politics where “the political left” and “the political right” take opposite views of the market – a state of affairs that does not have an exact corollary in South Africa:

The anonymity of markets delights the political right, which welcomes it as a check on state authority, just as it infuriates the political left, which deplores the freedom of the market from democratic control.

Monetary policy — a market-based policy favoured by the right — restricts spending by price through the discipline of higher interest rates.

Fiscal policy, favoured by the left, requires political choices about levels of taxation and public spending.

In South Africa “the political right” and “the political left” would not be defined in these terms except if you understood the Democratic Alliance to represent “the right” and the ANC “the left” – a set of definitions that is not entirely helpful.

The article neatly summarises why politicians in power tend to hate the judgement of the markets. Who can forget Trevor Manuel’s 1996 comment? “I insist on the right to govern …. I insist on the right not to be stampeded into a panic decision by some amorphous entity … called the market.”

“The market” punished him profoundly for the comment and he seemed to have learned something important from that lesson that came in his first few months of what was to be the longest term of any minister of finance in the world.

Kay’ is no libertarian extremist – he cautions that “all extremists seem to believe that their brand of authoritarianism represents true democracy”.

But he pulls no punches against the politicians who futilely attack “the gnomes of Zurich” and the “teenage scribblers” when markets declare, with magisterial equanimity, their lack of confidence in those politicians.

Catch the full article here.

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.

A quick run through documents and press statement emanating from the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party reveals the existence of a new ‘song sheet’ our crimson brethren have devised to help them sing in tune with each other.

This is something more than a coordinated set of slogans and something less than a recipe for creating socialism, socialised production and a workers’ republic out of the ingredients of the conjuncture.

If I had to try to construct a Ten Point Programme out of the bits and pieces in the press statements and discussion documents of the last few months, but particularly the last few weeks, it would look something like this:

A ten point (interim) programme for The Left

  1. Argue that macro-economic policy is increasingly in conflict with micro-economic policy.
  2. Argue that IPAP II (industrial policy) from Minister Rob Davies of the DTI in combination with Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Medium Term Strategic Plan (2010/11 – 2012/13) form the first pro-poor, employment creation oriented plan to put South Africa on a “new growth path” in which state intervention will lead to job-rich and equitable growth.
  3. Argue that the Rand is overvalued and wherever possible criticise inflation targeting and call for the nationalisation of the SARB as well as devaluation of the currency to effect a growth of valuable jobs in the export manufacturing sector.
  4. Link the Treasury under Pravin Gordhan to the economic tradition fostered by Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel and keep pointing out that many of the senior bureaucrats in that department were trained and placed by the former president and former Minister of Finance; as part of this thrust attack labour brokers and the subsidy for first time youth workers as part of ongoing attempts to segregate the labour market.
  5. Co-ordinate calls for a national health insurance and free and universal education.
  6. Defend Gwede Mantashe (your man at the heart of the ANC leadership) and isolate the most hostile elements among the conservative nationalists, populists, tenderprenuers and anti-communists – Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula (the proposed challenger to Mantashe) are perhaps seen as core elements of this “most dangerous friend” group, although Billy Masetlha and Tony Yengeni are in there somewhere.
  7. Start preparing a strategy linking this group with those attempting to buy their way into leadership of the alliance i.e. those who have inherited the Brett Kebble mantel. The general direction of the red finger of accusation appears to point at Tokyo Sexwale.
  8. Fight to stay in the alliance and fight for your views within alliance forums; make sure the ANC and government takes the results of those forums seriously.
  9. Prepare your cadres to influence the outcome of the National General Council later this year and the ANC’s elective National Conference in 2010 – and start preparing a set of policies and candidates to support. In the process continually cement relationships between SACP and Cosatu
  10. Always maintain a mass profile (through work amongst the masses) that is distinct, pro-poor, anti-corruption and principled; this strengthens your hand in Alliance forums but, more importantly, is your insurance policy if or when you are eventually forced out of the alliance.

It seems logical that despite the vicious atmosphere in the ruling alliance Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC’s own left-wing are not about to abandon the field to the “proto-facists“, populists, tenderprenuers and powerful hangers-on from the “1996 class project“. Not so soon after their triumph at Polokwane. Not after “capturing” two key cabinet posts and finding themselves in a position to, perhaps, profoundly influence government policy for the first time since 1994.

Those hoping that the tension in the ruling alliance would lead to a blossoming of opposition politics in parliament will have to wait a little longer. For now the real prize is still within the ANC and the ruling alliance.

I have been sitting on this for a few days partly because Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee statement on Thursday last week and the ANC response are as harsh as we have seen – and that includes the tone of voice that accompanied Cosatu’s huge strike against ‘Mbeki’s privatisation’ in 2002.

Cosatu has a long and interesting statement; one of the more important paragraphs read:

Regrettably, to our frustration and anger, the government continues with the tendency inherited from the previous administration to ignore policy directives it does not like and only implement those areas that the markets/capital are happy with. In this regard we are angry that the Treasury remain infected by the highly organised but conservative bureaucrats who have been driving neo liberal and conservative policies for the past 16 years.

The ANC replied:

ANC has grown weary of the latest media outbursts by COSATU, seeking to rubbish and undermine anything from the content of the President’s State of the Nation Address to the Budget Speech by the Finance Minister, as well as ANC policies. Taking pot shots at the ANC and its Government show signs by COSATU of veering towards oppositional politics and not sticking to Alliance politics and traditions.

The point for now is that this does not presage an actual splitting of The Alliance. Cosatu is going to mobilise its members to join and influence the ANC in the lead-up to the ANC’s National General Council later this year – much as they did in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007.

Cosatu’s short term objective is to defend against the attack on Gwede Mantashe (emanating from, but not exclusive to, the ANC Youth Leage). The longer term objectives of Cosatu (and the SACP) are finally starting to emerge and I will deal with this in the next post.

For now Cosatu has attacked on a broad front:

  • ‘tenderprenuers’, corruption and cronyism;
  • relaxation of the labour market;
  • failure of the ANC to stick with agreements that are reached in alliance summits;
  • monetary policy, inflation targeting and the role of the SARB and
  • a general lack of fit between micro and macro-economic policy.

For its part the ANC hadn’t quite finished with its fury at Cosatu’s CEC statement, and in particular Vavi’s niggling and constant accusation of corruption within the ANC and government.

Here’s the full text:

The African National Congress (ANC) has noted repeated allegations of corruption raised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions Secretary General, Cde Zwelinzima Vavi.

Cde Vavi speaks with conviction that “there is a tiny minority in the ANC leadership and membership which is corrupt and who use the ANC to enrich themselves”.

To this end, Cde Vavi has not raised this matter with the ANC in any of the fora of engagements we have and he has not provided any evidence of such allegations.

As a leader of the Alliance, we would have expected of him to have brought such a matter to the ANC leadership or even presented the list of such corrupt individuals. Together, we would have walk and matched to the nearest police station to ensure that such individuals are arrested. Cde Vavi would have assisted the ANC and government to root out the scourge of corruption in the country.

Cde Vavi’s failure to bring this weighty matter to the attention of the ANC and even his failure to report this matter to the law enforcement authorities, amounts to an insult to the standing and image of the ANC, its leadership and membership. These omissions on his part cannot amount to a fight against corruption but is reminiscent of grand standing.

Issued by:
Jackson Mthembu
ANC National Spokesperson

I don’t suppose it means much, but Jackson Mthembu was released from a police cell a few hours ago after been caught for drunken driving in Cape Town early this morning

The Alliance Summit on the weekend has significantly reduced confusion about policy and risk – although monetary policy is still under review.

Background

  1. “The Alliance”  met at Esselen Park, Ekurhuleni  this weekend.
  2. This meeting consisted of the the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African National Civic Association (SANCO).
  3. According to a joint communique press release the summit was to be “attended by the ANC National Executive Committee, led by its President, cde Jacob Zuma, the Central Committee of the SACP, led by its General Secretary, cde Blade Nzimande, the Central Executive Committee of COSATU, led by its General Secretary, cde Zwelinzima Vavi, and lastly, SANCO National Executive Committee, led by its President cde Ruth Bhengu.”

Rumours

The big rumour was that Gwede Mantashe  attempted to achieve acceptance that “The Alliance” and not “The ANC” should be the centre of policy making – I doubt this, but it is what the Sunday papers were saying.  The same rumour claims that Julius Malema led the charge of ANC traditionalists against this sacrilege ….. difficult to tell if it is true (Mantashe said the story was cooked up) but it gives an interesting twist to the ongoing rehabilitation of the ANC Youth League president.

Reports

  1. Cosatu and the SACP lost the battle around Trevor Manuel and the NPC. The National Planning Commission, located in the presidency and headed by Trevor Manuel but also consisting of a panel of independent experts and charged with the responsibility for integrated strategic planning across government is now a fait accompli. This is how Trevor Manuel conceived of his mandate in the Green Paper and it seems Trevor Manuel and the ANC have won the day against Cosatu and SACP criticism.
  2. There was a strong indication that the ANC had agreed to re-examine the South African Reserve Bank mandate. Mantashe  announced after the summit that they had discussed “how best the Reserve Bank should talk to the development priorities of the state …. The summit agreed that the alliance task team on macroeconomic policy must remain seized with reviewing and broadening the mandate of the Reserve Bank.” This is carefully phrased and is unlikely to panic the markets – but risks remain and financial markets and sovereign risk agencies will be watching this space.
  3. The summit clearly opposed the electricity hikes proposed by Eskom: “We are totally uncomfortable with the 45 percent increase. The summit also noted with concern that the successive tariff increase requests through the multi-year price determination by Eskom will negatively impact on society, the economy and jobs. The summit therefore supported efforts to have the tariff increases minimised,” said Gwede Mantashe in the post Summit interview.  This is likely to be popular with almost every constituency – except for those who believe that Eskom is best left to manage its own affairs …. not a significant demographic at this stage of proceedings.

The bottom line

The ANC has usefully asserted its authority.

The idea that “The Alliance” could or should determine details of government policy was becoming deeply disturbing and untenable. This is not only because of the policies espoused by Cosatu and the SACP are generally seen by investors and businesses as hostile, but also because there appeared to be no centre to policy making, and therefore no predictability – and therefore a serious risk overhang.

In an environment where policy making has no centre we started to hear the worst and most self-interested voices raised bombastically and claiming authority. The Alliance Summit went some way towards increasing investors ability to dismiss the noise.

I was dreading yesterday’s mini-budget.

Firstly the objective conditions were against us. It was clear that the Great Recession was going to squeeze revenue – and therefore the space available for the new Minister of Finance to operate in. As it turns out, lower revenue and higher than expected expenditure has pushed the estimated deficit on the consolidated budget to R184bn or 7.6% of GDP.

Now that is a significant shortfall, but not bigger – and in some cases a lot smaller – than governments around the world are operating on in these difficult times.

Secondly the long triumphalist Polokwane after-party  had led me to miscalculate. It had begun to feel as if every milestone we reached was another opportunity to celebrate the crushing of “the 1996 class project”  (read “fiscal rectitude”) and the rise to dominance of woolly thinking and left populism in an uneasy alliance with a new more voracious layer of vampire capitalist aspirants.

And here comes stout Pravin Gordhan and the new parliamentary autocue to wipe away my cynical fears. He said it loud and clear for all to hear:

Special appreciation is therefore due to Minister Manuel for his sound stewardship of our public finances.

The new Minister of Finance stood before our parliament and clearly phrased the budget in the terms of this ANC’s election manifesto (emphasising education, health, rural development/agrarian reform/land, crime/corruption and the creation of decent jobs). However he did so while clearly placing himself within the macro-economic framework of the past – including by continuing to relax exchange controls and defending inflation targeting.

I have no reason to think that Gordhan will gradually bow to pressures from any quarter before the the real budget early next year. This does not mean that we won’t have higher taxation and more poverty relief in future. In a country like South Africa these thrusts are inevitable and appropriate.

So the chickens that actually came home to roost yesterday were not born in Polokwane in December 2007. They are in fact the fruits of pro-investment policies and fiscal austerity in the mid-90’s. Those chicken were hatched as part of  the macro-economic framework developed under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki and guided by the stewardship of Trevor Manuel.

Pravin Gordhan yesterday spent some of the heritage of a sound macro-economic framework that has prevailed for the last 14 years. It is this very framework that the ANC’s left-wing and Cosatu and the SACP excoriate at every opportunity. It feels better to know that the politician dealing with these issues at the centre of the Zuma government understands perfectly well what is owed to those men and women who held the line against self-serving economic populism in the 90’s – at great cost to themselves and their future careers.

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

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