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You might be surprised at how carefully some people who’ve never set foot on these shores, people who are mostly blindingly clever at maths and informed to a scarily deep level about our politics and history and whose job includes trading our currency and bonds, have asked me that headline question in the last week.

I have a stock answer that is true to myself but provides cold comfort to those whose fingers must hit one or other button to ‘short‘ SA relative to Russia, or vice versa, or Turkey or Brazil or the Philippines or offer up a financial instrument more exotic than I, for one, can understand, an indecipherable instrument that hedges all the angles but still takes a bet that has within its algorithms a call as to whether South Africa sucks completely or sucks less than the market has priced.

That answer begins: “well it’s complicated …”

Zuma as a president and the various cabals and gangsters that have kept him in place have had free policy and patronage range since 2008.

Nhlanhla Nene’s axing was the worst and most damaging – and exposing – decision Zuma and his cronies have taken since Zuma was elected ANC president in late 2007 (and I would include Mbeki’s recall in that comparison.)

Nene’s summary and unexplained axing and Van Rooyen’s appointment showed astonishing depths of either ignorance, cronyism or hubris – but I am tending towards ignorance, seasoned by the other two.

Only an extremely ignorant man, advised by people whose basic stupidity or grandiosity (undoubtedly a perfect combination of the two ) could have shat on the doorstep of global capital markets, of the people, countries and institutions that lend us money, those who own our banks and those who rate the quality of our government debt – and thought they could walk away from their malodorous mess.

We hear all this blather in ANC discussion documents about the crisis of capitalism, the unstable ‘casino economy’ and the glorious rise of China and Russia (India is occasionally mentioned) and this self-serving internal jabbering has left Zuma surrounded by coterie of people who think sentiment and a rain of Chinese dollars has relieved us of the brutal disciplines of global capital markets? Are these not lessons we learned in 1994 – 1996?

What? China will lend/give us money to bail us out as our currency crashes and the bond yields spike? Dream on morons. The markets aren’t everything you know, I hear him bleat, and this is what I have learned, Zuma proudly asserts, from my week at Focac and the visit of Premier Zi Jinping, my new best friend. The rise of China means ‘western’ markets have lost their power to take away our sovereignty.” Yay! Lets fire that neo-liberal sell-out Nene and get along with the business of taking back what is ours.

… and the awful retribution of the implacable, cold and thoughtless ‘markets’ crushed us under its heel, without even noticing.

Okay so a group of ANC leaders managed to slap him (Zuma) and his handlers down and have appointed Gordhan (again) who is going to deliver up some brutal lessons to this crew (I cannot wait!) … you will see in previous posts why I think that Gordhan’s appointment is not only a good idea, but leaves us in a position even better (politically) than when Zuma fired Nene (although it is a close call) – that is the answer I finally give to those who ask the question in the first paragraph … but only after long and probably boring but stern admonishments that complex systems do not yield up easy, dualistic answers.

But I want you to think about our core political leadership … or rather think about what they think about. Who are they? I assume it’s Zuma and his myriad sons and daughters and cousins and wives, it’s obviously the Guptas, the increasingly awful Lindiwe Zulu and others scattered about the differentially abled ANC Youth League, the Woman’s League and the Premier League with Ace Magashule neck and neck with Zulu in the running dog, protect-the-President-at-all-costs, Joseph Goebbels’ cup.

Jacob Zuma gave a perfect explanation (in terms of his logic) and defence of why he axed Nene in the speech he gave after the announcement. Rian Malan, journalist and author, nailed the problem by closely examining the unscripted words Zuma delivered after announcing that Nene was out and Van Rooyen was in.

You must read Malan’s article (here) but the long and the short of it is Zuma said “I am rebelling against (the idea that) what determines the value of a commodity is the law of supply and demand … The value of a commodity is the labour time taken in production …”

Do you know what that means? Do you realise how dire the consequences that flow from this being the view of our President?

Having been in reading groups in the early 80’s where we poured over and over “Capital: Critique of Political Economy” and several of Karl Marx’s other texts, I know exactly what Zuma thinks he means when he incoherently refers to Marx’s  Labour Theory of Value.

In the intellectual vacuum that Zuma and whatever advisers he used when he fired Nene and appointed Van Rooyen there could only have been a complete absence of the knowledge that most of those who lend us money, buy our financial equities or trade our currency base their decisions on the reliability, predictability and respect of the Minister of Finance. It doesn’t  matter if the traders and fund-managers are wrong or right in using this Cabinet Minister as the touchstone of policy credibility, it only matters that they do and the actions and inactions of the head of the National Treasury are scrutinised and combed with ruthless thoroughness by those who sell or buy our currency or debt (and in this case our bank’s equity as well).

We have a President surrounded by a coterie of what I am tempted to describe as imbeciles – and I don’t mean the Cabinet. Do they really think that  (the interrupted) rise of China will free us from the dictates of markets? Our debt, equity and currency are traded on markets where prices are set by how many buyers or sellers there are, not some sentimental, half baked understanding of Marxist theories from the mid-to-late 1800s. When those markets ‘think’ the politicians are clearing obstacles (Nene) so they (those politicians) and their clients can loot the public purse they (the traders) will unsentimentally sell the financial instruments that are the backbone of our economy and we will crumble. And this time we came that close.

We have a steely new Finance Minister who I believe has more reason than ever to stand up to the ignorant and incoherent policy coming from the centre – although growth and our place in the world will make his job intolerably hard.

We have seen that the centre can be countermanded when its decisions are so bad that they could have a real chance of pushing the country into penury.

However the centre is still the centre, and it is still strong and dominant in the ruling party anyway. We are not home and free while Jacob Zuma occupies the driving seat. It doesn’t really matter if he is a crook or a fool -he has shown unequivocally poor judgement, and this looms over us as an ever present risk.

 

 

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.

 

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

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

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

(Sent out 06h00 Monday 26th May):

Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet 2014 – through a glass darkly

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

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

Cyril Ramaphosa

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

Nhlanhla Nene – Minister of Finance

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

Issues, problems and basis for assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supply-side misery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Cabinet

(The Deputy President is Cyril Ramaphosa)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. The Minister of Police is Mr Nkosinathi Nhleko.

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

12. The Minister of Finance is Mr Nhlanhla Nene.

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

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

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

16. The Minister of Health is Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

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

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

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

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

21. The Minister of Transport is Ms Dipuo Peters.

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

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

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

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

26. The Minister of Labour is Ms Mildred Oliphant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

33. The Minister of Communications is Ms Faith Muthambi.

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

35. The Minister of Tourism is Mr Derek Hanekom.

ends ….

 

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

Election 2014 results

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

Elections1

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

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

ANC drop more significant in Gauteng and some other major cities

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

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

 

Elections2

 

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

‘Racial voting’ patterns persist

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

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

Elections3

 

So what?

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Walking back home from the Sea Point promenade I encountered, no more than thirty minutes ago, two tall attractive young women in blue t-shirts standing next to a table full of DA literature.

Nearby is a church hall that serves as a voter registration station.

This weekend is the last nationwide drive to get as many potential voters as possible signed up before next year’s election.

The DA girls had long ponytails and light-brown hair and they held apparently identical and delicate Japanese umbrellas.

I gruffly (to avoid being misconstrued) asked them how it was going.

“Good!” they chimed brightly and in unison, their thick cables of hair bouncing in a way perfectly described by the aforementioned style’s name.

They politely enquired if I had registered and I muttered something about not being sure if I was going to vote and stumbled off in a confused retreat. (I have registered, I will vote … I am just not sure for whom.)

I was thinking as I walked the final kilometre to my modest apartment that it was about time the DA put some zest into its campaigning – good for the staid old liberals. (Patronising thoughts, I know, but I can do no more than apologise for having them.)

I walked into my flat, came straight to my computer and clicked on my Twitter feed.

Imagine my delight when I almost immediately found this:

ANCELEC

 

Here is the full text of the Tweet – although it is the picture that is important:

‏@iroiphotography:

Lack of creativity RT @Mr_Mpangase: Surely this is in breach of ANC conduct?  pic.twitter.com/Sujnop3cdK Retweeted by Siphelele Mpangase

(I think that is a real flyer or poster, but at this time we all have to be extremely careful of fake advertising designed to make one or other of the parties look bad.)

My delight was immeasurably enhanced as I found another Tweet that really gets to the meat of the election matter.

African ‏@ali_naka29m:

@CdeJMN Agang launched with Tea and cakes, EFF slaughtered 8 Bulls. Spot the difference!

I am still grinning.

This voter registration weekend is specifically aimed at younger potential voters and it has not escaped my attention that none of the myriad and complex messages here are intended for me.

I doubt I will be this sanguine and good natured after another five months of this … but before the nausea sets in I thought I would share some of the silly syrup.

Have a good week.

 

 

Some of my recent news coverage and commentary:

E-tolling and the DA’s cruel billboards

Last week Jacob Zuma signed into law the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill – meaning the unpopular e-tolling can begin on certain Gauteng highways.

I was impressed that the President did the necessary – despite the fact that this will cost the ANC votes in the 2014 poll especially in the closely contested Gauteng and especially amongst the class of people the ANC is, supposedly, at risk of losing to opposition parties.

Of course failure to sign the law might have led to downgrades by rating agencies and an even more hostile report from the IMF … but good for him anyway!

The interesting aside is that last week huge billboards sprung up along those highways saying things like: “E-tolling – Proudly brought to you by the ANC”.

ANC-e-tolls-billboard

Of course that campaign is funded by the Democratic Alliance snapping with its sharp little teeth at the ruling party’s heals .

Or perhaps it is more like being savaged by a duck?

Whatever, it’s all part of the razzmatazz that is going to be seriously tiring in about four months’ time but for the moment is mildly entertaining.

Election 2014 – the Zuma swings and the Zuma roundabouts

The major weeklies continued their faintly mindless coverage of Election2014.

City Press ran with two stories about how the ANC had decided to put Jacob Zuma delivering 50 specific and successful infrastructure projects at the centre of the ruling party’s election campaign. Not quite the shock the screaming headlines claim it to be.

All the Sunday Papers covered the fact that last weekend’s National Executive Committee of the ANC nullified the previous week’s Provincial General Council of the ANC in Gauteng. At issue was that the ANC in Gauteng is clearly not delighted to have to front itself with this particular president and believes its supposedly more urbane, sophisticated urban voters would be better wooed by Thabo Mbeki, Cyril Ramaphosa and/or Kgalema Motlanthe.

Deep behind the chatter is the growing view that the Zuma-face of the ANC is unlikely to charm the middle classes. The basic reasons, according to feisty City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, are made explicit in the Gupta wedding scandal cover-up:

“(it was not) the first time the party has been damaged by our president’s careless ways and friendships, which morph too easily into cronyism and patronage. There is a long line of infractions, stretching from the arms deal and his relationship with Schabir Shaik, to the rape trial he faced (the president was acquitted), the news of a child born out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza, the splurge at Nkandla and the game-playing with the courts around the spy tapes.” (Said the delightful, clever and middle-class Ferial Haffajee in her column in City Press  on 06/10/2013)

The rumour mill is constantly hinting that in certain constituencies the ANC will lose votes because of perceptions about Jacob Zuma’s cronyism and his traditionalist lifestyle choices. The hints usually suggest that the ANC’s own polling information confirm the view.

Frankly it would hardly be a big surprise if certain middle class constituencies are not enamoured with Jacob Zuma. Previous elections strongly indicate that the president is wildly popular in poorer and rural communities, so things are likely to balance out for the ANC.

What would be a surprise is if government got its act together with regard to infrastructure delivery in any meaningful way before Election2014. While a burst of energy can only be a good thing, do not expect a miraculous improvement in infrastructure delivery to result from the ANC’s election campaign.

Microlending falls from favour

Microlending as a business took a number of hits this past week. Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the microcredit lender Grameen Bank, Muhammad Yunus, warned that microlending to finance consumption could lock the poor into a life of poverty.

More importantly from a local perspective, Futuregrowth Asset Management’s Andrew Canter was quoted in the Business Times (06/102013) saying the company would “wind down” its exposure to microlenders, including Capitec, African Bank and other unsecured lenders on “moral grounds” (unfortunately the story doesn’t specify if Canter was purely referring to Futuregrowth’s SRI funds – which would be my expectation.) Canter, according to the paper, said: “We have always backed the responsible firms, but the industry structure has provoked industry behaviours that are not good for consumers, or in our view, the nation” … but, he said, Futuregrowth would not make a “panic exit”. “If industry practices improve, or particular players create more sustainable lending products, we will look to back them.”

The microcredit industry has always been controversial and becomes more so when consumers are struggling to make repayments in declining economic conditions. With the link having been drawn between the Marikana tragedy and the extent to which the strikers where in dire straits with regard to loan repayments, it was only a matter of time before sentiment towards the lenders would sour. With sentiment this negative, government is likely to further tighten regulatory control of the sector, especially in an election build-up.

The judiciary – it’s that Jacob Zuma problem again

In a matter almost as impenetrable as it is serious, a judicial tribunal appointed to probe Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s alleged attempt to influence two Constitutional Court judges to rule in President Jacob Zuma’s favour when he was fending off serious allegations of corruption got under way last week.

Amongst the complicating factors is that the two judges Hlophe allegedly tried to influence, Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde, have indicated they do not wish to proceed with the complaint.

I am not going to pretend to be able to analyse adequately what is going on here. Follow Pierre De Vos at his excellent blog Constitutionally Speaking for all matters relating to politics and the constitution. There is going to be a lot of complex legal argument around this matter but most constitutional experts suggest that the judiciary will be harmed almost no matter the outcome.

The point we unfortunately have to keep uppermost in our minds is that politicians, and especially their machinations in internal struggles within the ruling party, have damaged our systems of law and the institutions that are important to our democracy – from the judiciary, to the prosecutorial authority and including all state sectors directly concerned with national security (including the SAPS, crime intelligence and National Intelligence Service.) And further, such damage continues unabated as powerful groups in the ruling alliance war against each other.

Preface 

I wrote what follows in July 1990 immediately after returning from a two week trip to Moscow. I was part of a group with the now sadly departed Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa). The original was published in Democracy In Action, the institute’s monthly newsletter. I had looked for a copy for years and Paul Graham the last executive director of  Idasa, and a man for whom I have the highest regard, went to considerable trouble to find the article for me as he was closing up shop. I am republishing it here exactly as it originally appeared, although I have to sit on my hands to stop myself stripping out much of the sentiment and youthful taking-of-oneself-too-seriously – and thereby cutting two thirds of the length. (I would also quite like not to admit to some of the things I once believed which I admit to in the article … and I would love to add a bit of irony … but it is all too late for that now.)

Why am I bothering – I am not unaware that this was not exactly seminal?  No special reason, except my desire that it form ‘part of the record’. I wanted it “out there” in the electronic universe to remind myself of the precise moment I stopped being a confused socialist and carried on with being just confused, an altogether less satisfying state than I had experienced previously. It was  bitter-sweet for me, this moment, and I have never entirely resolved the conflicted feelings that it evokes in me. I don’t promise that what follows will be madly interesting to anyone but myself and perhaps some others directly involved in the events I describe. So, if for no other reasons than the much vaunted record, complete and unexpurgated, here is:

Ten days that shook my world

Standing on the Leningradsky Prospect – the “straight way” to Leningrad – just outside Moscow I was filled with an unhappy mixture of dismay and despair.

I had reached an unbearably poignant shrine. In heroic proportions and cut deep into huge blocks of concrete was the visage of the Soviet version of the Unknown Soldier. The young interpreter translated the script alongside that  haunting face in hushed tones. “It says that, ‘the defenders of Moscow defend here forever’. Here they fought an important battle in the Great Patriotic War. Many people died. But for us this is very sad.”

Twenty million Soviet citizens died in that war. more than all the other deaths put together. The German army failed to take Moscow or Leningrad and eventually broke its back on a bitterly defended Stalingrad and the even more bitter Soviet winter.

Standing at that memorial I felt dismay at the enormity of suffering the people of this country had experienced in the last 100 years. I felt despair because by that stage of the trip I already sensed than another tragedy was befalling this oft punished country.

How do  you record a credible impression of a country with 290  million inhabitant and more mutually unintelligible languages than anywhere else in the world after a brief two weeks spent in one city – albeit Moscow?

The answer is you probably can’t.

It was sunny mid-June and I was part of an Idasa delegation of “young researchers” on a fact-finding mission hosted by a group called the Committee of Youth Organisations. For me personally the visit was of particular importance.

The Soviet Union was the land of milk and honey for many of us who grew up politically in the student movement in the late 70s and early 80s. This was the flagship of a growing fleet that would rid our world of the uncaring and greedy imperative of profiteering capitalism and the misery it had brought our country.

We could quote chapter and verse of statistics that demonstrated the availability of basic goods and services to all Soviet people. We could parade the achievements of Eastern bloc socialism – in the production of iron and steel, in the eradication of illiteracy, in culture, the arts and in sports.

In response to perestroika and glasnost we had all reformulated our ideas and I wanted to discover two things: the soul of the Soviet people and  whether the red flag was still flying. We were not able to answer any of these questions conclusively and were left with a series of often unconnected impressions.

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

We sat in a meeting with the editor of the Moscow Communist Youth Organisation (Komsomol) daily newspaper. The paper has a subscriber list of one and a half million and is delivered daily. This man was a political appointee yet he harangued us for over an hour about the evils and absolute unworkability of socialism.

We didn’t understand. Here was a powerful and influential communist, picking up a glass on the table and asking, “Who does this belong to? To the state, or the people, or some vague body? I don’t care about this glass,” and he made as if to throw it out of the window.

In an intense and growing fury he took a Parker pen from the inside pocket of his coat. “This is my pen! If this man (pointing at his second in command) breaks this pen, I will beat him,” he said, shaking his fist angrily.

Reaching some kind of climax, the editor rose to his feet and shouted pointing out of the window at the inevitable queue at a shop across the road: “Those people are queuing for children’s slippers. This is not how people should live! This is not even how animals should live!”

The sentiments behind these ragings were expressed by everyone we met – more cautiously only by the most senior members of the Communist Party.

The economy has clearly failed to meet the requirements of the population and the list of reasons they give reads like a tirade from the New Right.

Here is a selection of rough quotes as I jotted them down in my notebook or remember them now:

“The authoritarian, bureaucratic, administrative command system has created impossibly skewed production priorities.”

“Why work hard, or with any care and attention to detail if you are going to get your 300 roubles a month no matter what and anyway, you are not going to be able to buy anything with it? We have created workers who don’t know how to work.”

“Goods are expensive and if they are made here they are of inferior quality. It is very difficult to get imported goods and usually these are impossibly expensive.”

“I have lived here all my life. Now it is worse than anyone can remember. There are just no goods in the shops and for the first time we are really worried about hunger.”

Almost without exception the people we spoke to blamed socialism for their ills. When those of us with deep philosophical and political roots in the South African socialist movement protested that it wasn’t socialism per se that was the problem, but rather the errors committed in the building of the society and economy of the Soviet Union specifically, we were laughed out of court.

“It is the ideas themselves. 1917 was a disaster for us. We need the market economy,” was the refrain we heard time and again.

There seems no doubt that there is a developing  consensus amongst the intelligentsia in Moscow at any rate, that the “free market” is the panacea to many of their ills. It would have been impossible, and extremely presumptuous of us to lecture them on the evils of rampant capitalism. They want it and they want it now.

When Germany and Japan start buying up state enterprises for a pittance and fill the shops with goods that only a few can afford; when unemployment and lack of housing becomes a problem for the previously protected underclass and when access to a whole lot of goods ans services becomes determined by income, they may change their minds, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

The citizens of Moscow (a relatively wealthy city) are struggling, increasingly despairingly, to survive. At first I was tempted to argue that they are better off than the unemployed in the First World, but it just doesn’t appear to be true, especially as far as countries with social welfare systems are concerned.

The problem, of course, is that the capitalism that will be built in the Soviet Union will be a mean and half-starved animal.

The Soviet people look at the highly developed capitalist economies of the West for a vision of their own future. The truth is that they can expect only the vicious and exploitative versions of the system that exist on the periphery in the Third World.  The creation of that system is going to be extremely painful.

The other element of the unfolding drama in the Soviet Union is the collapse of the political entity itself.

The republics are finally starting to be flung off the edges of the vortex of rapid political change. Long repressed nationalism, often highly chauvinistic, is emerging everywhere and Gorbachev is finding it almost impossible to hold the show on the road.

The dark spectre of the Soviet Union’s collapse into 15 disgruntled, warring, potentially economically unviable Third World states with terrifying military resources at their disposal is starting to haunt the wold.

And what about the Russian people?

We were all astounded at the depth of education and cultural and philosophical literacy in the wide cross-section of people we met. A deep abhorrence of war and commitment to peaceful change was the characteristic feature. In response to the question “what do you want, or see as an alternative?”, the most common phrase was, “respect for universal human values.”.

We asked many young people if they were proud of any of their national achievements – the beautiful, cheap and efficient Moscow underground, the low price and ready availability of books and records and the level of literacy and education.

We were told (variously): “The Soviet Union is not a country, we have no national achievements”; “how can we be proud if it takes all our effort and time just to buy a loaf of bread in a shop”.

Almost every young person we met had a burning desire to leave the country. The most popular movie on the circuit is a “documentary” comparison of life in the Soviet Union versus life in the West.

Apparently this films looks at the worst of Soviet life compared to the best in the West. It sounds like the worst kind of anti-communist, American ultra-right chauvinism –  except it was made by a Soviet film producer. What is more, the public swallow every last detail in an orgy of masochistic self-hatred.

Media freedom

One thing we found interesting and encouraging was freedom and vibrancy of the media.

Organised political opposition to the Communist Party is weak (outside of the national movements in the republics) and many of the new parties have no real experience at mobilising the population. However, the press and television are filled with debate and exploration of new ideas and harsh examinations of social problems ranging from alcoholism through to child abuse.

By the end of the 10 days, the six of us were punch-drunk and exhausted. We spoke together for hours trying, unsuccessfully, to draw out the essence of the experience. We all had the sense of being in an important place at an important time. This was the exact point where a grand enterprise had come off the rails.

The resounding shock waves of that catastrophe have changed the whole world, not least of all our own country. We struggled with the enormity of it and the sense of hopelessness we were left with.

As the last day of the visit dawned, I spoke to a wise and gentle man about my confusion and disappointment. He said: “Yes, this is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but you are wrong to say our people are hopeless or despairing. They have spirit and humanity. We will win through in some way.”

(I was accompanied on that trip by Ian Liebenberg, Hermien Kotze, Zorah Ebrahim, Khehla Shubane and Mark Swilling – and I wish them well wherever they may be.)

In the 1980’s I unwittingly employed an apartheid police informer, Mark Behr, to work in the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (of which I was a regional director).

Behr had a serious talent – and zest – for self-promotion. But he was also bright, ambitious and charismatic and I naively believed that all those characteristics together, could be harnessed for the good of the organisation, and ‘the struggle’ (I know. We really called it that.)

As it turned out he was already in the employ of the Dark Side …  and those who got the benefits of that self-promotion and ambition were the opposition to the anti-apartheid team.

Mark Behr was a lightweight apartheid agent and there is a part of me that wishes I could just put him and the sheer awfulness and banality of the apartheid security state machinery, and his role in it, behind me.

But unfortunately for me, someone pointed out last week that there is a Wikipedia entry on Behr that, when I accessed it on Friday (13/02/2013) said (without any cautionary remarks):

“Undergoing a process of political radicalization himself, he later turned double agent and spied on the South African government on behalf of the African National Congress

… and further:

“Professor Behr is a well respected and acknowledged international author and experienced double agent that left South Africa for a safer lifestyle in the USA.”

The gradual santisation of Apartheid and the security machine that maintained it is disturbing to me for too many reasons to name here.

But that is less the issue for me in this particular story.

No matter how slow the historical fabrication happens, how tiny the incremental changes made to the record, there is no version of the truth in which Behr underwent “a process of political radicalization” or “turned double agent and spied on the South African government on behalf of the African National Congress” – or any similar heroic, tragic nonsense.

I know this because I was connected to the underground structures that dealt with Behr, heard his original confession and sent him home safely – a neutralised enemy agent; but also a narcissist and fantasist who, precisely for these reasons, could not be trusted to report back to the movement.

(I mean, please … Behr, in an attempt to have his credentials as an anti-apartheid activist improved, used a gun – and instructions – he got from his police handlers to shoot through an outside window into his room at his university home. He then ran back inside, and later, suitably disheveled and shocked, managed to convince the student body and administration that he was the victim of an apartheid hit-squad assassination  attempt … a little story he managed to leave out of his confession that I cover below – probably because of its obvious buffoonery and because thousands of people still remembered how convincing was his feigned shock and ‘injured victim’ status at the time … and by the way – – this as an added afterthought – he also managed to leave out of his 1996 confession – see below – that he had been a “double agent”.)

Why am I bothering with this, all these years later?

Because Behr knows the truth … as do I. I am no longer certain anyone else remembers or cares. Behr could easily have corrected the hagiographic Wikipedia entry – but he has allowed this distorted tale, in which he is the dashing hero, and of which he is undoubtedly the author, to become the official version of a minor – but important to me – slice of our history.

In 1996 Behr made a dramatic and self-aggrandising (and unauthorised by the ANC) public confession at a writers conference in South Africa.

This is what I said at the time (published in the Mail & Guardian here) … I no longer have that condemnatory certainty, but as an antidote to the Wikipedia entry I cut-and-pasted above, I wouldn’t change a word.

Thus, purely for the record:

The Smell of Rotten Apples

PEOPLE who worked secretly or otherwise to undermine the movement against apartheid should be given every encouragement to say what they did and why. I am all for listening to them and forgiving those who are genuinely contrite.

Unfortunately the sincerity of Mark Behr’s confession is doubtful.

Even before one looks at the text it is difficult to believe that Behr is not engaged in another act of self-promotion. The initial signs are:

  • He flew in from Norway, delivered his confession and fled back overseas without facing those on whom he had spied;
  •  He addressed himself to a conference of people interested in writing, where he was the star speaker, rather than to the ex-Stellenbosch students he had betrayed and the anti-apartheid activists on whom he had informed;
  • He revealed to close friends he was only coming clean because he was going to be named as a spy by a witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
  • He is publishing a book dealing with spying and betrayal early next year. One must assume his high-profile confession is part of an advance publicity campaign.

To grasp just how unlikely is Behr’s sincerity, we need to examine the text of the 4 000-word confession and apology.

A number of things are missing from the text. He never mentions the arm of the state he spied for, who his handler was, how much he was paid or what information he passed on. If Behr really wanted to redress some of the harm he did -—a crucial aspect of confession and forgiveness—- then these were the questions he should have answered. Instead of dealing with the details of what he did and for whom, Behr spends the overwhelming majority of his words worrying about how he will be judged. The repeated lament is: “I have always suspected that the only voice people will hear from that moment on … is the voice that cannot b e trusted, that is incapable of the truth.”

Aside from his exasperating self-absorption the problem with Behr’s words is their totalitarian thoroughness. Behr constructs his defence as a monolith. On reading the document we are left with the impression that there is nothing more to say except to forgive the poor chap, he is suffering enough already. There is no chink in the words for us to enter and engage with him. He has pre-empted any possible criticism by exhaustively criticising himself. He apologises for the betrayals, for his motivation, for his lack of moral courage; he apologises for apologising; and then, in an infinite regress, he apologises for apologising for apologising.

This is called “shutout”. We are left unable to engage with the truth. We can do nothing but acquiesce or reject him outright. If we reject him we place ourselves with those who deny perpetrators the right to change heart; to seek a language to express their grief and regret.

But to what are we being asked to acquiesce? If it was just forgiveness it would be easy. You have to listen to the rhythms of the text, the cadence of Behr ‘s voice to understand the enormity of what he wants from us. “It is with the profoundest imaginable regret …”, “I soon believed in the moral correctness of this struggle I was reporting on …”, “… this might be … yet another reinterpretation geared for justification …”, “I lacked the moral fortitude to face the consequences of my treason …”, “I … would like to capitulate into silence … there is also truth in silence as there might be in ceasing to live.”

Imagine a young version of the Reverend Jim Bakker – remember him? Then listen carefully to Mark Behr and you will hear something akin to the tearful televangelist minister who got caught sleeping with a prostitute – again. He is beating his breast, calling down the wrath of God on his sinner’s head, begging us to join the Lord in forgiving him. The individuals in the congregation are crying with him, wishing they could be the ones to embrace him, to soothe away the contradiction at the heart of this flawed titan of a man. Behr’s confession is a number of things. It is also an audacious attempt at seduction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has begun bringing the painful stories of victims on to the centre stage of our history. As that process begins to take effect we are presented with Behr claiming to have been the victim: “… one is born into, loved into, violated into discrimination”. Behr claims to be the victim of propaganda, of Christian National Education, of his family, of history, of fate, of his own moral weakness. With all due respect! This is a man who spied for the apartheid police in exchange for money. He apparently didn’t even support apartheid. Ten minutes listening to the truth commission will clear the heads of anyone seduced into believing Behr is the tragic hero at the centre of our national drama.

I do believe there is something fragile and sacred in our process of confession and absolution. We all probably know white men who were, as conscripts, engaged in atrocities in Angola and Mozambique. We have watched them writhe in the terrible privacy of their own fear and shame. These men cannot even imagine words to describe where they have been and what they have done. We have all known someone amongst them who has descended into the hell of drug addiction or suicide.

Behr had the unique combination of talent and opportunity to examine how young whites became culpable. His confession could have begun giving them a voice.

But he misses his one chance at salvation. In an orgy of self-pity and self-promotion he abandons the only people who really needed him to speak with sincerity.

I hear that Behr’s confession was warmly received by many. Behr has consistently traded on his anti-apartheid credentials. I am appalled at the possibility that he will now get away with trading on his credentials as the contrite perpetrator, as the prodigal son.

Behr phrases his confession in the literary context of the limitations of memory and language to describe truth. He has extensive access to platforms that propogate his vision of the truth and a unique ability to manipulate language to do so efficiently. Behr is the fast-food chain in the market of truth. Perhaps in the neighbourhoods where they consume mediocrity three meals a day his version of himself and history will prevail.

Behr could be forgiven for spying on the anti-apartheid movement, even if it was for thrills and extra ready cash. But, quite simply, he would have to be sorry first. Not sorry for himself. Sorry for what he has done.

Nic Borain was secretary general of Nusas in 1985, and established a Nusas branch at Stellenbosch. He was regional director of Idasa Western Cape from 1988 to 1990, and during this time employed Mark Behr

A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.

This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.

The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.

Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.

What an excellent metaphor.

The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.

Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):

(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)

One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.

As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm  of the overall contest for power.

One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.

When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.

There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.

It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.

One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:

‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”

But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.

“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.

Winter is coming.

* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)

(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa,  ANC treasurer general and  previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC;  Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there);  Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.

And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as  Minister,  NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga – minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC;  Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)

As the cannonade and sharp retorts of the Municipal Election become deafening, it strikes me how alike are elections and wars.

Both these human endeavours are faced with comparable technological, communication, infrastructural and personnel challenges.

Generals preparing for war and political leaders for elections have this in common:

  • They must have a game plan and clear objectives, including a realistic view of the chances of success and the costs involved in achieving objectives.
  • There must be lots of money available.
  • They must have a clear understanding of the enemy and the enemy’s resources and capabilities.
  • They must have precise information about the terrain upon which the battles will take place and the loyalties of the citizens who inhabit that terrain.
  • They must have a complex and balanced organisation at their disposal which contains the full capabilities and capacities that might be required – from senior management down to foot-soldiers, and encompassing every specialist skill that might be applicable to the proposed campaign as well as the most varied arsenal possible.
  • They must have systems of supply and replenishment – allowing funds and resources to flow to where they are needed.
  • They must have a system of communicating to every level of the force and auxiliary services;
  • They must have a system of communicating to the world and general public not directly involved in the war.

I suspect one could search for more complex similarities, but the issue of interest to me is how both elections and war require – or cause, I am not sure which –  propaganda and distortion of the truth.

We have all heard the notion: “The first casualty in war is the truth” – (Aeschylus 525 BC – 456 BC) and it is apparent listening to what  the principal players in our election say of themselves and each other that “the truth” seems infinitely elastic and vague.

The most obvious contravention of the rules of engagement have been Julius Malema’s comments in Kimberly over the weekend: “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”

But Malema is just a weapon that gets deployed in the battle, and I doubt any one army in this conflict is innocent of the impulse to use every single weapon in its arsenal.

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

For the strategists and generals are up to their necks in the campaign, it is all they think about, all day and all night, sleeping, eating and on the toilet. As the final day comes closer, every possible advantage, every weakness of the enemy, every inch of ground, every weapon in the arsenal … becomes important and worthy of exploitation.

A kind of frenzy takes over the leadership and all caution or higher feeling gets brushed aside.

It’s win at all costs … and that is pretty much where we are right now.

And that is the problem.

In nine days time we are all going to look up from the carnage and find a world very slightly changed by the battle that has been fought.

It is only myopic politicians and generals who could possibly believe their little war/election justified the distortions and propaganda they have deployed.

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

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