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For those who were tortured by my somnolently incoherent post last night, here is the follow up. Hopefully a little clearer.
- The flip-flops around the Minister of Finance leave Jacob Zuma looking weak and vulnerable. There are grounds to begin questioning whether he will see out his full term.
- The appointment of Pravin Gordhan is a victory on a number of different fronts and should be celebrated.
- We can expect the process of fiscal consolidation to continue on track.
- It really is the season to be jolly.
Gordhan’s shock reappointment as Finance Minister – positive
Jacob Zuma fired the increasingly widely respected Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, on Wednesday December the 9th. He gave no reasons but there had already been wide speculation that:
- Nene decisively blocked a nonsense SAA deal to lease some Airbus planes upon which Zuma associate SAA board chair Dudu Myeni had set her sights;
- That Nene was pushing important investigations into corruption or mismanagement at SABC that were getting uncomfortably close to Zuma’s close personal friend Hlaudi Motsoeneng and
- Most importantly Nene was blocking the (approximately) ZAR1-trillion nuclear deal that was the pet project of Jacob Zuma and his close business associates the Guptas – who had appeared to prepare for the deal by investing heavily through Oakbay investments in several uranium mines
Almost immediately the ZAR tanked, the bond yields spiked and everyone with a voice screamed blue murder at the irrationality of the axing.
Zuma then, perhaps more mysteriously, appointed the relatively unknown and unqualified David Van Rooyen to the post, despite there being many highly qualified candidates available (South Africa has made a point of putting its highest quality ministers into the National Treasury position.) The widespread assumption was that Nene was being replaced by someone who would be more compliant to the President’s wishes, and more importantly, to the wishes of those who are in business with the President.
Then, even more shockingly, late last night (13/12/2015) Jacob Zuma did an about turn, dropped Van Rooyen and reappointed Minister of Co-Operative Governance, Pravin Gordhan, as Finance Minister (a post he – Gordhan – held prior to Nene’s appointment 18 Months ago.)
Jacob Zuma has had his wings closely clipped – which is a good thing
The decision to axe Nene bordered on the criminal but most analysts thought that Zuma could get away with anything he wanted within the ANC – even as the ANC lost support amongst the electorate. Well it appears they were wrong. A powerful enough group of leaders have got together, sat Zuma down and forced him to make a humiliating climb down. The financial market response might have helped and the bleating of the opposition and the press would have given some support, but the ANC prides itself of being impervious to the shallow swings of public opinion (which is no bad thing). This was an internal leadership revolt against Zuma, the Holy Grail that many had been hoping for as the country went from the healthy constitutional democracy of 2007 to this damaged (in many of its most important institutions) country, almost overwhelmed by rent-seeking and corruption.
We out here in the public realm don’t know anything for sure, except Zuma was given a ‘warm klap’ (warm slap – colloquial Afrikaans) and we can hope that this might begin the unravelling of his negative influence on the country and its politics. The admonishment and humiliating climb-down must have been caused by ANC heavyweights who have finally found their voice and power enough to put Zuma in his place.
Pravin Gordhan will be a better Minister of Finance – even than he was before
Gordhan has all the credentials and had a close to faultless term as head of the National Treasury. (If memory serves, like all heads of the NT his slips concerned the public wage sector bill and desperate attempts to avoid public sector strikes.) His only weak point is he tends to run an unhappy office … it was widely speculated that the staff at the National Treasury were unhappy with his dictatorial style of leadership. This we can live with.
Of interest is that since Gordhan had left the Treasury a witch hunt has been conducted in Gordhan’s previous posting, the South African Revenue Service, SARS. The witch hunt has been against an alleged “rogue spy unit”. The fact is the special investigation units, established by Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordhan were an essential part of investigating complicated tax avoidance and fraud cases, especially those involving heads of large criminal networks and powerful politicians. It is a small step to see who might have been the obvious targets of the special investigative units. And an even smaller step to see why and who has stimulated the witch hunts and slander against the loyal SARS investigators involved in these units – calling them rogues and criminals, and ensuring their dismissal or buyout.
Thus this is going to be a Finance Minister that nobody is going to push around – especially not Jacob Zuma and his cronies – against whom Gordhan has good reason to feel ill-disposed. It’s a win-win.
My only faint worry is I am not sure of Gordhan’s attitude to the nuclear programme. I am sure he will not do anything to threaten the process of fiscal consolidation, but as an old style ANC securocrat he might have an over-attachment to nuclear power (an affliction of those who grew up in the ANC in the 70’s mostly because of the USSR’s warm embrace of that technology).
Business Day this morning published an article suggesting that Nhlanhla Nene was on the verge of being shuffled out of his Minister of Finance position to some face-saving backwater.
I wrote early last week in a client note: “It is widely held that the National Treasury and Minister Nhlanhla Nene have come under hostile pressure for investigating close Zuma allies and an axe in the form a threatened Cabinet shuffle hangs over Nene’s head to keep him compliant with Zuma’s own spending priorities and plans for SOE’s and nuclear power roll-out (to which Nene is widely believed to be opposed in its current ZAR1-trillion form).”
However I have repeated to several of my clients that I believe that while Zuma might axe Nene is might be a step too far, the moment the great leader overestimates his greatness and fails to understand his Ozymandian limitations.
Nene is the first black African Minister of Finance and he is at least as steely and technically competent as any of his post 1994 predecessors. Last week be brought the meat-clever down on the plan of SAA board chair Dudu Myeni (widely suggested to be an intimate of Jacob Zuma) to place a mock-up company in an already done leasing deal between the national carrier and Airbus. The company would have been nothing other than a rent extraction tool – and added hugely to the costs of the deal. Myeni’s reprehensible argument was that it was all for the purpose of transformation – proving that the political elite uses the practice to loot the SOE budgets as much as it ever does to promote real BEE.
Nene has also been going after the SABC’s Motsoeneng (another person who brags widely about his relationship with the President and his untouchable status) and he (Nene) has been widely assessed to be dragging his heals on Jacob Zuma’s pet nuclear deal that in its current form would beggar the country and state finance for many years to come.
So Nene has apparently got in Zuma’s face and he is facing the axe – according to various stories including the one linked above.
When Nene was first appointed on May 24 2014 I expressed concern about his seniority in the party and questioned whether he would be able to stand up to the fiscal pressures that would be placed on him – especially in relation to his predecessors in the position and especially in our declining growth environment.
I was wrong – if anything Nene has been both stronger and more tactical in his attempts to meet the increasingly difficult targets of fiscal consolidation – given the endlessly lower levels of growth. The rating agencies, those who grade South African government debt and have recently moved us closer to non-investment grade (i.e., junk) have come to rely on the dependability of the head of the National Treasury. We have a tradition of putting some of our best ministers in the position and Nene has risen to the challenge.
The Business Day story quoted above (which might be rubbish, but chimes with several of our initial views) suggests that some “malleable” nobody by the name of Des van Rooyen from the Parliament’s finance committee could replace Nene (the closest information I could find on a web search for this character was this smarmy speech on the ANC website).
I have no idea if this is true, but have concluded elsewhere for a range of reasons and from a range of sources that Nene is vulnerable and that ‘an axe hovers over his neck’ because he has stood up to Zuma.
If Zuma gets rid of Nene, because the head of the NT has offended Zuma’s friends and he is showing opposition to Zuma’s nuclear retirement plan or legacy project he (Zuma) would be making a grave mistake – a mistake leaders who have come to overestimate their power often make.
Axing Nene will be read by the capital markets and rating agencies in exactly the terms I have described above – Nene has been exemplary in his job except when forced to concede to political pressure from the top – and even then he has skilfully manoeuvred to lessen the damage.
If Nene is axed I will be unsurprised to see us downgraded to junk by the end of 2016.
I will also be unsurprised to see political shifts against the leader (Zuma) who has finally overstepped the mark, who has heaped damage upon damage on the South African political economy, especially as regards to its reputation for probity, but who has especially damaged the reputation of the ANC.
I see from the Business Day story that the rumour is the Guptas “let the cat out of the bag” (read “announced”) the impending Cabinet reshuffle. Excuse me! This more than anything suggests (if it is true), not for the first time, that Zuma has sold our sovereignty to these shady interlopers for something a lot more than a mess of pottage.
My underlying point is that Zuma’s power is becoming more brittle and his lines of support stretched thinner and thinner. He is engaging in actions that parts of his party find repulsive and there is a point beyond which a system under stress can quickly unravel as the connections snap and the nodes pop.
… but it’s difficult to know who to back
Thank you Mail and Guardian for publishing the story we all wanted even though you have probably broken the whole cannon of ethics in journalism.
The story to which I refer, titled “Ramaphosa starts fight for top job”, was published in the print edition of the aforesaid newspaper on November 13, it was written by Mmanaledi Mataboge & Matuma Letsoalo and leads with that treasured line: “ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has declared his intention to stand for the ruling party’s presidency in 2017, sources say.”
Yes, we all know that sources say “Space pumpkins stole my baby”, “Jesus was an astronaut” and “Jacob Zuma has no relationship whatsoever with SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni”, but in the M&G case referred to above I am prepared not only to forgive them because they took one on the chin for the team but I honour, respect and encourage them through the difficult times that lie ahead for them and other similarly esteemed organs.
So … Cyril Ramaphosa is the presidential candidate for a slate including Gwede Mantashe, is (probably) backed by Gauteng and Eastern Cape provincial ANC’s, is also backed by Limpopo but unreliably and incoherently. They (this camp) will fight on every terrain where votes are up for grabs in 2017 – which includes KwaZulu-Natal that they narrowly lost to the opposition at the provincial conference last weekend. They will obviously try to win Western Cape, Northern Cape and seem confident that the ‘premier league’ provinces (Free State, Mpumalanga and North West under the the charming patrons, Ace Magashule, David Mabuza, Supra Mahumapelo) should yield votes in their favour too.
The other camp, let’s call it the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Camp, is backed by the ‘premier league’, the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League, the winning faction in Kwazulu-Natal (and that is big cheese in ANC internal national votes) and all the premier league provinces. So they are ahead, in case you missed that.
If that’s all plain sailing for you up till now, here comes the confusing bit: the SACP is under vigorous attack by most of the elements supporting the Dlamini-Zuma camp and we must assume the SACP is backing the Ramaphosa/Mantashe ticket.
I would prefer things to be neater. I haven’t argued this point in these pages in enough detail – or with enough vitriol – but in my private pantheon of villains of South African post liberation politics the SACP has pride of place. In about 2005, facing a probable ousting from the ruling alliance by Mbeki, the SACP pulled off a tactically brilliant but deeply unprincipled counter stroke by riding the debauched, corrupt, amoral, untrustworthy, deceitful, disreputable, tribal, traditionalist, sexist, shameful and scandal-ridden – but still saleable to the populist masses – Jacob Zuma back to power in December 2007 – later ensuring Mbeki’s early removal from the presidency. (Can I say that on my blog? No, you’re fine. That’s all true. I took the illegal stuff out; it halved the length of the story – Ed).
The SACP was lavishly rewarded in the Judas coin of cabinet posts and general status and influence and continued to act as Jacob Zuma’s strength and shield through the myriad scandals that were to follow.
It is my belief that the impact this party’s control of industrial policy has had on our national economy has been little short of ruinous, and its top leadership has shown arrogance, contempt and self-aggrandisement on a scale I would never, ever, have predicted from the party I idealised throughout the 1980’s.
So what happened? Why did groups I assume are close to … or proxies for … Jacob Zuma begin attacking the SACP. (Lets leave the #FeesMustFall for the moment as a stroke of luck for those pushing this line … and get back to it when we are being more conspiratorial.)
Slight rumours of criticism of Jacob Zuma’s various excesses and the SACP’s culpability in its stance in relation to the president filtered into the public domain from discussions internal to the SACP in the lead up to its 3rd Special National Congress in July 2015. Perhaps that self criticism was a lot harsher and the party realised that sticking with Zuma, his policies, his patrimonial and clientelist style, his absence of a plan would lead the country, the ANC and the SACP towards catastrophe?
I do think the SACP has been a restraining hand on the worst excesses of corruption and patronage … so it is not inconceivable that in contrition (and lack of other choices) they have joined the good guys.
I have discussed in detail in the past why Ramaphosa will always be treated with caution by the exiles, Robben Islanders, and the those who worked primarily in the underground military and security apparatuses of the banned ANC. I will get back to this question as I think the conclusion I drew might be changing.
Three last small points
I think both candidates would be more than adequate to fill the positions they are competing for. A significant portion of Dlamini-Zuma’s support is coming from groups that are characterised by the words I used to describe Jacob Zuma six paragraphs above this one. If there is a large centrist group of progressive Africanists, waiting to show their hand for Dlamini-Zuma, let them do so soon. And they should learn from the SACP that unprincipled alliances can end up doing you much harm.
The ‘woman for president’ argument is basically rubbish. Interestingly it was Thabo Mbeki in his struggle against the rise of Zuma that brought up this facile and distracting little trick. At least Mbeki had made the right noises about the role of women throughout his presidency so that when he suggested Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (then deputy president), alternatively Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, it could not as easily be dismissed as a dishonest ploy.
The argument being advanced in 2015 that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma should be president because it is time for a woman president, is being advanced by the most backward, traditionalist, dare I say misogynistic, elements of the ANC. Dismiss the argument out of hand – even if the appointment of a women president, perhaps of the highly experienced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, might be something of which we could all be justifiably proud. The argument has been advanced purely for factional reasons – which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t get support from those who believe it would be inherently a good thing.
Finally this is all being played out in the public realm (which basically means it is being cobbled together out of hints and rumours by analysts and journalists) extremely early.
Remember this is a contest that will only be formally resolved in 2017 (probably in December of that year) at the ANC elective National Conference and only lead to a change in the country’s government and president in 2019. I assume it is a sign of desperate desire for change (for the better) and fear of change (for the worse) that has caused these issues to assume such a central public focus so early.
There were several times last week when I felt admiration for the protesting students, including those who crashed through the gates of parliament and, quite bravely in many cases, stood up to the SAPS’s counter attack, stun grenades and all.
I admit to some brief, irresponsible, trickster elation – Loki let loose upon the world – good for them … ha ha, let it all burn … that will show the fat bastards inside the building.
I didn’t lose my sense of judgement to the degree that I never felt sorry for some of the SAPS members who were woefully unprepared and overwhelmed, just as I felt disgusted with others for the unnecessary violence against the initially peaceful, if somewhat over-boisterous, students.
But by the time the Sunday papers rolled out I was becoming slightly nauseated by the ridiculously laudatory and pompous language being used to describe the protesting student of the #FeesMustFall and #shutdown campaigns.
I am not giving examples because these were mostly hyperbolic aberrations from commentators and journalists I otherwise admire (read City Press, the Sunday Independent or the Sunday Times of the 25th of October 2015 and the point will clearly and quickly be made). In general the pitch and tenor was thus:
… which is Eugène Delacroix ‘s “Liberty leading the People”, 1830 – the French Revolution before it ate its children.
Well, this week the #FeesMustFall movement is also eating its children – although it’s a much smaller snack than the French feast after 1830.
However the students have banked the partial victory of the 0% fee increase for 2016. And can there be anyone in the SA news-consuming-public who has not considered the many accounts of black students shaving their nutritional intake so they can send part of their National Student Financial Aid money back to their parents and siblings?
This is what I wrote in a client note earlier this week:
Student protests – expect splits, fragmentation, radicalisation, isolation, ill-discipline and loss of momentum – but they kept it together long enough to change the game.
The student protests against fee increases have begun to wind down and fragment after the sometimes violent clashes at the Union Buildings on Friday where President Zuma acceded, in a closed meeting with student leaders, to the 0%-increase-for-2016 demand.
In parliament Minister of Higher Education (and General Secretary of the SACP) Blade Nzimande had a torrid time defending his handling of the protests and explaining where the money for a 0% increase would come from. His main proposal was: “My view is that the government must have the political will to tax the rich and wealthy to fund higher education” – quoted in Business Day 28/10/2015.
The student revolt has deepened the opposition to government in general and increased disillusionment with party politics amongst students throughout the country. On balance the ANC has probably lost more ground than it was losing in this constituency anyway. However, the ruling party retains a variety of youth allies that operate on the campuses (including several SRCs, the ANC Youth League, the South African Students Congress – SASCO – and the Young Communists League – YCL.)
There will be fiscal implications that we will be exploring in the next few weeks as we examine the problem of funding for education generally and higher education in particular.
Zuma’s government must feel beset from all sides but the more focussed political attack is on the South African Communist Party – coming from within the ANC. Prior to its special national congress in July the SACP let it be put out that it wasn’t quite as gung-ho about Zuma’s increasingly corrupt and incompetent presidency than it appeared from its slavish defence of the man from Nkandla for the last 6 years. This in turn has led to Zuma’s most ardent (and patronage driven) supporters in the ANC Youth League (and the so called premier league) to escalate an attack on the SACP and its leadership. The student revolt against fee increases was a opportunity welcomed by these groups to join an attack on Nzimande.
It is still too early to predict with high levels of confidence a final collapse of the ruling alliance but the possibility is probably higher than it has been since 1994. An exit of the SACP (and probably Cosatu) from their formal ‘governing alliance’ status with the ANC might lead to ‘financial market positive’ changes in industrial and labour policy, but as likely might remove some of the constraints on corruption the SACP and Cosatu have brought to government and the alliance.
Okay, enough of all of that.
What I really wanted to say was that while watching the student and police confrontations my thoughts went back to the many protests and clashes my ‘comrades’ and I had with with the police and army in the 1980’s.
On the ‘white’ campuses it was largely just teargas and beatings with shamboks or quirts – although I remember the panic and fear as much as I do the elation.
In the townships it was a different matter – shotguns, R5 rifles and necklacing – excitement, yes; but also horror and terror.
I was explaining some of the differences between then and now to a close family member who is a student at a ‘previously white’ campus.
As I spoke I gradually came to realise something – funny at first, but then embarrassing. I was starting to sound remarkably like the Four Yorkshiremen.
The 1980’s was not worse than Marikana; and I am forced to remind myself that this, too, hovered over those students last week as the possible consequences of their actions.
So to lighten it slightly and to own up to my own pomposity, I sent that family member a copy of the famous Monty Python piece.
Four Yorkshiremen Sketch
Four well-dressed men sitting together at a vacation resort.
Michael Palin: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.
Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?
Terry Gilliam: You’re right there Obediah.
Eric Idle: Who’d a thought thirty years ago we’d all be sittin’ here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?
MP: Aye. In them days, we’d a’ been glad to have the price of a cup o’ tea.
GC: A cup ‘ COLD tea.
EI: Without milk or sugar.
TG: OR tea!
MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.
EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.
GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.
TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.
MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness.”
EI: ‘E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN’. We used to live in this tiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.
GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!
TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!
MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.
EI: Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.
GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!
TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.
MP: Cardboard box?
MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o’clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!
GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!
TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o’clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.
EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”
MP: But you try and tell the young people today that… and they won’t believe ya’.
ALL: Nope, nope..
I have been completely taken up with a project (now completed) that argued that the black African middle-class was our single biggest asset and the workings of the interests of that class in the world would save our politics and help our economics. Yaay!
The basic argument looked at the defection suffered by the ANC in the May elections from its most sophisticated constituency and went on to argue that things were going to turn out rosy in the end. (There are hundreds of tables and graphs and other clever financial market type number crunching that was mostly done by my brilliant colleagues …. but I will only publish a version of that when I have had a chance to chat to them and get their permission).
Not everyone bought our story, but soon you will be able to make up your own mind if our grounds for optimism (that the ANC self-corrects) have an adequate basis.
The ‘black African middle-class saves South Africa’ project (which is what we started calling as a sort of shorthand … the report is LONG so trust me that really is shorthand) has held me back from completing my promised comments about the SACP. The further we went with the ‘middle-class’ project, the more disturbed I have become about the the role the SACP played in engineering the end of Mbeki’s presidency and it’s iron protection of Zuma through the chaos he has brought upon us over the last 4 years.
So as promised I will write that out here and publish it before year end … that’s the SACP story … so 2 promises so far.
Meanwhile here is an extract of my bespoke comments (now too dated to remain bespoke) on the Numsa split (written on the trot) a week ago. My brilliant editor friend in London suggested it be titled:
South African politics: Love’s labours lost
Numsa expulsion … if you love it let it go, if you hate it pray for its demise
The central Executive Committee of Cosatu expelled the largest member of the trade union federation at an extended weekend meeting of the special Central Executive Committee (CEC). Irwin Jim, Numsa general secretary gave a 3 hour long spirited defence of Numsa and attack on those trying expelling the union – but to no avail. It has always been a foregone conclusion, but what Numsa was doing was contesting the terrain, trying to stay as long as possible to take as many members and individual with them. The strategy has probably worked and they have come out, if not smelling of roses, then not badly damaged.
Numsa’s ideological position reaches back in an unbroken line to a strong and independent left faction (referred to as Workerists) which at the formation of Cosatu in 1985 were still strongly critical of the over-close relationship with the ANC. They believed that the ‘national liberation agenda’ of the ANC would swamp the more limited agenda of the pursuit of workers’ rights – and the more expansive pursuit of socialism – and that therefore the unions need to be wary of this ally and always fight for their independence.
As it turns out Cosatu did pretty well out of its relationship with the ANC – getting much of the labour market structured in their favour – to the point that it has done some real damage to our economy. However, the tension between the ANC and Cosatu has continued to rise. Cosatu didn’t like the National Development Plan (too pro-markets), Cosatu didn’t like e-tolling (who in Gauteng and outside The Treasury does?), Cosatu didn’t like the Treasury setting the limits of public sector wage increases, Cosatu didn’t like the youth wage subsidy, believing it to be the short end of segmentation of the labour market into more and less protected (cheaper and more expensive) workers.
And of late the ANC, at the end of its tether about the losses of revenue from the platinum and Numsa strikes, at the violence that accompanied the platinum strikes, at the damage done our investment image by strikes, at the damage done the limping infrastructure programme plagued by strikes, has finally started talking about amendments to the Labour Relations Act that would make it a lot more difficult for Cosatu to strike (make secret balloting compulsory) and make it difficult for nationally damaging strikes (like Amcu’s strike in the platinum sector) to go on indefinitely (make some form of forced independent mediation obligatory after a certain time of being on strike.)
Numsa, and Irvin Jim – and Cosatu general secretary Zwlinzima Vavi – have gradually come into more and more serious conflict with the ANC and the SACP over these policies – and the relationship has finally broken. It must be said that Vavi and Jim have also been on the side of the angels on a number of different issues as well; Corruption Watch, abuse of ministerial car allowances, various human rights issues, including the Dalai Lama visit, the Right to Know Campaign, the Treatment Action Campaign, the protection of the Public Protector, the getting of Zuma to pay back the money, the Gupta wedding, horror at the proposed done Russian nuclear deal … the list is too long, but, in general (and with one or two notable exceptions), Cosatu under Vavi and Jim have defended the defensible – unlike their erstwhile comrades in the ANC and SACP
The expulsion of Numsa, which might quickly be followed by the exit of its closest allies the South African Commercial Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), Communication Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa), Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), and South African Football Players Union (Safpu) will leave Cosatu much weakened and with an over preponderance of public sector unions.
Numsa – the world is its oyster
For Numsa, the world is its oyster. It has announced intention to set up forums of some form of ‘socialist alliance’ – which we must assume will evolve into a political party, perhaps testing the waters of some constituencies in Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg (where it has pre-existing strong union organisation that could easily be redeployed as party structures in the 2016 municipal election.
Numsa can also now freely pursue its strategy for vertical integration into mining, processing, construction, energy, and manufacturing, including light manufacturing and food processing. Numsa sees these whole value chains of particular metals (and possible other minerals) as natural pillars through which they can exert more power over employers and employer organisations. Up until now Cosatu’s slogan of “One Industry, One Union, One Federation” has prevented Numsa realising its full ambitions (although several unions, especially Num have complained for years that Numsa has poached its members.)
This leaves Cosatu with the heavyweight public sector unions as its dominant component (and, officially, remember it is still bigger, if not more vigorous, than the bits that have been expelled or might leave in sympathy with Numsa). However the public sector unions are about to embark on a do-or-die wage negotiation in the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council. Keep in mind that Numsa fought to stay in Cosatu primarily because it believed it could pull the heart of the federation with it, that in each of the unions, large and small, there were branches and sections and individuals who supported Numsa and supported Numsa’s decision to not back the ANC in the last election. Including significant parts of the public sector unions.
Strikes are a testing time – in fact, wage negotiation are a testing time – and even more so when you have on the other side of the table representatives of a state, so absolutely constrained by the fiscal ledge to which it is clinging that is unlikely to shift towards your bargaining position. The MTBF issued by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene last month was as close as we have come to the austerity of Trevor Manuel’s first few budgets in the mid 90’s. This was the heart of the Cosatu (and South African Communist Party) attack on Mbeki’s government, with ‘the left’ arguing it was a form of Kowtowing to the Washington Consensus. ‘The left’ then and now believe the way to economic growth is by state spending as a stimulus that creates the virtuous circle. Nene’s budget was the heart of the “1996 Class Project” that Zuma and his allies supposedly defeated at Polokwane in December 2007, which takes the decidedly opposite view of growth: that the state needs to make room for investment and that government needs to create an environment maximally attractive to the same. And part of doing that is keeping borrowing and therefore spending strictly within the bounds acceptable to global capital markets.
Cosatu is now dominated by unions that are not involved in the productive economy. It’s basically the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the burned out cinders of the likes of the National Union of Mineworkers and other bits and pieces. More than anything these unions are dependent on state spending … but from a state that seems to be all out of resources. We do not think that while Sadtu and Nehawu are ostensibly close to the Zuma faction of the ANC that this is going to take any of the sting out of the coming public sector wage round. Which trade union loves the boss enough to tell its members to back off because he is in political trouble? None that we have ever heard of. And anyway these unions all face a myriad splits, including towards Numsa … they have to show their members they can win them a decent deal.
The SACP backed, to the hilt, with everything it had, Jacob Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane. It did so because its main task was to stop Mbeki and the political programme he represented. Mbeki was increasingly basing ANC policy on promoting the rising black middle-classes and he was doing so at the expense of the trade unions and the SACP for whom he seemed to express ever greater public contempt – and in my opinion would eventually have moved out of the ruling alliance … essentially by collapsing it. The is no question in our minds that Mbeki was making sure that both the SACP and Cosatu had less and less power over ANC policy making. Obviously Mbeki overplayed his hand, not believing his enemies would stoop to backing Jacob Zuma for president. Well he certainly called that one wrong and the rest is history.
The SACP still sits as Zuma’s main backer. Cosatu has essentially collapsed under the pressure of trying to keep its unity and back this president at the same time. The ANC Youth League was expelled along with Julius Malema because Zuma became so tarnishing that it was impossible to stand by him … and it now (the ex-ANCYL) exists as a vigorous and challenging opposition party, the EFF.
So the SACP is sitting there in the Kraal with Jacob Zuma, defending him to the hilt on his myriad transgressions, trying to explain to the world how it (the SACP) is the true representative of the working class as the millions follow Numsa out of the alliance – and it is impossible to avoid the fact that Numsa’s most virulent criticisms are for the SACP.
The ANC is looking particularly forlorn. They fought this split, understanding that the loss of Numsa would lead to other losses and would make the 2016 municipal election a myriad-sided fight in which the ANC was likely to get a bloody nose. The ANC still has way to fall. It got just over 62% of the vote in the national election in May this year and just under 62% in the municipal election in 2011. The trajectory is downwards (the party does worse in municipal polls) and there is much fear (if you support the ANC) and much anticipation (if you don’t) of catastrophic results for the ANC in 2016.
As it happens part of our ‘upside surprise’ scenario, is one in which the ANC, freed from the constraints of its alliance with organised labour, recognises the errors of its ways, elects a clean, reforming and effective leadership in 2017 (the National Conference), shuffles the current crew off to the safe retirement and comfortably wins the 2019 elections with a decent development plan at the helm. But this precisely requires the ANC getting a serious shock in the 2016 election. It sounds like a fantasy and probably is. But it is unavoidably apparent that the conditions are looking increasingly hostile for the ANC.
It does appear that if the ANC doesn’t do something radical and soon, it could be in serious electoral trouble. Of course it might chase the EFF and Numsa’s socialist policy in the belief that this would win the party votes. We think there are other and better options the ANC is considering but they are not on the table yet and all we can hear is the repeat of “welcome to the second, more radical phase, of the transition” – which doesn’t actually mean anything, but sounds vaguely (distinctly?) threatening to investors.
I will get on to the weighty question of whether Jacob Zuma might retire before his term of office is completed momentarily, but first let me mention that I have been busy with what started as an idle rumination about the South African Communist Party.
But has turned, inevitably perhaps, to “become persistent and recurrent worrying or brooding” (from the third meaning for ‘rumination’ given in the link above.)
I am at a serious disadvantage when assessing the SACP. Unlike many of my readers I was always an admirer of the party – well, certainly in the bad old days of the struggle against apartheid.
Slightly more difficult to explain is that I am still moved by Billy Bragg singing The Red Flag, and the pleasure I once took at the same artist (or perhaps another, even Google can’t nail it for me) singing a song that went something like “Stalin wasn’t stalling, when he told the Beast of Berlin, that we’d never rest contented, till we’d driven him from the land.”
So I am hard wired, deep in my political DNA, to not think ill of the SACP – which is why the party riding Jacob Zuma to power, its dogged defence of the President’s most unsettling activity and much of the threatening sloganeering and bullying that gets published as Red Alerts on Umsebenzi Online have had me at a real analytical loss.
I have provisionally titled the post: “O SACP, SACP! wherefore art thou SACP?” It wanders around a bit, speculating wherefore, actually when you get right down to it, art the SACP? There are various asides of a semi-personal, even light hearted, nature – but the path of my meander has definitely darkened and right now I feel I am, metaphorically speaking, in a gloomy forest and the growing stench suggests there is a poisoned well somewhere up ahead.
So I have decided to take a bit more time and care on that.
Meanwhile here are some of my recent comments (sent to clients on the 3rd of this month) about the increasingly widely discussed matter of the future of Jacob Zuma.
Jacob Zuma – will he stay, will he go and does it matter?
My basic view of the question in the title is:
- Jacob Zuma is more likely to retire early that I have considered previously.
- There is wide variation in the quality of South African politics, administration and government, with awful, mediocre and excellent aspects. This variation will not be overwhelmed or overdetermined by whether Zuma stays or goes – although it would also be incorrect to suggest it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
- In general I would assert that Jacob Zuma is as much a symptom of the problems as he is a cause of them – although I would, if someone held a gun to my head, go with 60% symptom, 40% cause (I had it the other way around when I sent this out initially, but that was just my dyslexia playing havoc: Zuma is less the architect of history than history is the architect of Zuma – no Nkandla pun intended).
- Additionally, Jacob Zuma’s term of office would end in 2019 anyway and his replacement would be elected ANC President at the 2017 national conference. We are, at most, not much more than a year off knowing (or having a pretty strong idea) who the likely replacement of Jacob Zuma will be even if he (Zuma) serves out his full second term.
- However, unexpected transitions can be destabilising, especially if the incumbent has much to lose if he loses (like going to prison, losing some of his and his family’s accumulated assets and having his powerful political network’s continued asset accumulation threatened – just to take a few arbitrary and hypothetical example of why such a persons going might be a messy business).
However, I am of the opinion that the question is worth considering, but we need to get some of our methodology right first:
This is a future event and as such it is uncertain and unpredictable. There is no acceptable methodology (that I understand or can use) that can reliably (academically, empirically, scientifically) give a probability estimate as to the potential outcomes.
It is crucial to avoid the trap of predicting a particular outcome and then assembling the evidence to support it – and, further, attempting to defend the prediction over time as ‘the facts’ move against it.
We need an adequate reason to believe the outcome is important, not important or somewhere in between – or all of these things at once , with this last choice being the one I would probably go for.)
The past (Zuma’s survival against the odds up until now) is not a predictor that he will survive the confluence of events. If that argument held weight, then we should argue that nobody alive today will die because they haven’t died up until now – I attempt to fill-out this assertion under “Jacob Zuma, the survivor” below.
Normative reasoning is acceptable, but we need to be conscious of doing it when we do it. In this case my ‘normative’ assumption is that a successful and calm succession completed before Zuma’s term of office expires in 2019 would be a ‘good thing’, perhaps even a precondition for the reestablishment of political stability and financial market trust in the bona fides of government (and lower risk levels in the geography and assets administered by the South African state). However, as I mentioned previously, I think this is a necessary not sufficient condition for such improvements.
Jacob Zuma, the survivor
It is being argued repeatedly that Zuma is the quintessential survivor, that he has the ANC and its National Executive Committee wrapped up, that he demonstrated this again at Mangaung in December 2012 (see here for a persuasive example). I do not disagree with these assertions. But to accept that argument as complete we must establish that there are no new facts or new elements that might impact upon that assumed outcome.
Much has changed (both in fact and in my interpretation of the facts) over the last 18 months:
- The alliance of forces that backed and defended Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane has disintegrated. Crucially Julius Malema is now heading a hostile opposition party energetically represented in parliament and Cosatu is undergoing an on-going collapse – and it’s biggest union Numsa is in the process of setting up a socialist political movement that has as one of its founding principles that Jacob Zuma is the epitome of the corrupt and disastrous leadership cadre that have hijacked the ANC and the country (this is Numsa’s – and Malema’s/EFF’s – oft expressed view, not mine.) These are the very people and institutions that where the centre of the campaign that brought Zuma to power. (The SACP is pretty much ‘the last man standing’, which is what has led me to look more closely at the whys and wherefores of that phenomenon.)
- I am under the impression, but am unable to ‘prove’, that key elements and individuals of Jacob Zuma’s support base in Kwazulu-Natal are starting to hedge their bets and keeping open the possibility of shifting their support to either Zweli Mkhize (ANC national treasurer and previous KZN premier) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Current AU chair with too many other credentials in SA politics and government to begin to list). Both these candidates would be acceptable to the powerful (dominant?) KZN ANC. I cannot be certain if this is “true”, but this is my impression.
- There are signs (rapid apparent weight loss, increased ‘time off’) and widespread speculation that Jacob Zuma’s health is an issue in play. Again I cannot ‘prove’ this – that would require his confidential medical records, amongst other things – but there are many circumstantial supporting elements that I have discussed several times elsewhere.
- The linked controversies around Jacob Zuma, the allegation that he has improperly allowed the Gupta brothers to capture important aspects of the state and government, that he has abused public finances to build his Nkandla home, the various allegations around the Arms Deal scandal, with reference to convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik, (and the attendant ‘spy tapes’ scandal), the infiltration and destruction of the National Prosecuting Authority, the similar damage and modality of damage done the various structures of national intelligence as well as crime intelligence – all apparently in an attempt to protect Zuma from the legal consequences of his actions are starting to cause serious strain for the ANC.
- The losses of 11% of voting support in the ANC’s most sophisticated middle class electoral constituency in the economic heartland of Gauteng in May this year and the serious worry by the Gauteng ANC that this damage might deepen in the 2016 local government election. The assumption (that I share) is that at least part of this is because of the myriad scandals surrounding Zuma.
- The noisy disruption of Parliament by the EFF in an attempt to get Zuma to account to the public and to Parliament for Nkandla expenditure … and the degree of national embarrassment that surrounds this.
- There has been a coup (which has now degenerated into a volatile stalemate) against the Lesotho government which had just issued the Gupta brothers with diplomatic passports. This both exposes the degree to which the Guptas have captured key political institutions in South and southern Africa, but also that that capturing is being exposed and challenged all over the place and the most significant person most publicly connected to the Gupta brothers is Jacob Zuma.
- Jacob Zuma has just visited Russia, alone and forlorn, and in a manner and context that appears to me that he is the supplicant – when logic dictates that Putin should have been the supplicant.
The future, scenarios and consequences
- Zuma may well survive to see out his term but the facts suggest that the possibility of outcomes different from that are rising, and must be seriously considered.
- Zuma’s health could deteriorate and he could be forced out of office (this is a risk with any leader at any time but is raised with regard to Jacob Zuma for the reasons discussed previously)
- The ANC, suffering the myriad consequences of Jacob Zuma’s myriad failings, might be finally moved to attempt to move him out. The ruling party could do this by promising him security in Nkandla and immunity from prosecution. It is by no means clear that the ANC could summon the leadership capacity to undertake such a manoeuvre and it is unlikely that the National Executive Committee of the ANC, for now completely beholden to Jacob Zuma for jobs, position and access, would be the instrument that could initiate such a manoeuvre. But just because I can’t come up with a mechanism which might bring about such a change does not mean that that change will not happen (although I do accept that the arguments here would be more interesting if I was able to give a plausible and new mechanism for such a change.)
- If there were a sudden ‘run’ on Zuma, if his apparent weakness suddenly became more visible, his supporters would vanish like the morning mist. There is no cadre of leaders and supporters waiting in the wings to set up a version of the Cope political party that Mbeki’s supporters established after Mbeki was fired.
- There are a number of potential successors to Jacob Zuma, the prospects of whom I have assessed on a number of different occasions. To the two I have mentioned earlier in this note, add Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete – and, as a safe pair of hands, stalwart stand-in Kgalema Motlanthe. Any of these candidates would be acceptable to the electorate, to the ANC and to financial markets, although each group, and probably each individual within each group, might have his or her specific preference.
- Power vacuums and unexpected transitions can be destabilising and risky and can be accompanied by wild swings in financial markets. It is important to keep the possibility of this in mind. This is not the same as saying: ‘this is happening’ … or even: ‘this is more likely to happen than not’. It is purely saying this is more likely to happen than I previously thought and it is worth keeping in mind.
A useful critique of thinking around this issue was published by a senior ex-intelligence officer Andre Zaaiman a few days ago. Catch that here … you might be able to see that we spoke about the issue over a cup of coffee before either of us wrote about it.
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.
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 :
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.
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.
… which I entirely doubt will be made glorious summer by this sun of KZN when he gives his
5th nth State of the Nation Address this evening.
I am not, as my children might have said, very amped for this.
The only ray of light so far (I am watching on eNCA) was a brief interview with Floyd Shivambu who suggested it should be a ‘state of the resignation address’ … that if the President couldn’t make it to the Cabinet Lekgotla ‘then it would be best for him to just come here to explain that he is just too old and tired and to say goodbye’ – or words to that effect.
I thought I would use the time to publish some bits and pieces that I have sent to my clients over the last week.
The winter of our discontent – as the labour relations cycle meets a secular trend
Every year at this time South Africa is engulfed in strikes as annual wage agreements are traditionally renegotiated in several sectors of the economy. Every year analysts and journalists pontificate widely about the dire labour relations conditions – and the gloom deepens because this all takes place in winter.
Three factors this year are probably going to make the outlook more negative and threatening.
Firstly, the post national election winter has, since 1994, been characterised by spikes in service delivery protests. The causes of this phenomenon are not fully understood, but it is likely that:
- voters confronting a hostile winter and declining services levels – so soon after being promised the earth by politicians – are likely to be unsettled;
- local politicians who failed to make party lists begin mobilising factional support, perhaps to stand as candidates in 2016 local government elections, perhaps to discredit those whose positions they covet.
Secondly, the platinum strike is being driven by a number of ‘political’ factors – as discussed previously.
Thirdly Numsa is showing clear signs that its political aspirations are, as we predicted, going to drive deeper and more robust strikes and labour unrest. One sign is the growing violence as Numsa attempts to widen its action at the Ngqura container terminal in the Coega Industrial Development Zone in Port Elizabeth. The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (a Cosatu union) is opposing the Numsa strike and is calling for its members to stay at work at the Transnet facility. However, both Transnet and Satawu were quoted on radio (SAFM 20h00 news broadcast 08/06/2014) as decrying the burning of houses and cars of the workers who were at work. The SATAWU spokesperson warned that the situation had similar dynamics to those that were present in the platinum sector in 2012 – that this ‘is just like what happened with Amcu (same broadcast).
Additionally, Numsa is preparing to lead 220,000 workers out on strike from the metals and engineering sector next month. “The bargaining negotiations have spectacularly failed to produce the desired outcomes as expected by the thousands of our members in the sector,” spokesman Castro Ngobese said in a statement quoted in The Herald (5/06/2014). Numsa’s core demands includes a 15% pay rise and a one-year bargaining agreement, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of SA (Seifsa, which represents 23 employer associations) has offered an inflation-linked increase of 6.1 percent.
This is the cycle meeting the secular trend, with each driving the other deeper than either would have been driven ordinarily. Numsa is in the process of breaking away from Cosatu and is beginning to vigorously compete with other Cosatu unions in overlapping sectors (container terminals, the big electricity generation projects and down and upstream mining and metallurgy operations). This is, at least partly, about Numsa preparing to set up a ‘left’ party to compete for votes in the future. Comparable (but not identical) dynamics are driving the platinum strike. A winter with ‘normally’ increased social and industrial unrest will probably become unusually bleak and unwelcoming in the months ahead. The impact on GDP growth and on the possibility of ratings downgrades are both important considerations.
Both Fitch and Standard & Poor made references on Friday (13/06/2014) to increased political risk when they changed their views on the South African government’s willingness and ability to pay the sovereign debt.
Fitch revised the outlook for South Africa to negative from stable and affirmed the country’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings at BBB and BBB+ respectively. S&P downgraded both the country’s local and foreign currency ratings by one notch from A- to BBB+ and BBB to BBB- respectively, but moved its outlook negative to stable. None of this is a catastrophe but of interest to us here is the central role of ‘politics’ in the given reasons for both Fitch’s and S&P’s changes.
Fitch says it most baldly in the press release announcing the change in outlook (my emphasis added):
“Following its election victory in May with 62% of the vote, the African National Congress government faces a challenging task to raise the country’s growth rate and improve social conditions, which has been made more difficult by the weaker growth performance and deteriorating trends in governance and corruption. This will require an acceleration of structural reforms, such as those set out in the comprehensive National Development Plan (NDP). In Fitch’s view, the track record of some key ministerial appointments and shortcomings in administrative capacity mean this is subject to downside risks.”
Fitch gives amongst the key drivers of its more negative outlook: “Increased strike activity, high wage demands and electricity constraints represent negative supply side shock.”
Standard and Poor’s downgrade was similarly motivated but adds some additional concerns:
“While we think that President Jacob Zuma’s newly elected administration will continue the policies of his first administration, which controlled fiscal expenditure and fostered broadly stable prices, we do not believe it will manage to undertake major labor or other economic reforms that will significantly boost GDP growth”.
My initial take on the new Cabinet is supportive of these motivations.
In addition both agencies made extensive reference to the negative industrial relations environment – and the negative impacts on GDP growth and government revenues. There is a significant political dimension driving industrial unrest – as I have argued above.
The validity of the actual ratings and ratings outlook of these agencies is much disputed but the issues they use to motivate their views are interesting because they (the agencies) are cautious; clinging to a sort of ‘average view’ of investors. So if political criticism makes its way into the text (as is the case in both these instances) we are obliged to consider that these may represent, or may come to represent, a general view in markets.
South Africa has a small open economy and liquid financial markets and the difference that policy makers can make to economic outcomes is limited. But even within those limitations too many political choices (certain cabinet appointments, corruption controls, delivery performance and the honest brokering of labour contestation) are either not helping or are actively negative.
No-one could have failed to notice the excoriating criticism of the credit rating agencies (CRAs) after their generalised failure to accurately assess the risks associated with the collateralised debt obligations allegedly because they were mostly issued by the CRAs biggest paying clients! However, it is the opposite with sovereigns: “It has also been suggested that the credit agencies are conflicted in assigning sovereign credit ratings since they have a political incentive to show they do not need stricter regulation by being overly critical in their assessment of governments they regulate.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_rating_agency (accessed 13h56 16/06/2014.
The National Directorate of Public Prosecutions
I dealt with this issue last week, but it is making bigger and more anxiety provoking headlines than ever.
The NDPP was drawn into the fight between Mbeki and Zuma and since that time has limped along to the rhythm of one or other faction aligned to competing interests within the ANC seizing or losing power in the institution. This is not a situation in which one could safely choose one set of ‘good guys’ and back them against another set of ‘bad guys’. The situation is complex but relates primarily to the on-going struggle to either ensure that certain senior political leaders are brought to justice or to ensure that they are not.
The NDPP is one of the most important institutions of the justice system, and without certainty and stability here it is impossible to have certainty about the operating environment for any business in the country. This is a serious problem and it appears to be getting worse under the current administration.
(This is a bit dated, but you might be interested in my rude remarks about the new minister.)
“Government is ready to wash its hands of the protracted wage strike by platinum mineworkers in Rustenburg” according to the Sunday Independent 08/06/2014. Mines minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi threatened to pull out his inter-ministerial task team if a settlement was not reached at the last scheduled government facilitated meeting, which is due to take place today.
In addition, a formal ANC statement delivered by Gwede Mantashe at a press conference in Luthuli House in Johannesburg last night after the ANC weekend lekgotla characterised the strike in a way that seemed to destroy the remote possibility that Ramatlhodi could have made a difference anyway:
“The articulation of AMCU position by white foreign nationals, signalling interest of the foreign forces in the distabilisation (sic) of our economy.
The direct participation of EFF in the negotiations, and thus collaboration with the foreign forces.
These two factors led the lekgotla into cautioning the Ministry of Mineral Resources in handling the facilitation with care. There were questions about the role of the state in workplace disputes where there are clear rules guiding it.”
This statement is interesting precisely because it borders on the bizarre
The ANC statement indicates shows just why the new ANC minister cannot be an honest or effective broker in the negotiation – and it is therefore unsurprising that he is preparing to withdraw his team. The ANC is compelled to believe that this strike is only not ‘negotiable’ in the normal manner because the real issues driving it are political and not about wages at all. The ANC might be correct about the strike being ‘political’ but the party itself is culpable of having politicised the strike by attempting to defend its Num ally against the vigorously growing Amcu, by alienating workers by characterising their union as ‘vigilantes’ and by the ‘Marikana massacre itself.’ s – There was never any real possibility of this government mediating between the parties or influencing the outcome.
Concerns about property rights
The South African Institute of Race Relations and AfriBusiness (AfriSake) have recently released warnings about property rights in South Africa. A proper assessment of these warning would require specialist legal opinions, but our own assumptions have long been that the South African Constitution provides adequate protections for private property (see here) and the ANC government is unlikely to risk fiddling with these principles.
However it seems to be a basic due diligence requirement to keep an eye on the risk – perhaps more so since Jacob Zuma spelled out at his Cabinet announcement (reiterating many recent ANC and SACP statements) that we are entering a “more radical” phase of economic transformation.
With this is mind, we reproduce the basic summary of legal concerns AfriBusiness and the South African Institute of Race Relations have raised in their research (note that below is a direct quote from the AfriBusiness statement linked above):
- The National Development Plan has as its aim the transfer of 20% of the agricultural land in a district to black recipients, at only 50% of the value as determined by the state (in terms of the Property Valuation Bill).
- The verdict of the Constitutional Court in April 2013 in the case of AgriSA v the Minister of Minerals and Energy distinguishes between “deprivation” and “expropriation”. After the verdict the state is able to dispossess and redistribute property, as long as the state does not assume ownership of the property and act (sic) only as custodian.
- The Green Paper on Land Reform aims a radical redesign of property rights, with inter alia a type of freehold on land which will drastically limit the rights of owners. Within this context a Land Management Commission is proposed, which will have discretionary powers regarding disputes over title deeds.
- The policy proposal by the Minister of Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, for “Strengthening the rights of workers working the land” aims to transfer 50% of the land to the workers, commensurate with their term of service. No compensation will be paid to the owner.
- The Expropriation Bill poses that expropriation may be used for the public interest and public goal. The Bill is not only applicable to land but will cover all types of property. Public interest and public goal are determined in an ad hoc manner and both have restitution as aim.
- The Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill allows state intervention in investment processes. The Bill explicitly provides for expropriation at less than market value. All in the name of so-called restitution. Any property used for commercial purposes is targeted by the Bill.
- The Infrastructure Development Bill aims to eliminate so-called inequalities in infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission is granted the authority to expropriate in the public interest and for the public goal.
- The Spatial Planning and Management of Land Use Act aims at centralized planning of land ownership. It proposed so-called spatial justice by integrating low and high cost housing in residential developments.
- The Extension of the Security of Tenure Amendment Bill expands the rights of occupants and their dependents. Evictions are strictly controlled and the Amendment Bill means a significant loss in control over property.
- The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill creates further political and economic uncertainty regarding the future of property rights.
- The Rental Housing Amendment Bill proposes stricter regulation of the rental property market. Rental Tribunals will be established to hear disputes and will be able to determine increases in rent.
- The National Water Amendment Bill and Policy Review prohibits the trading of water rights and proposes a use-it-or-lose-it principle for water rights. Equality (including racial transformation) becomes the criterium (sic) for the allocation and re-allocation of water rights.
Consume that with the requisite amount of salt but keep an eye on the detail.
Sesotho loan word meaning court or community council meeting; used in the South African context a “lekgotla is a meeting called by government, Cabinet or the ANC to discuss strategy planning”. Wikipedia accessed 04h30 09/06/2014.
But anyway … here are the 4 most egregious examples of … of just general political awfulness from the last week’s political news:
1. Chancellor House gets another slice of the Eskom pie – and says: F*%& you, we can do what we like
The Weekend Witness (also City Press 27/04/2014) reports that Chancellor House, an investment arm of the ANC, has begun the purchase of Swiss-owned Pfisterer, a manufacturer of electrification components. Pfisterer is a major Eskom supplier and has a R550 million contract with the state owned power utility. The report alleges that Chancellor House will invest R34 million in a transaction that gives it immediate control of 49% ofPfisterer , and that Chancellor House will buy out the remainder over the next 18 months. Chancellor House’s Mamatho Netsianda told City Press: “If Chancellor House invests, it is not a crime. Why are you bothering me? We didn’t break any law. You don’t have a job to do. I have a job.” Hmm, nice work if you can get it.
2. State nuclear corporation channels public money to the ANC – and is about to adjudicate the biggest public tender in South African history
The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa), a wholly state owned entity recently paid R76 000.00 for seats at an ANC fundraising dinner. This quote from an unidentified board member of Necsa from the Sunday Times’s (26/04/2014) story: “We get money from government. How can we use it to fund the ANC?”
The deadly serious point of the article is that Necsa will soon be adjudicating bids for the R1-trillion nuclear build programme, the biggest public sector contract in the country’s history.
The country is still reeling from the corroding effects of the R30-billion Strategic Defence Acquisition finalised in 1999. Then deputy president Jacob Zuma was charged on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud in the wake of the successful prosecution of his then financial advisor Shabir Shaik for charges that included the soliciting of a R500 000 (per annum) bribe for Jacob Zuma from a leading defence contractor.
3. No parliamentary scrutiny of Nkandla
The African National Congress yesterday quashed the parliamentary committee established to scrutinise President Jacob Zuma’s responses to the Public Protector’s findings on the R246-million upgrade to the Nkandla homestead. Opposition parties were furious, claiming ANC members of the committee were “submitting to the will of the (ANC) headquarters, Luthuli House, rather than following the oath they made to uphold the constitution, part of which was to keep the executive accountable.” Committee chairman Cedric Frolick said the next Parliament could resurrect the issue, a point non-ANC members of the committee felt was unlikely and certainly not guaranteed – Business Day 29/04/2014
This particular story gets worse: a key ANC member of the now disbanded committee said during a march in support of Jacob Zuma over the weekend that Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, “is not our god”, regardless of being named as one of the world’s top 100 most influential people by Time magazine. “They can praise her good work, which is advancing the political agenda of the DA … We still reserve our right to expose that she is acting more as a politician and that she has brought that office into disrepute.” (City Press 27/04/2014) … which rather explains why the ANC has sunk the committee which was the last opportunity for government and the ruling party to acknowledge mistakes and culpability around the Nkandla upgrade. It is widely reported that the ANC is encountering, along its election trail, significant and harsh criticism from its own electorate about the Nkandla issue in all provinces except Kwazulu-Natal.
4. Sadtu accused of running jobs for cash racket
City Press published an exposé of allegations that the South African Democratic Teachers Union, a key Cosatu affiliate, had run a “promotions and appointments for cash” racket that “led to scores of illegal appointments” across the country – and at least one murder of a principal (City Press 27/04/2014). The article describes several situations in which principals were threatened with death to leave their jobs to make way for someone who has paid the R30 000.00 to occupy the job. The article implicates some Cosatu, Education Department and ANC officials and leaders in the scam. “On Tuesday, Mfundi Sibiya (54) the Kwazulu-Natal education’s department Ugu (lower South Coast) district director, two principals and an ANC ward councillor were granted bail … (after) allegedly ordering the murder of Nyon’emhlope Primary School principal Nkosinathi Zondi (46) … shot five times, allegedly by hitmen Andile Zulu and Lungisani Makhoba …)”.
The failing South African education system is an important constraint to South African economic growth, and a key component of this failure is Sadtu’s success in thwarting attempts by governments to properly assess and grade teachers and to link advancement to performance. The exposé in City Press suggests (but, it needs to be noted, does not prove) how deep and pathological is the impact of Cosatu’s Sadtu union on the failure of the system.
Stories that didn’t make the cut … because this whole exercise was starting to make me nauseous
- Journalist Nickolaus Bauer photographing the handing out of ANC T-shirts from a traffic police vehicle, and then having his pictures forcibly deleted by a member of the SAPS VIP protections services.
- Journalist Max du Preez’s accusation that Jacob Zuma “is using every trick he used while being head of intelligence for the ANC in exile in Angola and Zambia”. That he has “plunged the ANC back into its darkest era when commanders in exile issued the orders and cadres even remotely suspected of being hesitant or questioning were victimised, even jailed, tortured and executed.” Further that “the criminal justice system was perverted and abused and the powerful State Security Agency employed to make sure Zuma and his inner circle stay in power.” Catch the article here.
- The allegation that emergency parcels (food, toiletries and blankets from the SA Social Security Agency) are being dished out at a certain political party’s rallies – no guesses, this is getting ridiculous. The allegations have been made to the Public Protector. Hmm what is it that MP Buti Manemela said? Oh yes: the Public Protector is “advancing the political agenda of the DA”.
It’s the 1st of April and I have already seen that Helen Zille has accepted an ‘elecnomination‘ to spend two weeks living in Khayelitsha, surviving on the minimum wage and using a bucket toilet. Good for her, I say.
In other news the DA has announced that the Western Cape government it is going to upgrade Zille’s private residence in Cape Town. They plan to spend R20 million, but have wisely put aside R246 million in case of overruns. Nothing wrong with that … as we have seen elsewhere.
In entirely unrelated news the Sunday Independent carried a story about some polling apparently undertaken by the legendary Stan Greenberg on behalf of the DA.
Just as an aside: the headline in the Sunday Indepent calls Greenberg the “De Niro of politics”.
This is a picture of Stan Greenberg:
This is a picture of Robert De Niro:
Oh yes, now I get it. They are both white men, over a certain age …. (oh leave it alone! It’s not important, why don’t you just let it go? And anyway maybe there is a joke here you just don’t get – Ed)
Hmm, okay, sorry …
The DA polling was something of an antidote to an Ipsos poll commissioned by the Sunday Times and published a week earlier.
First the antidote from Stan, the DA and their various minions:
Then the Sunday Times Ipsos poll published March 22:
I am not, actually, saying treat this sort of thing with the same caution as you would treat an April Fool’s story. Both the pollsters have defensible and explicable methodologies … but clearly they can’t both be right.
In general I treat the polling with a degree of caution. Results are often leaked or announced with the intention of impacting on the final outcomes (by, for example, scaring voters and supporters into getting out to the voting booths or by bolstering the flagging energies of party workers).
I have used, as a sort of deductive shorthand, a ‘below 60 percent’ versus an ‘above 60 percent’ for the ANC as an indicator of a ‘danger zone’ for Jacob Zuma.
Instinctively I think the ANC will lose votes because of the leader’s breathtakingly cavalier attitude to public money and resources. The alternative would be for me to believe things about the average South African voter that I would feel uncomfortable about admitting in public. The average ANC member voted for Jacob Zuma as president of the party at both Polokwane and Mangaung … so there is nothing I need to say about that.
So … as part of my weekly review of SA politics yesterday morning I tried to collate some of the responses to the Nkandla Report with the specific intention of using these as an heuristic tool to gain some deeper insight into what is going on.
That’s just a fancy way of saying that when I am unsure of what is going on then I look around at the responses of people I suspect do know what is happening and try and extrapolate from that a greater level of insight i.e. I am using the responses as a heuristic tool … although as you will see in the link ‘heuristic’ means more than just an investigative short cut. It didn’t achieve what I hoped, but here are my truncated efforts anyway:
Responses to the Public Protector’s Nkandla Report reveal much, but not enough
Responses to Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, ruling that President Jacob Zuma and his family directly benefited from the improper use of state funds in the (approximately R230m) upgrade to his (Jacob Zuma’s) Nkandla homestead and that he “failed to act in protection of state resources” are flooding in from all directions.
Obviously all the major opposition parties are using the report to attack the ANC and Zuma – and are generally deifying the Public Protector. However, the diverging responses from within the broad membership and leadership of the ruling African National Congress are the most relevant and interesting.
The party itself (and the SACP and the formal structures of the divided Cosatu) are essentially defending the President and/or attacking Madonsela (or the manner in which her report was delivered).
Several news media have attempted to list the number of ANC leaders and widely respected ‘liberation heroes’ who have in some way expressed both support for the integrity of the Public Protector and support for her findings. The list has included previous President Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (although her problems were primarily with the sexist language of some of the criticism … and up till now I have seen her as something of a Zuma loyalist, so I will have to do some homework on this one), ex-minister Pallo Jordan, ex-minister Ronnie Kasrils and a host of other individuals (e.g. Ben Turok and Marion Sparg) and particular branches of the party and parts of individual unions of trade union federation ally Cosatu which have in some way defended the Public Protector and supported her findings.
‘Nkandla’ is, on the face of it, small change compared to myriad similar scandals surrounding the President. The difference in this case is a ‘Chapter 9 institution’ (an institution established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic”) has made findings that essentially allege that Jacob Zuma has improperly benefited from state spending and that while there is no proof that he engineered this outcome, he had a responsibility, according to the Public Protector, to be aware that it was happening. These might be ugly, but not exactly impeachable offences – unless you believe they are purely the tip of a much larger iceberg hidden through luck, trickery and a good legal strategy.
There are so many issues that this raises, but I will mention only 3:
Firstly, does the ANC lose votes because of this? More precisely: does the release of the report just over a month before the election lose the ANC more votes than it would have lost anyway as a result of its president’s … how should I put this … now very widespread reputation for poor judgement with regard to his private financial affairs? I would guess ‘yes’.
I have no doubt that there are vast groups of voters who see Madonsela’s report as just another attack on their candidate and who will be completely unmoved by the details. I also suspect that there is a large group that despise the ANC leadership choices but will stick with the party in the belief that it will self-correct sometime soon. However, there are obviously those for whom Madonsela’s report is the proverbial straw – but I suspect this is a marginal group. If the margin is between 60% and 59% then Madonsela’s report could make an important difference. If it is between 63% and 64% then, voting wise on May 7, it is not going to make much difference.
Secondly, the ANC has benefited from occupying the high-ground of moral authority. Whatever its failings it was always the party of national liberation, the party of Nelson Mandela, the party that embodied the majority of black South Africans’ struggle for self-determination and against apartheid – unimpeachable and morally irresistibly aspirations and goals. The voices of disquiet from within the party are beginning to suggest that this objective or record has been redeployed in a baser struggle.
Listen carefully to the coded and heavily portentous words of Thabo Mbeki talking at the 20th anniversary of Wiphold at Sun City on March 22 2014:
“Regrettably, today, a mere 20 years after our liberation, it is obvious that many in our society have forgotten or are oblivious of the human cost our freedom entailed. Accordingly, these abuse the gift of our liberation to abuse our precious freedom to do things for themselves whose only objective is personal aggrandisement – thus to use their access to state, corporate and social power radically and systemically to subvert the required sustained and speedy advance we need towards the realisation of the objective of a better life for all our people.”
The Public Protector’s report is reverberating through the ANC (see key ANC intellectual and former cabinet minister Pallo Jordan’s column in the Business Day for another example) and forcing many of the ‘old guard’ to take a public stand. In almost all cases the criticism is unspecific and is being made by people who no longer occupy key positions in the party or state. However, there is a cumulative loss by those who hold central power in the ANC of moral authority. Without moral authority, hegemony must be won with patronage, manipulation, blackmail and force. The ANC is still close enough to its ‘liberation roots’ for such a changing of the guard to cause serious, even dramatic, ructions amongst the party faithful.
Finally, Jacob Zuma has been (significantly) responsible for growing ANC electoral support in Kwazulu-Natal from 33.33% in 1994 to 63.97% in 2009. The province has a population of 10 456 900 people (second to Gauteng which has 12 728 400 according to the 2011 census). Kwazulu-Natal is now a key ANC stronghold and the only province where the party’s electoral support grew during the 2011 municipal elections. More than a quarter of the party’s total membership comes from the province. “On Friday, thousands of ANC supporters wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hands off Zuma’ marched in Port Shepstone on the south coast … after eThekwini did so earlier this month” – (City Press 30/03/2014). If, as we suspect, Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle and probity issues are losing the ANC a degree of support in many, especially urban, areas of the country but that his personal support is continuing to grow amongst isiZulu speakers in rural Kwazulu-Natal, the party will face the further corroding influences of regionalisation and tribalism. My suspicion is Zuma’s vote pulling power in Kwazulu-Natal peaked in 2011, but only May 7 will put that to rest one way or another.
Jacob Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik was sentenced to two 15 year terms in prison after he was found ‘guilty of corruption for paying Zuma 1.2 million Rand (US$185,000) to further their relationship and for soliciting a bribe from the French arms company Thomson-CSF, as well as guilty of fraud for writing off more than R1 million (US$154,000) of Zuma’s unpaid debts” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schabir_Shaik_trial accessed on 30/03/2014 at 21h17 CAT
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.
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.
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.
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 EdgeThe 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.)
This is a quick aside before getting onto the more riveting topics of the May 7 elections, service delivery protests (and their search for a Gene Sharp handbook as well as the predictions of the Davies J-curve), the platinum strike, Julius Malema’s sequestration hearing in the North Gauteng High Court this morning (and the pressing matter of whether this could bar him from becoming a member of parliament in terms of section 47c of the Constitution) and the truly interesting Ipsos comparisons of the demographic characteristics of supporters of the ANC, the DA and the EFF.
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings**
Over the weekend a young, close relative of mine wondered aloud why South Africans continued to vote for the ANC.
The child explained to me late on Saturday night that the ruling party was an institution so obviously bereft of redeeming features that only a person on drugs could possibly continue to vote for it.
“Why don’t they vote for another party?” asked the child in exasperation.
I have to admit that while I recognised the opportunity was begging for a cautious and loving Socratic exchange, I couldn’t raise the enthusiasm to give more than an exhausted ‘who’s they‘, followed by a quick retreat and request a continuation in the morning.
The next day, having completed the obligatory 52 hours (I think that’s about how long it takes?) of newspaper reading, I found myself sitting beside the same child watching Adventure Time on television.
When the charming, nuanced, off-beat and deeply intelligent (in comparison to other media I had been consuming that morning) cartoon was over, the child switched off the television, turned his angelic face towards me and asked: “so, about the ANC …?”
I cleared my throat and gathered my thoughts.
“White settlers from Holland” I began, gazing into the middle distance with a faintly sad expression on my face, as if watching the mournful parade of our history playing out in my mind, “first came to South Africa in 1652 and many bitter struggles were fought over land and cattle.”
Jumping ahead somewhat I went straight to the nub: “On January 8th 1912, chiefs, representatives of people`s and church organisations, and other prominent individuals gathered in Bloemfontein and formed the African National Congress. The ANC declared its aim to bring all Africans together as one people to defend their rights and freedoms.”
Okay, I’m messing with you … that’s a cut-and-paste from ‘a brief history of the ANC’ on the organisation’s website.
However, I find it significant that I had to open the web page and read some of the highlights from there. Somehow the essential story, the glorious history of the glorious struggle for freedom and democracy, the dead heroes, the banners, the flags and the songs, sounded tired and clichéd and faintly hackneyed as I ran through it without much real enthusiasm.
But I still argued the toss. It was not surprising that most black South Africans who were registered to vote would still be voting for the ANC (and, btw, ‘most black South Africans registered to vote’ was still probably ‘most South Africans of voting age’ given both our demographics and our 77% voter registration). The ANC led the fight against Apartheid. The ANC has presided over massive and ongoing redress in favour of black South Africans since 1994! A few bad eggs in the leadership do not change that.
The child raised a litany of objections: ‘Zuma’, ‘Nkandla’, ‘the arms deal’, ‘police violence’, ‘judicial – and other – appointments’, ‘the diversion of billions of rand into the coffers of fat cats and the party itself’, ‘governance failures’, ‘the Traditional Courts Bill’, ‘borderline homophobia’, ‘the impending Zuma/Putin nuclear caper’, ‘growing intra-ANC violence in contestation for increasingly lucrative political jobs’ and ‘increasing state sanctioned violence’ – duh!
(I suspect the ‘child’ is imaginary, a clunky rhetorical device … also, ‘duh’ means ‘give me a break’, or ‘don’t waste my time with the stupid and obvious’ – Ed)
The child’s arguments asserting the extremely putrid state of the ruling party became louder as did my insistence that the majority of voters were not brain-dead zombies acting out a destructive and unconscious impulse.
From the vantage point of this Monday afternoon I worry that I sounded a little like a master of ANC Apologetics ; but the child, delightfully, sounded like a shorter, skinnier, cleverer and more charming Wilmot James.
I obviously didn’t answer the question why do the majority of South Africans still vote for the ANC? to the satisfaction of he who asked it – although I am equally satisfied that I can understand why a majority of normal, sane black South Africans, acting in their enlightened self-interest, might vote for the ANC.
However what I didn’t say in the argument with the child is that I am also sure that along the path down which the ANC is currently travelling, with Nkandla (the political/economic/security faction rather than the homestead) leading the way, awaits a place or a moment at which the ANC will lose the support of the majority of free thinking, free voting* South Africans. Of this I am convinced. I think that moment is some distance ahead – only conceivably first appearing in 2019.
But who walks blindly towards catastrophe, when it is visible, predicted by one’s own forecasting, evident in every stumble along the deteriorating path?
Think about the ANC as having a brand value. Think about the forces that operate within the ANC as a kind of political market. I am hopefully expectant that that market will automatically self-correct … that the brand is so valuable that the threat of its loss will trigger a protective impulse, will mobilise the many who have much to lose if their asset continues to be led and used in the manner it is being led and used by its incumbent central leadership.
Obviously the incumbent leaders of the ANC will not willingly lose control. The consequences for this particular crew would be more negative and profound than, for example, a similar loss of control was for Thabo Mbeki. Also the incumbent leadership has a security/intelligence/street-fighter thing going that could make it a vicious and dangerous opponent of any serious movement for renewal within the party.
Finally, I imagine that the fewer votes the ANC receives in the May 7 election (which I don’t see being fewer than 60% of the total) the more likely and vigorous will be an attempt to change the organisation’s current trajectory and leadership.
(I am not going to run all of that passed the aforementioned child – he will, with some justification, roll his eyes and say whatever.)
* I use the “free thinking, free voting” qualification because it is not an eternal given that we will remain, as we have been (only briefly, since 1994) free, or relatively so, to think and vote as we please.
**’Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ comes from Matthew (21:16) recalling the words of Jesus, who was in turn referring to Psalm 8 – from the King James Version, a widely admired (for its literary value) English translation of the Christian Bible … that’s for any readers in a geographical, cultural and/or technological location so remote that even Google cannot help them as it has helped me fake that I knew the full origin of the phrase before I sat down to write this morning.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
I will make a decision on the caption competition soon, but meanwhile here is my latest news update and summary – the Madonsela story continues to grow and, frankly, should be encouraged to.
The Public Protector clashes with Zuma’s security chiefs
On Friday state security agencies abandoned their urgent interdict in the North Gauteng high court attempting to prevent the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela from a limited release of her report into the R206 million upgrade of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla private residence. However Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police), Siyabonga Cwele (Minister of State Security) and Thulas Nxesi (Minister of Public Works) have indicated that they still expect Madonsela to bow to their various ‘security concerns’ – something the feisty Public Protector is unlikely to do. (She was speaking a few minutes ago, bemoaning the fact that she ever handed the report to this cluster of … securorats? … catch a preliminary reports of that here.)
Madonsela has used the security cluster intervention to ensure that a new key piece of evidence becomes public, namely that Jacob Zuma privately appointed Minenhle Makhanya Architects (who had no security clearance) to run the Nkandla project, but that the company was paid (upwards of R18 million) by the state. It will be increasingly difficult for Zuma’s security chiefs to sustain the argument that their ‘real’ concern about the report relates to whether it (the report) compromises the president’s security or, in fact, that the upgrade was essentially or mainly about the president’s security.
Jacob Zuma might be the quintessential survivor, but in the lead-up to a national election the strong indication that he and his family have personally and directly been the recipients of irregularly redirected state resources could be a serious problem for him and his party. The Sunday Times (17/11/2013) lead editorial is headed: “A suspect president and his questionable lieutenants” … the degree to which Jacob Zuma’s excesses make the ANC look bad is the degree to which he is vulnerable.
The EFF – running out of red berets just as Julius Malema goes on trial for fraud and corruption
The dilemma faced by Julius Malema’s new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is that while the new party appears to be performing well there is a real possibility that some of the leadership could be in prison before the 2014 election. City Press, in its front page lead story (17/11/2013) reports of the growing EFF support: “(t)hey can be seen wearing their red berets on street corners, in public places, hangout spots and even at funerals where they go to recruit new members”. The Sunday Independent, however, points out that Julius Malema will go on trial for fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering at the Limpopo Magistrates Court today – and that 3000 EFF supporters were expected outside the court.(Julius’s case has since been postponed till September next next year – which means he will be firmly in the running next year.)
I have had to constantly upgrade my estimates of how the EFF might perform in the 2014 election. I previously indicated my rough forecasts and promised that from time-to-time I would update my view. Well, here is my latest guesstimate:
To do as well as I indicate here the EFF would have to pick up previous ANC defectors (from Cope and the UDM) as well as a significant number of first time youth voters. The EFF remains the part of the story about which I am least confident – although strictly none of these figures can pretend to any scientific validity. A strong performance by the EFF (built as that party is around a rejection of Jacob Zuma and a rejection of the economic status quo) could set off a shockwave in the ruling party.
Cyril Ramaphosa on a ‘social compact’
Cyril Ramaphosa gave an interesting address to the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (dated November 17 and available as a pdf on Mistra’s website) where he usefully summarised government’s and the ANC’s position on economic development – namely that ‘a social compact’ is required.
The full address is well worth reading, but the essential point (from a financial market perspective) is the statement that:
“Significantly, perhaps most importantly, business needs to focus on building an economy that delivers sustainable returns to all stakeholders over a longer term, eschewing the chase for high profits in the next quarter.”
Earlier, he says:
“The commitment to greater capital investment demonstrated by government needs to be matched by a similar commitment from the private sector to invest in productive capacity and to contribute to employment creation.”
Ramaphosa’s ‘social compact’ is another, perhaps more sophisticated, version of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s comments during an exchange with Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland at a recent conference in Australia:
“Investors must realise they have a responsibility to the country and cannot work to a bottom line that has no heart or soul at all … They have to understand there are various socioeconomic needs of the various partners … If investment will not improve the quality of lives — and recognise that workers also need to live decent lives — it will not be able to bring stability in South Africa … We are a country that, in the past, saw investment coming in that never contributed to ensure that the future of workers would be better.”
Shabangu’s and Ramaphosa’s comments indicate an economic strategy that consists primarily of insisting that private business surrender up the investment, employment and social spending that it is, supposedly, withholding. It indicates a poverty of economic understanding in government and the ANC that is deeply unsettling.
Bits and Pieces
- Next weekend the Democratic Alliance meets in a special federal council during which the party is expected to attempt to deal with tensions around support or otherwise for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. As the DA’s black membership grows the party will come under ever greater pressure to support both employment equity and black economic empowerment more generally. It is my view that this is a baseline assumption in South African politics – and the DA either will not break through its racial ceiling or it will shift on this policy matter.
- Winnie Mandela, in an interesting interview in the Sunday Independent (17/11/2013), claims that Nelson Mandela has lost his voice – and is only able to ‘communicate with facial gestures’. She also said “the “poorest of the poor are seething with rage and whether our government is aware of the anger of the people, I do not know.” She also said: “I can’t blame Julius for what he has done because we, the ANC, are responsible for that … we would be foolish to think he is not a player or that he is not changing the political landscape … these are very dangerous and worrying times.” Winnie Mandela’s political affiliations are a good weathervane of the degree to which the ANC is – or isn’t – fragmenting. She is likely to stay within the ANC, at least while her ex-husband lives.
- The Business Day today (18/11/2013) reports that moves are afoot in Cosatu to suspend or expel the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Jacob Zuma’s key critic in Cosatu and Zwelinzima Vavi’s key ally). If the Jacob Zuma aligned faction achieves the objective of getting rid of Numsa and Vavi it is likely to precipitate the formation of a competing union federation and, possibly, a new political party of the left. The moves against Numsa seem like the actions of a weak and authoritarian core and are unlikely to achieve a unified and strong ‘ruling alliance’. In fact I suspect that the opposite will be the case.