Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Zuma feeling presidential
Spats with the NEC aside, Zuma is really doing his utmost to look presidential of late. His performance in Davos was all ruler, discussing the future policy direction of the country and defining who and who will not be there when he takes over. Interstingly, he was yesterday taking the moral high ground on the Eskom debacles, following Alec Erwin's highly questionable line that its the fault of the burgeoning economy, and not of any number of persons within the government's offices.
"The strides we have made since 1994 in growing our economy and improving the quality of life of our people have brought along such a serious pressure on our energy sources.

"South Africans have in recent weeks, as you may have heard, experienced power outages. The government has declared a national electricity emergency to deal with the energy challenge."

Zuma said that the government had called on all citizens to "become part of a national movement to conserve electricity in their residential areas and workplaces whilst ensuring that key functions, safety and security are not compromised".

"While government admits that planning could have been better a few years ago, we must also appreciate that we have a growing economy that is working at full capacity.
Thabo must have ground most of his molars down by now...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beyond knee-jerk gloom over new ANC leadership
Anthony Butler writes a very sage op-ed piece in the Business Day today regarding the over-reaction to the Zuma win in Polokwane. Some of you may decry my stance as optimistic, but there's no doubting the caliber of Anthony Butler. He writes:
First, branch delegates at Polokwane magnificently chose the least bad option when they elevated an admittedly flawed Zuma over what had become a totally unthinkable Thabo Mbeki. They rejected Mbeki’s Putin-esque ambition to retain the ANC presidency, manage the state presidential succession and rule from beyond the political grave. The Mbeki faction’s arrogant domination of the empowerment state, the public broadcaster and the national policy process needed to be broken. The triumph of competitive internal politics signals to future ANC presidents that their misdemeanours will not be swept automatically under the carpet by a sympathetic successor.

Second, the ANC’s new collective leadership is more impressive than critics claim. Looking beyond Zuma, the remainder of the “top six” national executive committee (NEC) offices are in safer hands than during the Mbeki era. Few will lament the departure of Mendi Msimang and the elevation of Mathews Phosa to the treasurer-general’s office. The new deputy secretary-general, Thandi Modise, has a strong reputation as a fighter against corruption and a champion of robust parliamentary oversight of the executive.

The pivotal figure in the top six, however, is the new secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe. Reputed to be a man of exceptional integrity, Mantashe would appear to be neither “Zuma’s man” nor a dangerous communist radical. An organic intellectual from an impoverished village of migrant labourers, he will bridge what have become debilitating divides in the tripartite alliance. He can be expected to champion much-needed community participation in schools, policing and housing after a decade of Mbeki’s top-down dead hand of “delivery”.

The confident and measured manner in which Mantashe has taken on the mantle of secretary-general indicates that it is the broad left alliance he represents, and not Zuma’s band of malcontents, that is now the dominant force in the ANC’s collective leadership.

Third, the full NEC elected at Polokwane shows equally little sign of being the plaything of Zuma. Under Mbeki, the NEC was on its way to becoming a club for people made famous by appointment to government office. The new NEC brings the great variety of the ANC’s regional political cultures — in all their glory and their shame — back to the centre of the movement’s decision making.

Finally, the overall composition of the expanded NWC has changed in largely positive ways. It has become too large to function as an executive committee for the political management of the cabinet — which is a benign development — and it has lost most of its prominent cabinet ministers. Instead it now hosts six provincial MECs alongside robust regional power brokers such as Tony Yengeni and charismatic former ballroom dancing champion Makhenkesi Stofile. This suggests it will now provide a much-needed link between the centre, where policy is made, and the tumultuous regions where it has been only fitfully implemented.

Read the whole article here. It's a very reasoned argument and I share most of Butler's sentiments.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sadly...'s very difficult to argue his point.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The curse of SA's mineral wealth
Moeletsi Mbeki, Thabo's brother, wrote an op-ed piece in the New Statesman, about the problems inherent in trying to build a newly democratic economy with mineral wealth. Moeletsi proposes that SA's resource wealth allows the leadership to 'get away with' not restructuring the economy but rather trying to placate the poor with handouts. This isn't a long-term strategy...
A country develops when it is able to harness the energies of its people and put them to productive use. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Oil-producing countries are one. For very little effort, petroleum-producing countries pump crude oil from the ground and sell it for fabulous prices to foreigners.

South Africa is similar to oil-producing countries in that it, too, has natural resources - gold, platinum, diamonds, coal, iron ore, and so on - that are valuable to foreigners, who are willing to pay South Africa top dollar for them. While it takes more people to dig out South Africa's minerals compared to those employed to pump up crude oil, mining is still a small employer. Despite employing very few people, mining, however, makes a huge contribution to the country's wealth, in that it accounts for more than half of export earnings. The value that the few people employed in mining produce far exceeds their income. The government, therefore, has large revenues from mining activity that it can redistribute to the rest of society that does not work in the mines. This is what is called a resource curse - governments of resource-rich countries think their people need not work and will be happy living off social grants.

That is precisely the trap into which the ANC government has fallen. At least a quarter of the South African population receives social grants that would not be possible if South Africa were not mineral-rich. Without mineral wealth to redistribute, the government would have to work harder and be more creative to find solutions to unemployment and poverty.

Resource wealth makes it possible for the government not to have to put an effort into redeveloping the economy to create more jobs, and instead it sustains the unemployed and their dependants with social grants.
I'm not sure I follow Moeletsi to his end-point here, given the vast restructuring in the South African economy since the late 80's hay-days of mineral wealth. However, his point on the social grants is well taken, and it makes the piece a good read.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Scorpions picking on us, say ANC leaders
This article in the Business Day this morning makes for some interesting reading:
The African National Congress (ANC) national working committee (NWC) yesterday accused the Scorpions of unfairly targeting its members, and criticised Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke for “showing disdain for delegates to the party’s national conference in Polokwane last year”.

The claims put the ANC and its allies on a collision course with the judiciary, and will increase the pressure on the government to disband the Scorpions.

The ANC said yesterday its NWC had discussed the matter and the need to “restore the integrity of law enforcement units and the entire criminal justice system”.


Phosa urged President Thabo Mbeki to act on the ANC resolution that the Scorpions be dissolved or incorporated by June. Opposition parties are against the move.

The battle between the police and the Scorpions continued last week when police arrested Gerrie Nel, the Gauteng Scorpions boss and chief investigator in the Selebi case . Charges against Nel were later dropped for insufficient evidence.

The ANC said this move raised a number of questions.

“The manner in which this case has been handled suggests that SA has a long way to go to achieve equality before the law. It strengthens suspicions that those who occupied positions in agencies of the former apartheid government can act with impunity while the offensive against cadres of the democratic movement is intensified.

Message? 'We should be untouchable'. Concern? The Scorpions very distance from the SAPS seems the only reason for the success, and incorporation will only negate this. Reality? The Scorpions will be disbanded by June.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Acting presidential
There are some things that a Prime Minister should quite possibly keep to himself...

Finally: A Zuma Policy Speech
All eyes (and ears) will be on Atteridgeville on Saturday as Jacob Zuma makes his first real policy speech on the future direction of the ANC. Expect few fireworks and much placating of international and local investors, as well as some socially-friendly policy directives on free education and poverty alleviation.

It will however, finally put some straw into the Zuma scarecrow, which can only be a good thing...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The arms deal may yet take down more than one president

One interesting development out of Monday’s ANC NEC meeting was the announcement of an ad-hoc committee that will produce a “detailed structural report” on the 1999 arms deal. This has supposedly been brought to bear given the lack of detail of the facts surrounding the arms deal and the role of the ANC president, Jacob Zuma, in it.

However, given the Zuma-dominated NEC, along with many feelings of hypocrisy about Mbeki, there may be a more sinister directive; finding evidence, coincidental or not, on President Thabo Mbeki.

Much of the tolerance of Zuma’s graft taint stems from the fact that much of the electorate believes that Mbeki is as guilty of corruption in the arms deal as Zuma, but that he was more effective in shutting down investigations. It’s their belief, along with most of Zuma’s backers, that Zuma was the fall guy for a corrupt president.

Andrew Feinstein, who was an ANC MP and Scopa leader, was well known for resigning when the ANC clamped down on investigations into the deal. Feinstein went on to write a book, After the Party, which had a lot to say about the process leading up to, and subsequent to, the deal’s signing.

In the book, Feinstein mentions Mbeki a few times in questionable circumstances. He alleges that Mbeki met Parliament’s joint investigations team on the arms deal to tell it who it could and could not investigate, and that Mbeki shut down both the Scopa and the British BAE inquiries into the arms deal.

Feinstein states that “I don’t think he [Mbeki] was involved in any personal corruption, I think he either solicited directly or condoned the solicitation of money from contractors prior to award of contracts for the ANC [party coffers]. In addition, Mbeki chaired the sub-committee that made all of the arms-deal contract decisions and those decisions were fundamentally flawed.” The Sunday Times also alleged in 2006 that when Mbeki was deputy president in 1998, he met executives of Thomson-CSF (now Thales) in Paris, a company that was bidding for a stake in the deal worth billions of rands.

I would not be surprised if this is exactly what Phosa and other Zuma backers on the NEC are after — a tit-for-tat investigation into Mbeki’s role that they hope will just shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately, this may also lead to the biggest crisis the ANC has ever faced, which may make the recent succession battle look like a mere playground skirmish.