Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New dawn or false dawn?
Lekota's moves over the past week have been very interesting to follow, but his future remains very much a murky mist. While it would be fantastic for our longer term democratic foundation, there are two key issues that dampen my optimism about Lekota's new party.

The first is that this is a party very much formed out of anger. Whilst many people are championing Lekota's cause publicly, South African elections are not won in October, and there is a long way to go before Lekota can claim a true electoral following. Initially there will be much interest, but Lekota and his leadership will need to prove that they can present policies that reflect the needs and wants of his new voting constituency. There is not much time for him to present his case, and he will have to work incredibly hard with his leadership to form this policy platform.

The second carries a more ominous short-term warning. What many people don't extrapolate in their hope for Lekota's party being a true opposition, is that if successful, it will remove a largely moderating force from within the ANC's leadership in the labour-business battle for the party's soul. If this split is as pronounced as the media is purporting it to be, then many of those on the right of the ANC, including many of the pro-business NEC members, will make moves across. Whilst one would imagine that you will still have Ramaphosa and Sexwale in that upper echelon, the loss of many of these pro-business leaders may well leave a vacuum within the NEC that can very easily be exploited by the left.

It will take much longer for Lekota to build his constituency within the wider electorate than it will for him to gain disgruntled or pro-Mbeki leaders from the ANC. In this interim period, while much of the electorate will remain faithful to the ANC whilst it assesses Lekota's party, we may see a gap exploited by the left. Whilst Lekota's party may well take away the two thirds majority for the ANC,the ruling party will remain in power in April, and policy shifts may occur.

As I've said, any moves to reduce the single-party dominance of our democracy and to negate the current hubris of the party is a great thing for our democracy. It just seems to me that some people are getting ahead of themselves about the prospects. Time will tell, but anger alone doesn't win elections. Just ask Thabo Mbeki...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Irony of SA's Financial Regulations
While South Africa is experiencing markedly less turmoil than the rest of the international markets, it seems almost ironic that many commentators and business luminaries are crediting (no pun intended!) our rather constrictive financial regulations as the antecedent.

Most of these commentators have spent their last few years deriding these same regulations and wishing for a more open financial market. But in this current collapse, exchange control regulations and the National Credit Act have gone a long way to insulating our economy from the worst of it.

Johan Rupert gave a speech yesterday in which he said that "South Africa can be thankful that foreign exchange controls precluded local investment institutions from participating in the kind of investments that caused major international financial institutions to buckle in recent months."

Earlier in the week, David Shapiro attributed some of the self-same protection from sub-prime lending instruments to the National Credit Act. Even though the Act only came into being in June, just before the sub-prime crisis hit, it was in the works for years, and mortgage companies particularly had heeded its imminent passing. The Act holds us in good stead during this crisis and beyond.

Monday, October 06, 2008

New York Times not loving SA
The NY Times carried a none too positive article on SA on the front page of its site this morning. The article notes all of the negativity surrounding the socio-political environment of our homeland, from both a non-white and white perspective. It's sobering reading and does us no favours at a time when we're all looking for positive reinforcement.

I remain optimistic. Politically the Motlanthe appointment over Mbete has taken much heat out of the situation. Motlanthe is the best man for the job right now, (and after April), and should calm the storm. Government is also very aware of 2010 and what a moment it is for South Africa, and behind closed doors, many politicans have been expressing the need to bring immediate calm to the socio-political landscape and start to bring more positivity to South Africa. The poor and marginalised should benefit from this position in the short to medium term, and there should be a much more focussed effort post-Mbeki to keep negativity out of the SA consciousness. Hopefully this should translate in more action, better service delivery and more political maturity.

I'll throw something out there too, there is still much water to flow between now and April, and Zuma, in my view, is still not a dead lock for the Presidency. That may be contrary to everything that one sees and hears in the media, but I'm still not convinced that he has the full support of the entire party. Should a split happen (I remain doubtful), then his chances go significantly up, but should the party remain intact, there may be a compromise - and that would be Motlanthe.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The last person to the party...
It seems the SACP are the last people to learn that they aren't invited to the party. ANC leftists are bemoaning the fact that the Motlanthe cabinet holds so little for them in terms of representation, and have been dealt a further blow with the news that the ANC's economic conference, something on which they had put much relevance on, has been cancelled.

I said it over 18 months ago, and it remains true today. Jacob Zuma is a very shrewd politician, often underestimated on this score, and he knew exactly what he needed to do to ascend to power. Whilst economic policy needs small shifts to avoid anarchy and promote poverty alleviation amongst the less fortunate of our country, it will never be the wholesale change so trumpeted by Nzimande, Vavi et al.

The SACP's seats have gone from right beside Zuma, to a side room outside of the auditorium. Will this change after April next year? Marginally, but in no way will it be decisive.