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

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

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

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

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

Eugène_Delacroix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what?

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

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

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

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

Okay, enough of all of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Gilliam: You’re right there Obediah.

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

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

GC: A cup ‘ COLD tea.

EI: Without milk or sugar.

TG: OR tea!

MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

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

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

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

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

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

ALL: Nope, nope..

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.

The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles – on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.

Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?

When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.

But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technolog(who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.

My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.

Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.

I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book.  Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).

However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.

(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)

So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.

Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.

This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.

Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.

Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.

I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.

Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.

Imagine you are the producer of a major and successful television soap-opera.

Gradually, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, market research begins to indicate your share of the prime-time television audience is diminishing – and, further, that the declines are accelerating.

I suspect what you do is try to work out whether the viewers are being tempted away by a better soap, whether the quality of your show is slipping and/or whether your product is losing its appeal because the ‘demographic’ that follows your production is shrinking … or some combination of those.

Perhaps you try to adapt your trashy product to follow the shifting demographic; change the time-slot, perhaps kill off the older actors … have the Elizabethan extended family that has been the central theme be infiltrated by shape-shifting aliens who teleport the stately manor out of the English countryside and into a future post-apocalyptic New York … change the name to Downtown Abyss? Ok, maybe not.

Or you do a serious quality overhaul of your existing production, get better writers and introduce more popular and skilled actors, win back the defecting viewers … stick to your knitting, trust the product … and all those other management-speak exhortations.

I think the ANC is facing a crisis similar to that faced by the producers of this imaginary soap-opera. I suspect that the ANC, Agang and the DA do market research that is indicating and projecting significant voter swings away from the ANC . But I have nothing firmly in my hands other than rumours, leaks and hints.

So forgive me if I float an untested (and untestable at this time) hypothesis; one we are all going to hear bruted about soon: that it is ‘true’ that on current trends the ANC will get less than 59 percent of the vote next year but more than 52 percent, and further, that the ANC will receive less than 50 percent of the vote in 2019 (thumbsuck alerts all round).

The assumption is untestable (by me) because I don’t have the bespoke polling data and (by anybody else, in my opinion) because such data do not take adequately into account the myriad subjective and objective factors that might  impact on the trend.

But among the reasons I take seriously the possibility that this is, in fact, the trend is, for example, the rapid growth of Amcu and the concomitant shrinking of  Num. Another is this public domain ranking of Zuma’s approval rating amongst urban Africans by TNS Research published in the Sunday Times on 12/03/13:

%

Apr

‘09

Jun

‘09

Sep

‘09

Nov

‘09

Feb

‘10

May

‘10

Sep

‘10

Nov

‘10

Feb

‘11

Mar

‘11

Sep

‘11

O/N

‘11

Feb

‘12

Apr

‘12

Aug

‘12

Feb

‘13

Approve

52

57

53

58

43

51

42

49

49

48

45

55

55

46

48

41

Disapprove

29

13

19

23

41

33

44

34

35

38

41

38

35

46

44

51

Don’t know

19

31

28

12

17

16

15

17

16

14

14

14

10

8

8

9

Net positives

+23

+24

+34

+35

+2

+18

+2

+18

+2

+15

+14

+1

+20

0

+4

-10

 

… and updated by TNS this Monday (1/7/13) indicating a slight improvement in favour of Zuma (read from the top: 42, 50, 9 and -8). The point is there is a significant drop in Zuma’s approval ratings and concomitant rise in his disapproval ratings from February last year. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that this applies to the ANC (although, again, and at the risk of being pedantic, there is no established corollary between Zuma’s ratings and the ANC’s … but as a personal aside, I would imagine he must represent a specific liability.)

When I think of Mandela’s ill health and what I see as signs of how destabilising for the ANC his passing be may be (although the opposite could also be true), when I consider the anti-Zuma noises coming from Winnie Mandela and the frisson of mischievous excitement around Julius Malema’s proposed Economic Freedom Fighters … and when I put a whole mess of hints, trends, rumours and suppositions together with other metaphorical canaries that I use and which are dying around me like flies, I feel confident, for the first time since 1994, to at least consider how things might be when and if the ANC is clinging to an electoral majority, or perhaps even losing one.

As I begun to consider this (and helped along by a good and irritatingly insistent friend) I discovered that I still, subconsciously, conduct my professional duties under the burden of a normative (as in relating to an ‘ideal standard or model’)  assumption that has remained unchanged and largely unexamined since about 1994.

This normative assumption goes, roughly, something like this:

South African society is shaped by irresolvable contradictions. Most obviously between the poor, largely African, majority and the propertied white minority. Only an African National Congress, held comfortably in power by the trust and momentum established by its role and identity as leader of the liberation struggle, and by its clearly ‘African-led’ character, could possibly negotiate the perilous path between the imperative to deliver radical redress to the African majority and the absolute requirements to operate within the disciplines of global capital markets and to keep whites engaged and invested.

There are so many assumptions – and slippery phrases – in that statement, that I am not sure where to begin.

But briefly (in as far as that is possible):

Firstly I am implicitly using a (somewhat antiquated) theoretical model of society that is based on the idea that the competition between  groups with closely aligned economic interests acts as some kind of driver that interacts with and shapes other features of society, including the state and formal party political contests. This is a (hopefully sophisticated) version of the base/superstructure model of Marxist theory. As a rough, working model, I will continue to employ this system in political analysis – even if it is purely as a way of organising my thoughts. It is an elaboration of the injunction to follow the money which I consistently find the most useful hand-axe in the tool kit I use to help me work out, to my own satisfaction if no-one else’s, what the hell is going on.

Secondly, I am weighting the racial divide, its historical features, its ideological characteristics, the materiality of its ongoing consequences – including the radical disparity in wealth and income – more heavily than any other feature of South African society. ‘Politics’ occurs around such contradictions and our politics remains overdetermined by this structural feature. I think this remains true – but less true than it was 18 years ago. Primarily because class development, including the development of a black wealthy/property-owning class, a black middle-class and a sophisticated and slightly wealthier working class (driven by the changing character and function of labour processes and the relative growth of the services sector) dilutes the central contradiction and adds competing fissures.

Thirdly, I continue to assume it is imperative to keep whites “on board”… and that we have to keep within the discipline of global capital markets. I am also assuming (or perhaps estimating that on balance) the ANC still sees these as fundamental constraints. Those are brave (wild?) assumptions, I know, but I do not have all night. So moving swiftly along …

Finally, the aspect of my normative assumption about which I am most uncertain is the central one. Who says the ANC cannot fall below 50 percent, that an alliance of opposition parties will not get above 50 percent? And that if both those bridges are crossed we are into the game mode where  “(o)nly (the) African National Congress  … could possibly negotiate the perilous path”. Which means?

I  appear to be saying that in the event that those barriers are crossed we will fail to negotiate that path.

That we collapse in a heap? That the ANC morphs into Zanu-PF – but with even scarier tribalist and repressive features – to recapture the political initiative? That the ANC embarks on an ever more expansive looting of private and public assets to feed a patronage system that comes to replace all other mechanism that establish stability, but a system that is absolutely limited by the availability of such lootable assets? Or perhaps that our future will look something like what (might be) happening in Cairo tonight? … I will get to that as soon as I hit “publish”.

If a democratic election goes against the ANC why am I so uncertain that the party or party’s that the same election goes in favour of will be unable to govern?

I suspect I actually believe that without the ANC in a comfortable majority that things fall apart, that the centre cannot hold, that

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed*

Thus, this is little more that my personal failure to imagine a future significantly different from the present, yes?

It appears that I am constrained by my own habits of thought and prejudices. Now there’s a big surprise.

So, back to the soap opera.

If the ANC is slipping in the ratings, it can chase the shifting demographic by attempting to spread its skirts ever more widely – although I think it is already beyond the limits of the possible with that indecorous exercise.

… or it can do the political equivalent of the narrative device of having space aliens infiltrate the family (hmm, that might have happened already – ed).  I am not sure what a radical discontinuity in the ANC’s brand might look like – I think it could go one of two general directions, but I would imagine that the ANC strategists defining ‘the message’ for the upcoming elections must envy the clean simplicity of the Economic Freedom Fighters emerging platform.

… or the ANC could improve its character and performance by sticking to its knitting: cleaning up its leadership and improving its governance performance and winning back the trust of its purportedly defecting support. My impression is the ANC is going in precisely the opposite direction, but who’s to say they wont turn it around in response to a mild shock in 2014?

I  do not hold to the popular notion that “anything is possible”, but I am prepared to accept that a lot more things will come to pass than I have been able to imagine.

* As always, the best poetic accompaniment to fretting about the future of our politics is William Butler YeatsThe Second Coming … catch the incomparable poem here.

Doesn’t the Julius Malema saga feel so familiar?

Remember how the Jacob Zuma campaign seemed to transform each new obstacle placed in his path into fuel for his political train that eventually steamed triumphant into Polokwane in December 2007?

The fact that he was known far and wide as hopelessly incapable of moderating his sexual behaviour and as being on the take from, at least, Shabir Shaik, seemed to make almost no difference to the eventual outcome … unless the legal and other processes to charge him actually strengthened his claim to the presidency.

He was the victim of Mbeki’s shenanigans and he was heading a column of pro-poor ANC alliance cadres that were coming to take the ANC back from the pro-monopoly capital “1996 class project” – and every deed or word against that was coming from the privileged few defending their privilege. The marching column was irresistible and Polokwane was its destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that seemed to win out.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Zuma’s success was all about momentum – and its inevitability is a post hoc construction.

I remember a movie from my childhood where the hero escapes almost certain death (it was either Indiana Jones or one of the Bonds ) by running across about fifty metres of crocodile infested waters by … yes, you guessed it: stepping on the back of each starving crocodile but with such speed that he was on his way to the next one before they snapped at him or sunk.*

That is probably a better metaphor for Zuma’s perilous progress towards Polokwane than the one that has him steaming towards that conference as if it was his manifest destiny. The second post of this blog was called The Accidental President and in it I argued that Zuma’s presidency was a result of an unlikely set of circumstances and he was not a character that many could have previously imagined in the role.

On closer examination it becomes clear that Zuma, on several occasions, almost crashed and burned – and came close to going to prison. Ultimately it was only the forward momentum of his campaign that allowed him to escape the snapping crocodiles at his heals.

In fact, I would put it even more strongly: for Jacob Zuma the only way to avoid ignominy and prison was to win the presidency.

And that is where the comparison with Julius Malema becomes so compelling – especially in his weekend attempt to boost the Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime campaign into the mouths and minds of the genuinely marginalised and poverty-stricken in places like Diepsloot and Bantu Bonke.

Just as his disciplinary hearing comes to a head.

Just as his questionable personal finances start to be ‘put to the question’ by various authorities.

Just as he prepares to lead the marches on the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

He told those audiences: “They [the whites] found us here. They did not bring any land nor did they bring any minerals.”

And: “”We are here for every one of you. We will not rest until you stop worrying about where your next meal will come from.”

Woven into every word and phrase is the argument that the incumbent leadership of the ANC has failed the poor. That Julius Malema’s fight against Jacob Zuma is actually a fight to have the needs of the poor and dispossessed met.

Can Julius Malema, engorged as he and his comrades apparently are from sucking the marrow from the bones of Limpopo’s  (amongst others) public purse skeletal public finances (some bad metaphors are impossible to fix – ed)  hope to pull off this audacious argument?

Clearly he can.

Clearly he is betting on himself to be sitting up in the cab of a triumphant train steaming into Mangaung; to have turned all obstacles aside and spun the narrative of the little guy standing up against the incumbents, standing up for the poor and dispossessed.

The parallels are not perfect. Julius Malema is not the apex of a push for the presidency of the ANC – he is too young, untested and controversial to aspire to those lofty heights this time around. He is rather part of the campaign of other powerful contenders – although he hopes to be nested near the centre of a new ruling configuration of the ANC.

Finally, Zuma had the backing of the SACP, Cosatu and a host of ANC democrats exhausted by Mbeki’s stale centralism – as well as a swathe of aspirant BEE wannabes who felt excluded from the previous gravy train.

Julius Malema (and those who hope to benefit from his campaigning) have nothing like the mighty alliance of those disaffected by Mbeki’s presidency.

After yesterday’s radical cabinet reshuffle and Zuma’s apparent ability to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption and responsive president I would have to bet on the incumbents and against the invaders at the castle gate.

This is the week, however, when Malema’s gamble will either pay off or fail.  On Wednesday his disciplinary hearing resumes. On Thursday and Friday the marches on the JSE and the Chamber of Mines will take place.

This is not an accident of timing.

This is about planning, planning by individuals and groups with large appetites for risk – especially when the prize is so rich and the price of failure so high.

*I have a terrible feeling that someone has used that metaphor for Zuma’s march to Polokwane before … so let me apologise in advance if I stole it … and while on the textual commentary – I found this in Wikipedia while trying to check if the image had, in fact, been used for Polokwane before:

“Ross Kanaga as James Bond used four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot.The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passed over them.”

Tokyo comes out to defend Julius Malema in the disciplinary hearing?

To be followed by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni?

It is an almost too perfect reversal of Julius Malema’s own metaphor after his victory at the Eastern Cape provincial conference of the ANC Youth League in August 2010:

“We will never surrender to Blade. He has never been a member and has no understanding of …  the youth league … Their people have been receiving serious lashings in the youth league conferences. As we said before, we will beat the dog (SACP) until the owner (Nzimande) comes out” … (a copy of The Herald editorial I took that from here.)

The boot, at the moment, seems to be on the other foot (or ” the stick is in the other hand” might have been better – ed.)

The “dog” that is now being beaten at the disciplinary hearing is Julius Malema himself and the owners that are revealing themselves are Tokyo Sexwale, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Tony Yengeni and friends.

And who is doing the beating? Why, the South African Communist Party and Blade Nzimande (as well as Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe and many – but by no means all – in the incumbent leadership of the ANC).

Last weekend, almost while the disciplinary hearing was sitting, SACP Secretary General Blade Nzimande said to  the SACP provincial congress in Esikhawini, near Richard’s Bay, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, that young people should be discouraged from participating in the ANC Youth League’s Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime marches and protests on the 27th and 28th of this month:

“Do not allow yourselves to be used by people with agendas that are not in your interest … We are not going to be supporting any march whose intention is malicious and to undermine the authority of the ANC and the government.”

Breaking ideological stereotypes and confusing the foreigners

Spare a thought for those of us whose job it is to explain to foreign investors why the communists are leading the fight against a youth movement calling for the nationalisation of mines, the expropriation of land without compensation and “Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime!”

I could, of course, have just sent them a few extracts from Fiona Forde’s An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New’ ANC (Picador Africa 2011).

Here she is, sitting outside a hotel in Caracas Venezuela chatting with a sulking Julius Malema on his way back to South Africa (from a conference of the World Federation of Democratic Youth taking place in downtown Caracas in April 2010)  to face his previous disciplinary hearing. She has been getting a lesson from Julius on the importance of matching the leather of his watch strap with his belt and his shoes.

Venezuela has never seen so many designer labels as it has these past 48 hours since the arrival of the South African young ones. They descended on the city with their expensive suitcases and travel bags, top-of-the-range baseball caps, flashy T-shirts, snazzy shoes and sneakers, sleek manbags and a string of other expensive accessories hanging out of them – and a bodyguard in tow – all dressed up for a socialist youth conference.

I have been wondering how they must appear in the eyes of the other youth who have flown in from all over the world, and who are also staying at the Avila. The three-star hotel is swarming with casually-dressed, young delegates and among them, to my mind at least, the South Africans seem to stand out a mile.

When we understand that these delegates are the very same people who have formulated the “Economic Freedom In Our Lifetime” slogan, the implacable opposition of the South African Communist Party to the campaign becomes  obvious.

The campaign is a classic attempt by a parasitic elite to manipulate those who are really poor and dispossessed so that these disenfranchised citizens become the battering ram and the lever through which that elite can capture even more resources and assets than it has already – through tender abuse and diversion of state resources into their own pockets.

So the dog is being beaten.

But we would be unwise not to think deeply and carefully about the nature and intentions of the owners that rush out to defend their animal.

Some of the things we think we know about revolts and revolutions – but that do not always apply:

  • Where there are adequate elective processes dissatisfied people believe they can influence outcomes through voting and therefore are unlikely to make the sacrifices required of a revolution.
  • Revolts are generally lead and organised by the middle classes – a degree of education is required – thus where the middle class is linked to the ruling elite through patronage or ethnicity, its members are less likely to lead a revolution.
  • Societies where a middle class is non-existent (where the division in the society is a simple one between the rulers and the people) can be surprisingly stable and enduring.
  • Poverty and unemployment tend, on their own, not to be strong predictors of unrest and revolt – it is often a necessary condition that these two social ills exists alongside visible inequality.
  • Ethnic exclusion from government or the economy is a powerful driver of unrest and revolt – colonialists loved to place favoured ethnic minorities to rule over less favoured ethnic majorities – a recipe for revolt and, depending on the relative size of the groups, civil war.
  • Revolts tend not to happen in situations or countries where the condition is continuously and steadfastly awful. Revolts happen when expectations begin to rise amongst “the people” – in response to improving social, economic, political or cultural conditions.  US sociologist James C Davies turned the simple observation that expectations rise faster than improvements in the underlying conditions and further that the system can cope with the disconnect only until conditions continue to improve (the Davies J-curve). I discuss the usefulness of this formulation in relation to South Africa’s ongoing service delivery protests here, a blog post that could have been written … almost word for word … today, but was, in fact, written in March last year.

With those meagre points acting as a theoretical background here then are my thoughts on the forces working for and against revolt in the South African context. It is not as simple a matter as putting some things in one column and others in another. Many of the protective factors are also depth charges seeding our future with hazards, but I will do my best to make it as simple as possible.

Why we are less revolting than we might be

  1. The first and most obvious reason is unlike many of the Middle East North Africa countries (from now on written as MENA, following a financial market convention) South Africa is a fully functional democracy where citizens have several opportunities to vote for and against parties that run their lives at a local, provincial and national level.
  2. The Ruling ANC is still seen by much of the electorate as the party led and staffed and supported by those who fought apartheid and those whose lives have improved because of that system’s demise. Whatever it might be in the future, right now the ANC still has enormous reserves of goodwill based on the fact that it is the premier liberation movement (still) led by the heroes of the struggle.
  3. The ANC government pays just under 40 percent of consolidated non-interest expenditure (that’s  R314 billion up from R156 billion five years ago) on the public sector wage bill and a further 20 percent to the poorest South Africans in the form of social grants. These are crucial constituencies to get to buy into stability – and a large part of the nation’s wealth is doing just that:  providing jobs for the emerging middle classes and  poverty alleviation for those who would otherwise be without hope.
  4. Add into the stability mix the fact that the ANC has managed to dispense a huge degree of patronage to the most aspirant and powerful of its leaders, members and constituents through the legal and regulatory regime of Black Economic Empowerment and the application of employment equity laws especially in the parastatals.
  5. Finally, whatever the criticisms, this government has built more houses for the poor, paved township roads, established sewerage and water connections, and provided the poorest South Africans with private and public goods on a scale unimagined under the previous dispensation of the Apartheid rulers.

Why we might be more revolting than we think

  1. Firstly, the obvious threat to stability is fiscal. Can we afford to meet the ever growing needs of the poorest as well as the growing middle class? At some impossible to predict moment in the future a force (a Maggie Thatcher type force) will arise within government and attempt to get our financial house in order. The first cuts will be in the fattest areas: social grants and public sector wage bill. I have no doubt an even slightly popular government could weather the resulting storm, but it will be a weather phenomenon that will be spoken of for many years.
  2. Secondly, failure to meet the fiscal challenge has its own terrifying dangers. In fact, this is precisely what happened in Zimbabwe. The leaders of Zanu-PF ransacked the war veterans pension fund which caused ex-combatants to begin militantly to threaten Mugabe and Zanu-PF.  The pension fund was recapitalised to the tune of $2bn in the late 90’s and the rest, as some are wont to say, is history. Spending $2bn they didn’t have led directly to hyperinflation, food riots and the formation of the MDC. With no largesse left to dispense the white owned farms were next on Zanu-PF’s attempts to stave off revolt and the last titbits of that economy are currently being pissed up against the wall with the same objective but in the name of “indiginisation”. Of course, Zimbabwe hasn’t revolted, but the price the politicians have made that country pay for stability has left Zimbabweans worse off than even the most cataclysmic revolution might have done.
  3. If  a greedy, rent seeking, corrupt, politically powerful and unaccountable elite is what fuelled revolt in MENA, then we are in all kinds of trouble. “Elite Theory” is a branch of sociology that argues that the economic and political elite make up an informal network that is the actual source and exercise of power – not “the people” through elections and parliament.  At an obvious level the theory applies to us: a publicly unaccountable elite within the ANC deploys loyalists to key institutions throughout the state and economy so as better to control the shape and direction of society. But with such a dominant and popular ruling party, such practices are unlikely to lead directly to revolt. However, beyond the formal exercise of the policy of “cadre deployment” we have an elite almost identical to those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and a host other MENA countries. These are the grand political families that thrive on tenders won from the state and bribes won from global corporates attempting to secure lucrative deals here. These are the groups and individuals that have turned some of our provinces, town and cities into gangster fiefdoms ruled by fear, patronage and manipulation.

On Balance?

We are still well within the safety zone and the system seems to have the flexibility and resources to withstand firm assaults in the future.

The obvious danger is the parasitic elite that honeycombs the upper echelons of our politics and economy. Many who participated in the Polokwane Putsch understood themselves to be cleansing the ANC and government of such an elite.

Unfortunately they failed to notice that their principal allies were the second -rankers and blatant criminals that Mbeki had managed to keep away from the trough.

If this elite manages (as it constantly strives to do) to divert the resources our society has available for economic growth, employment, poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, public health and education (you name the social good, it is threatened by the elite’s rent seeking activities) then we will have to reassess.

While people like  Willie Hofmeyr are still loyal ANC members and in place as senior state officials there is hope. Yes it is horrifying that he estimates that his Special Investigative Unit will scrutinise R20bn of tender fraud in this financial year (read about that here) but the real trouble arrives when people like him throw up their hands in disgust and head for the private sector.

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

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

Over to Sandra:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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