Category Archives: Race

A critique of Mandela’s legacy

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Whether in mining or banking, the structure of the South African economy still bears great resemblance to that of the apartheid era. Mostly black miners take trips deep down into the earth via thin shafts, while their mostly white counterparts stay atop or wear clean shirts to offices on well-manicured grounds with vistas still as beautiful as they were when they first fell in love with the country. If the new mining law, now suspended, asks that blacks own in perpetuity, a 30 percent stake in all mines, is that so unreasonable? Maybe the minimum 1 percent of turnover compulsory distribution to host communities requires a rethink; using another variable, like profit, could be problematic, however; because it could be manipulated. It could be made due only after unavoidable business expenses, though. Asking that half of new prospecting rights be black-owned is not unjustifiable either. In any case, what is the alternative? If the status quo is allowed to continue, a more radical approach would be adopted further down the line. The ultra-nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party would nationalise all mines (and banks) if it ever got to power certainly. Of course, the mining companies may not mind buying more time to sweat their assets faster under the current lopsided terms: only about 38 years in gold reserves are believed to be left, albeit there is at least two centuries worth of platinum reserves yet untouched. So on balance, there is much to be gained and lost by both sides.

Best to concede a little more now
Even so, it is probably wiser for the industry not to allow things deteriorate to that extent. So even as their resort to the courts have secured them a quick-win, with mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane suspending the implementation of the new law pending when the courts decide on the matter, they would be better served by making some concessions to the government. It is unfortunate, of course, that someone with President Jacob Zuma’s tainted credibility happens to be the one championing the black cause. Like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe before him, his selfish motive is writ large. Had that person been Nelson Mandela, no one would have the temerity to challenge such a move. Such was President Mandela’s stature and power. With lesser beings now floudering at the helm, many argue Mr Mandela could have done much more. Because now a black South African with that kind of influence is not likely to emerge again in our lifetime. (Just like India is not likely to produce another Mahatma Gandhi.) The conditions that create such mythical figures only occur generations at a time. And rarely is a later champion ever able to fill in the shoes of earlier heroes. So with the benefit of hindsight, Mr Mandela should have paid as much attention to economic freedom as he did the political one. Some might say he was constrained somewhat. This is doubtful. The apartheid regime only caved in because it had no choice. Mr Mandela could have pushed harder.

So as the world marks another Mandela Day (18 July), black South Africans must reflect on the future they want for their country. Their reality is what it is. But if they think deeply, they would see how fortunate they already are. White South Africans can be accommodated, allowed to continue thriving in tandem with a similarly successful black population. The key is to find that optimal policy mix that allows both sides get almost all they want without totally alienating the other. Securing more economic power for blacks does not necessarily have to be an entirely zero-sum game. Without some forceful correction of the country’s currently unjust economic structure, however, whatever progress that is made while it subsists would eventually unravel, when an even more impoverished black majority decides they have had enough. Still, no matter how much economic power black South Africans snatch from their erstwhile oppressors, it would be meaningless if most remain underskilled or as is depressingly still the case for a lot, unskilled. Europeans realised a long time ago that it would be far more profitable to give control of primary resources to their former colonies if they could almost exclusively be the ones to add more value to them and subsequently sell them back at premia that dwarfed whatever value the raw materials ever had. So when it seemed like the colonialists had finally accepted reason by succumbing to agitations for independence those long years ago, they were actually motivated by the realisation that what would replace their repression could be even more lucrative. And without any of the bad press.

Not too late
But this is no secret, or excuse in fact: Asians managed to unshackle themselves regardless, rising to levels that African countries they were hitherto at or below par with now only dream of. Without a doubt, African leaders, past and present, are especially guilty for their countries’ frustratingly floundering evolution. For sure, there were foreign enablers. But principally, Africans are primarily responsible for the story state of their affairs. It would be most saddening if all the suffering that Mr Mandela and his people endured for all those long years turns out to be all for nothing. But that is what it would be if all that the black majority achieves is the expropriation of brick and mortar from their erstwhile oppressors without the skills to maintain and enhance them, and innovate new ones. Zimbabwe is the perfect example of how a senseless economic nationalism is almost a sure step to even more bondage. While that country continues to struggle since the selfishly motivated act by Mr Mugabe, the expelled whites have since found fortune elsewhere. A subsequent reversal by Mr Mugabe after much loss is evidence of the error. To that extent, Mr Mandela had some foresight in making what now seem to be overly generous concessions to the apartheid government. His pragmatism was suitable for his time. A new one is required today.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column (19 Jul 2017). See link viz. http://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/07/19/the-mandela-legacy-the-costs-of-not-pushing-hard-on-economic-freedom-by-rafiq-raji/

The Malikane Proposals

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Much dust has been raised over increasingly louder calls for more economic equality in South Africa. If a country’s wealth is concentrated in a few hands, it is almost inevitable that those who feel left behind would some day make bold their misgivings. The growing disenchantment amongst the mostly poor black but majority population with the stranglehold of so-called “white monopoly capital” should not be trifled with in any way. The resentment runs deep. Christopher Malikane, whose brightness and erudition is well-known at Wits University where he is an associate professor of economics, has proposed what some may consider radical views over how to resolve entrenched racial inequalities in South Africa. Prof Malikane proposes that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which is privately owned, be nationalised. He also wants banks and mines to be state-owned. And like an increasing number of black South Africans not as radical, Prof Malikane wants currently white-owned land to be expropriated without compensation. Were he not an obviously close adviser to new finance minister Malusi Gigaba, scant attention would probably be paid him. After all, his current views are not significantly different from those he has long held, most recently before his current position, as an adviser to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one of the partners in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party tripartite alliance that also includes the South African Communist Party. Prof Malikane is entitled to his views. Those who disagree with him should simply offer theirs.

Time for a new deal
True, Jacob Zuma’s newfound economic radicalism smacks of desperation by a beleaguered politician with limited options. There is no gainsaying that his populist motives are writ large. Still, Nelson Mandela’s magnanimity to the white minority population has over the years proved to be costlier for black South Africans and the pace of economic progress slower for an increasingly antsy majority than even he probably ever envisaged. The need for a new deal can hardly be refuted. But what shape should this deal take? Better still, what would be an ideal compromise? If Prof Malikane’s proposals are taken as one extreme and that of the ANC hitherto another, is it so out of the realm of possibilities that a negotiated middle ground could still be reached? And quite frankly, it would be disingenuous of white South Africans to think that the current economic configuration is sustainable. But the argument could also be made that so was apartheid. And look how long that lasted? An anomaly could endure long enough that when change does eventually come, it may not matter much. With distortions and divisions already entrenched then, it would be too late for the type of negotiated and accommodative change that also does not destroy. This is why all views, no matter how extreme they may seem, should at the very least be heard. Truth be told, without some push now, current inequalities would deepen further and the economic apartheid that has persisted since 1994 would further endure. Ordinarily, black leaders should have the foresight to recognize this exigency and not be only enthused about it when their political survival depended on it. In any case, wondering about the motives of politicians is needless. So irrespective of the likely ulterior motives behind Mr Zuma’s “radical economic transformation” what should matter at this time is that finally a proper debate can be had on the issue.

Learn from past mistakes
Should land be expropriated without compensation? But what is compensation really? Besides, value already accrued to current beneficiaries of the land could easily be justified as enough compensation. Better still, is a scenario not possible where land though expropriated could be leased to the clearly more skilled white farmer with some technical arrangement for skills transfer to blacks in the mix? To use the minerals sector as an analogy: with extractive industry economics in favour of beneficiation, of what use have extracted minerals sold in their primary form been to owner African governments? The same applies to land. And examples abound of land transferred to unskilled black South Africans that have proved to be less than productive. Zimbabwe is not so far off that the potential pitfalls of a land “re-grab” which does not address the intricacies that govern the creation of wealth are not so palpable. Owning land is not enough. It is hard to argue against the nationalisation of the SARB, however. A central bank should be owned by its government. But it would most definitely be counterproductive to do the same for commercial banks. Besides, what should matter more should be how to ensure that every South African, whether black or white, has access to capital, possesses the requisite skill to acquire it and ensure its efficient allocation. Bear in mind, much of the capital that drives the South African economy is foreign. Thus, taking over local banks would hardly alter the configuration of global finance nor inoculate the economy against its reach. So it behoves policymakers and their eggheads to ensure South Africa remains friendly to global capital even as they strive to ensure opportunities abound for all.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/the-malikane-proposals/

Who will save South Africa?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Angst against Jacob Zuma, the embattled South African president who faced perhaps the strongest show of displeasure from a cross-section of South Africans since the last local government elections this past week, potentially overshadows what should be the real object of ongoing agitations. President Zuma is able to entrench himself despite popular opposition because of the way the electoral process is structured in South Africa. What needs to change is the system that vests too much power in the ruling party. Since members of parliament (MPs) elect the president, who themselves owe their positions to the benevolence of those in control of their party structures, self-preservation takes greater precedence to such ‘isms’ as heroism and patriotism. And even as some senior African National Congress (ANC) cadres have found it convenient to be brave now, their silence under the cloak of party solidarity hitherto allowed Mr Zuma to permeate the key joints of the party to the point where now, only Mr Zuma can remove himself. Or time.

Besides, the few ANC grandees that did decide to be heroic lately, underwhelmed spectacularly shortly afterwards: In the aftermath of Mr Zuma’s recent and widely unpopular cabinet reshuffle that saw the back of respected and erstwhile finance minister Pravin Gordhan, three of the top six members of the the ANC criticized Mr Zuma publicly, raising hopes they might finally make concrete moves to rein him in. In a meeting afterwards, it is reported Mr Zuma won the day. It was particularly pitiable to see Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general with his tail between his legs after much remonstrations only shortly before. Mr Mantashe made some attempts at redeeming himself: that Brian Molefe (disgraced former chief executive of state power utility Eskom) was not made finance minister, Mr Zuma’s preferred choice for the post, is proof that some consultations did take place, he asserted. His gripe had been that Mr Zuma’s picks for his new cabinet did not emanate from the party’s due-process. If only Mr Zuma’s political genius could be put to a noble cause, you wonder. Imagine a man of Mr Zuma’s talents having Nelson Mandela’s heart and courage and Thabo Mbeki’s intellectualism. That would be something now, wouldn’t it?

That said, there are racist motivations behind some of the ongoing anti-Zuma sentiments. From Helen Zille’s (former chair of the white-dominated opposition Democratic Alliance party) views on the purported benefits of colonialism to black South Africans – which by the way is surreptitiously shared by some of her contemporaries – to the not so covert attribution of the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure to black leadership, racism remains rife in the so-called rainbow nation. A white South African judge, it was revealed recently, apparently believes black men are animals, who rape at will and procreate without any sense of responsibility: likely is the case she stretched the law to the extent that she could whenever a case involving a black man came before her. So ultra-leftist parties like Black First Land First (BLF) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which argue, like Mr Zuma and his ANC party now conveniently do, about the need to right the wrongs of past injustices are not entirely on opportunistic grounds. Still, the newfound black economic radicalism is beginning to prove costly.

Leverage lost
Fearing further erosion of governance and likely fiscal deterioration after Mr Zuma’s latest actions, rating agencies S&P Global and Fitch last week downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. Middle-class South Africans with mortgages to pay and car payments to make know the implications of the downgrades on their wallets. Poor South Africans, however, could not care less. Explanations such as how higher debt costs constitute an opportunity cost to the funding of pro-poor programmes is hard to fathom by a section of society that mostly looks to monthly welfare payments from the government. Since that won’t stop, it is hard for them to understand what the hoopla is all about. The narrative from Mr Zuma’s camp, however, resonates more with them. Argument such as “white monopoly capital” trying to blackmail poor Mr Zuma is one they can easily identify with. Unsurprisingly, Mr Zuma’s inner circle feels quite relieved.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/will-save-south-africa/

Itinerant Nigerians

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

It is almost always true that when abroad and you sight a black man, it is well worth taking the risk that the person is Nigerian. You’d be surer if in response to polite entreaties, the passerby is deliberately snubbish. It depends on the setting though. Wait long enough, there would soon be the occasional irritation, the response to which would almost definitely confirm his origins. One out of every five blacks on planet earth is Nigerian. And no matter how much he feigns the perfect British or American accent, his archetypal Nigerian mannerisms are hard to conceal. Some argue we travel a lot because of our chaotic situation back home. Not necessarily. Yes, a lot seek the good life. Most are just curious. But a lot really travel just to show off. Take away the pictures of them at popular foreign landmarks, showing how ‘they are enjoying life,” some Nigerians might consider the trips a waste of money. Even the uber wealthy ones want to show how much ‘jollofing’ they are doing, posting pictures of themselves in their first or business class plane cabins or seats on social media. And these are the ‘small boys’. Big boys fly their private jets, with our stolen foreign exchange neatly tucked in their luggage it turns out – pictures of their vanity never include those for sure. You’d think with that much wealth they wouldn’t need the phony gratifications that soon pour afterwards. Nigerians are very curious and vain cats. We want to know: Where is it? What is it? What do they do there? Who runs things? (That curiosity, unfortunately, has not extended to science, innovation and progress. And it is not because of a lack of capacity for hard work. We are rarely slothful. In that vanity that we all seem to share perhaps lie the answer to our continued suffering, well-hidden under forced but outwardly believable smiles.)

Act, not bicker
So, imagine the anxiety of itinerant Nigerians when the nightmarish campaign promises of now American president, Donald Trump – especially on immigration – began to become reality. In the typical Nigerian fashion, our officials – when they are not busy behaving like we don’t exist – took to bickering over jurisdiction. The presidential adviser (‘senior special assistant’) on foreign affairs and the diaspora, the ever dynamic Abike Dabiri-Erewa – whose long-earned reputation for candour and palpable compassion from her days as a government-employed journalist is well-known – in her characteristic way, took to her first constituency, the media, advising Nigerians to re-consider non-essential travel to America, after a number of Nigerians were detained upon arrival at American airports and subsequently returned; even as they had valid visas.

You would think the Nigerian foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, a meek personality, would be a little pleased. He was not amused. Ordinarily, there is usually a power-play of sorts between presidential advisers and ministers. In most cases, the advisers prevail; because they often have the mandate of the chief of staff, who functionally acts for the president in most administrations. One does not know if Mrs Dabiri-Erewa consulted Mr Onyeama before going on air about her concerns. Bear in mind, the American incidents came not too long after the most recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians by South Africans. Considering how slow the wheel of governance turns in the public service, I would not be surprised at all if what actually transpired was that the no-nonsense Mrs Dabiri-Erewa finally lost her patience. And quite frankly, she is a more credible figure. After spending an entire career exposing untruths, advice coming from her is instantly credible. By his own admission to a local radio station, Mr Onyeama did not have a conference with her before his ministry issued a counter-advisory asking Nigerians to ignore her advice. The stakes are much too high for such pettiness. Mr Onyeama is a gentleman. But leadership requires dynamism as well.

Between getting an American visa, purchasing a ticket and so on, a Nigerian would have parted with at least a million naira (more than US$3,000), never mind the unbelievable stress in between. And upon getting to the American airport, the Nigerian typically has to endure myriad questions by security officials. With the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant stance, however, this scrutiny has taken on gargantuan proportions. So is the Nigerian better served by being told to travel only just to be served the bitterness of the many indignities Africans tend to endure at foreign airports? Or is it better to wait till one is sure all that toil ahead of the trip would not come to naught at just the time when one was beginning to sing praises? Surely it makes more sense for Mr Onyeama to focus on addressing the latter concern.

Give more than hope
There are numerous tales of woe by Nigerians, who upon reaching a foreign airport, are made to go through all sorts of screening. And this scrutiny is even more enhanced in Asian airports. Some candour here though. It is said Asians have difficulty differentiating African faces, hence why if you land in a Chinese airport, say, they single out Africans for more ‘enlightening’ pictures. At least that was my experience at the Shanghai airport some years back. Most Nigerians would ordinarily bear this (not that we are left with much of a choice) – as did I – if at the end of it all, with their documents deemed valid, they are allowed to go about their legitimate business. The uncertainty that comes with the possibility that even after all these, one may be ‘returned’ is hard to imagine.

Could it be that Mr Onyeama, a blue-passported minister, has so soon forgotten the experience of what it feels like to be a Nigerian abroad? Perhaps it is true then that not until our leaders compulsorily experience our daily challenges, they might not be more sensitive to our plight: our undeservedly pampered government officials must now ply the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, after the forced closure of the Abuja international airport for repairs. Needless to say, the road has become virtually anew overnight. Regardless of what motivates Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, the passion with which she does her duty is refreshing. Undeterred, she gave South African politicians covertly encouraging xenophobic attacks against Nigerians a piece of her mind only this past weekend. Stars just shine. Those who can’t bear the glare should shut their eyes.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/itinerant-nigerians/

Foreigners welcome

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Xenophobia, that odious human phenomenon, reared its ugly head in South Africa last week. With chilling consistency, the authorities have been all too happy to let it simmer for a while until, as it always does, it boils over. There have been such attacks before. Before this most recent one, violence erupted in April 2015 when Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, bemoaned the presence of foreigners, African ones especially: they ‘inconvenience locals’, he argued. In supposedly peaceful protests a few days after the first violent attacks broke out in the week just past, police would eventually disperse the protesters – gangs and criminals really – with tear gas and rubber bullets. But only after the marauders had helped themselves to goods not their own. Apart from the longstanding structural issues, the violent attacks are a failing of law enforcement, arguably deliberate, since when the authorities later did their duty, order was restored. It is a phony peace.

South Africa, in its current state, is a tinderbox of sorts. A perfection if you are looking for unseemly ways to warm the cockles of the hearts of a longsuffering majority black poor, whose goodwill and commonwealth greedy politicians squander like there is no tomorrow. So how about we let those hungry ones make away with a few loaves of bread, teach the stingy ‘Paki’ shopkeeper a lesson for a change? And those bloody arrogant and loud Nigerians, only just come and already driving flashy cars and stealing our women. Such anti-immigrant sentiments sing like a chorus to the ears of locals and foreigners alike in South Africa: it is all too familiar. But to allow the opportunistic politicians and the few crooks and joblesss know-nothings rewrite the narrative in favour of their myopic xenophobia would be a great disservice to the warm and lovely people of South Africa.

The majority of South Africans love foreigners and are not xenophobic. And yes, most love Nigerians. And we love you too. I condemn with the utmost vehemence, the opportunistic Nigerian student union leaders, who instead of taking over the streets in protest over the poor quality of education at our universities, the many languishing unpaid and underpaid lecturers, and our thieving politicians, decided the way to retaliate the erring ways of a few nameless South African criminals, was to destroy the property of a South African company; which by the way employs many Nigerians. So they can now give ultimatums? Empty barrels. Foreigners are welcome here.

Kick welfare state
Too high unemployment in South Africa – about a quarter of the population is jobless – is a ticking time-bomb. That some poor black South Africans have chosen to take out their frustrations at foreigners, particularly those of African descent, is somewhat disingenuous. Economic power remains within the firm grasp of the minority white population. And if the politicians feel the slightest relief that their ‘problem’ has found a vulnerable target to vent at, how soon before they turn on them? They are not waiting to find out. Never one to miss a political opportunity, Jacob Zuma, the South African president (never mind that he waited a few days to voice his condenmnation of the xenophobia-fuelled violence) threw a well-timed bone at the poor crowd – lest it becomes an uncontrollable rampaging horde: land would now be expropriated from whites without compensation.

That this recent populist move is coming from the enfeebled ruling African National Congress (ANC) leader, one who has caused his party much grief no less, and who cadres would gladly be rid off as party president come December, is not entirely surprising. Still, it is a most significant policy departure for a centrist party that hitherto – and wisely so – sought to balance the often conflicting needs of capital and politics. Credit for this downswing should go to the ultra-nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and its firebrand leader, Julius Malema, most definitely. A few probably had a foreboding of things to come: President Zuma touted ‘radical economic transformation’ at his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA). But most likely thought it was just huff and puff from a leader whose power is waning: Mr Zuma probably has no choice but to stir up some populist support. Not anymore.

Even so, some hard truths need to be told. Having almost half of households on at least one form of welfare is hardly a recipe for enterprise. How is it that an able-bodied individual gets to expect a paycheck for doing nothing at the end of every month? Where would that person get the incentive to engage in productive activity? South Africa’s welfare system has to be reformed. Authorities must make welfare payments conditional on productive engagement. How about structuring welfare payments to unemployed able-bodied youths as loans? Intelligent solutions would be what stops the vicious cycle of poverty, despondency, xenophobia, and criminality amongst poor black South Africans.

Immigrants prosper
A man who decides to leave home in search of greener pastures is hardly going to reach his destination only to just sit idle. Many have responsibilities back home, with numerous relatives ‘casting and binding’ for their success. And failure. They have to succeed. Unfortunately, this sometimes mean they do so by hook or crook. Even so, many immigrants succeed the legal and proper way. A Nigerian who all of a sudden finds himself in a country with 24-hour power supply, a reliable transportation system, and cheap food, can have his productivity quadrupled without the slightest addition of effort. This is why many succeed abroad. Many come from a life of toil and strife. To immigrate in the first instance would have required years of saving, and in the extreme case, taking a loan. Getting a visa would have required enduring weeks – sometimes months – at embassies, accompanied with fasting and prayer. Tell me, when that person eventually makes it out, what do you think he or she would do? South Africa benefits from immigrants. When they are not playing to the gallery, its politicians acknowledge this fact. Many, many Nigerians and South Africans live and do business together with great warmth and affection. The few xenophobic ‘haters’ in our midst will fail.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/foreigners-welcome/

Stage is set

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

As has become the tradition days before his budget statements, at least for the last two, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan has yet again been made to feel uncertain about his future. This time, it might not be a ruse. Brian Molefe, the disgraced former Eskom chief executive, it has been announced, would become a member of parliament; after erstwhile occupant of the seat he takes over, Abram Mudau, “stepped down voluntarily” for health reasons – he probably had little choice in the matter: it is alleged powers that be in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party instructed him to resign. Others suggest it was only a matter of the date (30 January): asking officials to sign undated resignation letters at the outset of their appointments is common practice. Some party stalwarts from the Hartbeespoort branch in North West Province that Mr Molefe supposedly belongs to, and would represent in parliament, have raised a ruckus. No matter. In the greater scheme of things, the manner of Mr Mudau’s exit is irrelevant: he is out and Mr Molefe is in. And clearly, a great deal of effort was deployed towards the enterprise. Just so the intent is not misconstrued – as if that were not all too palpable already, Mr Molefe’s swearing-in has been scheduled for 22 February: budget day.

Cometh the scandal
So last week, the Competition Commission ruled that a couple of local and foreign banks colluded to rig trading of the rand. Almost immediately, the ANC and South African president Jacob Zuma condemned, in probably the strongest tone ever from either of them, what are largely white-led financial institutions. As if sensing the vehement response was a barely veiled swipe at its chief, the Treasury came out with a similarly aggressive rebuke of the banks’ misdemeanour. Did both sides hear themselves loud and clear? You would think they did. Apparently, one side didn’t think so. Njabulo Nzuza, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary, was unequivocal in his remarks to TV network eNCA: “our government deployee [Mr Gordhan], since arriving at Treasury, has not made sure there is restructuring…we want a different kind of calibre cadre that would dismantle the approach of protecting banks in South Africa”. The matter should not be trifled with, however. Market manipulation is wrong and especially costly when it involves a country’s currency. So, erring banks should indeed have their day at the Competition Tribunal. Still, it is too late to depoliticize the issue: Zuma loyalists have an axe to grind with the banks.

Man in place
There are worries Mr Molefe, should he get the post, might not be as stringent as the likely outgoing finance minister, Mr Gordhan – albeit one wouldn’t place too strong a bet on his ouster just yet: he has proved to be as hard a man as his principal. Still, Mr Zuma’s newfound zeal for “radical economic transformation” rests a great deal on having a ‘comrade’ at Treasury; especially as Mr Gordhan has thus far proved to be an effective bulwark against the type of populist measures that Mr Zuma’s imminent economic radicalism must necessarily put in place. If one were to be objective though, the type of working relationship that currently exists between both men is ordinarily not desirable: Mr Gordhan can literally do whatever he likes. With myriad corruption scandals plaguing the Zuma administration, however, the situation can hardly be described as ordinary. Fears about a potential plunder of the treasury in the hands of a pliant Zuma minister are not misplaced. And almost all of the potential candidates that Mr Zuma might tip to replace Mr Gordhan would probably struggle to command the type of palpable clout that the incumbent currently enjoys with rating agencies and influential market participants. But these considerations pale in comparison with Mr Zuma’s widely-believed existential goal of seizing total control of government and the ANC before party leadership elections in December. Mr Gordhan is in the way. And time is really now Mr Zuma’s most potent enemy – he has probably just six months to consolidate power. Things may move very quickly indeed. And the budget? A narrower deficit of 3.2 percent of GDP, say, for the 2017/18 fiscal year (starts 1 April) could be targeted – 3.4 percent is estimated for 2016/17 – analysts suggest. To achieve this, it is expected that taxes on income, alcohol and tobacco could be raised. Higher fuel levy and value added tax are also probable, it is believed. But with Mr Gordhan already being nudged out the door, the budget statement may be no more than a nice speech.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/stage-is-set/

Yes, I’m with her

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Americans go to the polls today (8 November), most of them that is; some already cast their ballots in early voting. The campaigns ahead of the election have perhaps been the most vicious and uninspiring in recent American history. There is currently a wave of populism sweeping through some western democracies. From the anti-immigrant sentiment that underpinned the decision of Britons to leave the European Union to the growing clout of similarly inclined politicians in France and elsewhere, isolationist rhetoric is winning the day, posing a significant threat to years of progress on global multilateralism, inclusion and integration. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two leading American presidential candidates, are bipolar opposites, in the most extreme of ways. As wife to an American president, senator and then secretary of state, Mrs Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, has contributed to the shaping of global geopolitics for much of the past two decades. Her main opponent, the Republican Mr Trump, a billionaire whose wealth derives from tapping the vanity of Americans, is not similarly experienced. But considering how he has broken almost every rule and convention in American politics and still emerged the Republican Party flagbearer, underestimating him was a huge mistake. But even as a potential Trump presidency is no longer farfetched, Mr Trump, an unashamed bully, would irrespective of the outcome of the election come to exemplify that ugly side of ‘Americanness’ for some time to come. Still, the election is Mrs Clinton’s to lose. But will she win?

Beware of closet Trumpistas
Mr Trump is racist, rude, and disrespectful of women. And he ran a very dirty campaign. Both sides did actually. But it could be argued that with Mrs Clinton’s vast political experience and clout, it would have been almost impossible for Mr Trump to gain an edge over her with a clean one. So to that extent, there is some sanity in his madness. And considering how almost just as much Americans who might vote for Mrs Clinton would do so for Mr Trump, his rhetoric, reprehensible as it is, clearly resonates with not a few of them. Yes, even the educated ones, who for fear of backlash may not voice their support in public and in polls by the media, but may gladly do so in the privacy of the voter polling booth: closet Trumpistas may account for more than the margin of error in the lead Mrs Clinton had in media polls.

Some hitherto undecided voters also pitched their tents in Mr Trump’s camp in the week to election day. That is, before the country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reckoned Mrs Clinton did not commit a crime after all by using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. After clearing Mrs Clinton of any wrongdoing initially, the FBI revealed about a week to the election that it was examining newly discovered emails on a third party’s computer. The revelation proved to be costly for the potential first female American president: angst was that her carelessness could have caused state secrets to be stolen or glimpsed by unauthorised parties. Although it is not all too clear how much of that support she has regained after the FBI clearance just two days to the vote, the renewed suspicions may not have mellowed quickly enough for her to regain lost ground. Regardless, concerns raised by some leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan about her inexcusable negligence – she had to have known her error – on the email issue are not entirely without merit: Mrs Clinton did put American national security at risk.

Which of them is best for Africa?
Mrs Clinton, definitely. The Democrats are typically pro-black and pro-Africa. About sixteen years ago, Mrs Clinton’s husband signed the ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act,’ a deliberate and well-considered legislation that has proved to be better for African trade than the European Union’s ‘Economic Partnership Agreements,’ say. Similar Africa-friendly policies – ‘Power Africa’ and ‘Young African Leaders Initiative’ – by outgoing President Barack Obama, another Democrat, would likely be continued and probably enhanced under Mrs Clinton. Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant stance on the other hand, is very unnerving to African greener pasture-seekers in America, whose remittances are a major source of support back home. Not that Republicans are generally averse to the best interests of Africans or African-Americans. For instance, George W. Bush, the 43rd American president, appointed exemplary African-Americans, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to the secretaryship of state, probably the most visible public office after the country’s presidency. Mr Trump is an unusual candidate, however. His barely veiled white supremacist rhetoric is hardly just that: fears are it might become policy should he get elected. Even so, there is a risk Mrs Clinton may be complacent about the continent: Africa was barely mentioned during the campaign, if at all.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays); http://www.businessdayonline.com/category/analysis/columnist/rafiq-raji/

Africans can judge themselves

By Rafiq Raji, PhD 

Unfair system makes easy prey of Africans
At least three African countries have announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa and Burundi would almost certainly be out by October next year. Many are likely to follow. Their reason? The ICC unfairly targets Africans. Established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the ICC could as well relocate to Africa instead of its current wintry abode in the Netherlands. All but one – relates to allegations of war crimes in the 2008 Georgian armed conflict – of the ten cases currently being investigated by the ICC are related to African states. For a United Nations (UN) body, it is almost ludicrous that two permanent members of the UN Security Council do not subscribe to the court. China never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. The United States decided not to ratify the treaty in 2002, after having signed it two years earlier. The case of America, that supposed bastion of democracy and justice, is particularly shameful. Even as it has not subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the court, America, or any of the other three members of the Security Council, can block any case from being referred to the ICC. The United States would almost certainly stop any attempt to prosecute Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Palestine. And under the current geopolitical order, it is very unlikely that Russia would allow the prosecution of the Syrian Assad regime, under whose watch that country has been virtually decimated. Not that that couldn’t change if the Russian regime suddenly rearranged its priorities, like its ever-scheming leader, Vladimir Putin, is wont to do.

Justice for all
If the ICC is to become legitimate, all members of the UN must be subject to its jurisdiction. Else, no African country has any business being a party to it. The ICC’s African tilt thus far certainly feeds the derogatory notion that Africans could not be trusted to dispense justice for themselves. Worse still, western exceptionalists are able to point to Africans’ longstanding mistrust of their ‘big men.’ And there might be some merit to that supposition, when you look at how justice is perpetually subverted in a lot of African countries. Ironically, the judiciary is probably the most credible institution left standing in most of them. Relatively, that is. For even as it was well known that judicial officers were similarly engaged in a myriad of corrupt activities, they at least went about their indiscretions with some sense of shame. And most of the corrupt ones tried to avoid ostentation. Not all of them it turns out. Considering how they had been largely left alone, the seeming impunity made some of them careless: Nigerian judges currently have a credibility problem, after raids on the homes of some very senior ones amongst them revealed they may have been living above their means. About a year ago, Ghanaian judges were actually caught on video by an investigative journalist demanding for bribe and sex, leading to the dismissal of at least twenty judges and magistrates. Still, judicial corruption is not peculiar to African countries, albeit it is more rampant. The South African system is probably as robust as it can get though. Regardless, Africans have demonstrated they can rise up to the cause of justice when needed: in May 2016, with support from the African Union, former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, was successfully prosecuted in Senegal for crimes ranging from torture to slavery during his almost a decade rule.

Empower the African court
At the core of the flawed state of the ICC is equity and equality. Is it a coincidence that most cases at the ICC are on African countries? Surely it is not the only continent where such atrocities have been committed. I am still personally distraught watching how Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, a sitting African head of state, was made to go through the indignity of a trial on live international television. If that is not reminiscent of colonialism, I don’t know what is. Although the charges against him were eventually dropped, Mr Kenyatta has the unenviable record of being the first head of state to be so tried. I agree that victims of the violence during the elections that heralded his emergence deserve justice. But still, heads of states are treated with respect not because of who they are but because they embody the sovereignty of a people. Yes, most leave much to be desired. Even so, some pretensions matter: everyone deserves a certain level of dignity. I have heard arguments about the motive of the Zuma-led South African government in seeking to exit the ICC at this time. Critics of the South African move have suggested that given the country’s stature, it may have unwittingly provided cover for some not so well-regarded African leaders – ‘elected dictators’ – to now make similar moves. The Gambia proved the point all too quickly, announcing its withdrawal shortly after. No matter. There is an opportunity in the growing anti-ICC sentiment: the mandate of the AU’s African Court of Justice and Human Rights should be expanded.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays).

What should a chastened ANC do?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Change or we will punish you
Local elections this week (3 August), apart from being a test of President Jacob Zuma’s and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s popularity, could also be a turning point in South African politics. Polls suggest the Democratic Alliance (DA) – the official opposition party – may win key municipalities: Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay. In any case, there are indications the ANC may need to find coalition partners in some, as it may not be able to secure enough votes to remain in charge. In other instances, it is the DA that would need the support of other parties. Even so, DA’s likely triumph would be a victory for liberalism: the ANC would not need to shift all too much to the left. DA gains would be a positive on other fronts. It would be the clearest warning yet to the ANC from the electorate: clean up your act. Furthermore, it would signal a welcome departure – albeit likely still meek – from racial politics.

Even as Mr Zuma is decried by the comfortable bourgeoisie in cities, he remains a popular politician among the common folk. So, elitist and middle-class city dwellers may harp on all the wrongs committed by Mr Zuma, his victories – he survived an impeachment vote and got off many corruption scandals quite leniently – pyrrhic though they might be, are a source of inspiration for black South Africans with similarly poor backgrounds: mostly older, little educated (if at all), live in the hinterlands, and are extremely loyal to the ANC. Still, even these staunch supporters know the ANC is failing them: services are poor, jobs are scarce, and opportunities are sparse.

But would Mr Zuma be bothered? If it is the vantage Mr Zuma that we have come to know, he will probably just shrug it off. In any case, the ANC would likely still win the general election in 2019, albeit probably not as popularly hitherto. Because even as the DA likely makes gains in the cities, it is doubtful it would be able to make similar progress in villages and homesteads far and wide – it can’t easily shake off the perception that it is a ‘white’ party. For now.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the ultra-leftist offshoot of the ANC, is better placed to win the support of rural dwellers. But it is inexperienced: only has seats in parliament. Council seats it is able to secure in these local elections, its first, would provide it the opportunity to demonstrate it can deliver where the ANC has failed: improve service delivery, create jobs, and provide more housing.

Nonetheless, the ANC has the higher ground. And its support is the most wide-ranging, and would likely remain so for a while. Thus, a potential rebuke of the ANC at the polls this week, would not be so much a rebuff of the ANC, as it would be a cry for change. A call for a reformed ANC.

Time for ANC reformers to assert themselves
Reformist elements within the ANC need to assert themselves much more forcefully, not just in the back-rooms. First, get Mr Zuma out. Second, insist that Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president and Mr Zuma’s likely successor, take a deputy from the younger cadres. Third, reassess the utility of the tripartite alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). That with COSATU especially: unless organized labour gives way on the minimum wage – which is relatively high – and supports policies that engender labour-intensive industries, unemployment will continue to rise; the rate of which is about 27 percent currently. A 2014 paper by the renowned African political economy scholar, Robert Rotberg, partly blaims COSATU’s ‘labour aristocracy approach,’ for ‘the failure to create myriad jobs.’ ANC’s acquiescence with COSATU’s stance, even as the labour market dysfunction is writ large, is defeatist and has to change. Only visionary leadership, of that ilk by the old man now gone, would be able to bring this about.

Youth and vigour perhaps?
The demographics of registered voters suggest there is a gap that a coalition of opposition parties (or a new centrist party drawing its membership from reformist elements in the ANC, DA, and others) could fill. About a quarter of registered voters are aged between 18 and 29: so-called post-apartheid ‘born-frees,’ oldest of whom are now 22 years old, fall under this group. Together with those aged 30-39, this cohort is about half of the voters’ roll. They do not share the loyalty of older South Africans to the ANC. They simply want jobs. The EFF has been quick to target them. Quite surprisingly, it has not enjoyed the type of wide appeal amongst them that you would intuitively expect, judging from its showing in polls thus far. And even as DA optics are ‘youthful,’ the perception that it remains a ‘white party’ is one that still resonates with the cohort. So, the ANC would probably be able to retain its numbers among their ranks, albeit increasingly less so. That is, those who still choose to participate in the political process. For there are many quite disillusioned. And signs of unrest are emerging: apart from sometimes violent protests against unpopular party choices, there have been at least a dozen politically-motivated killings of ANC members this year, mostly relatively young cadres. Some erstwhile ANC members – not necessarily young – are choosing to contest these local elections as independent candidates. Another group of rebels formed its own political party, the ‘Forum for Service Delivery’ in Rustenburg (a platinum mining city in the North West province), just so it could contest. To keep the youth (and indeed other cadres) in the fold, a reformed ANC may need to purge its upper echelons of older (and veteran) members. Better still, it should make candidates’ selection more democratic. Otherwise, it could have more rebellions on its hands.

Also published in my Business Day Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://businessdayonline.com/what-should-a-chastened-anc-do/

The President’s dilemma*

By Rafiq Raji

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‘Good morning, Mr President.’ Thabo made sure to steady his voice as he exchanged pleasantries with his boss. This morning, especially. As Chief of Staff, it was his job to broach difficult subjects with him before they became issues.

‘Morning, Thabo. How are you this morning.’ Why the heck does he want to know how I am? Sh*t f*ck! Does he know? Thabo was in a panic. He finally ran out of patience with his drinking buddy at the bar last night. The doctor said the stitches wouldn’t be obvious. Wasn’t the make-up supposed to do the magic. Thabo knew he should not have trusted that sweet-talking baldie. His security detail hushed things up, of that he was sure. But the president had spies everywhere.

‘Thabo?’ the president said. ‘Yes, very well, I’m quite fine this morning’ the flustered Chief of Staff answered.

President Tshabalala was always in good spirits. To the ignorant, he came across as exceedingly charming. To those in the know however, that charm masked a very steely temperament. The man was a survivor. After the umpteenth scandal, you’d think he’d be licking his wounds in his village compound by now. It was only a matter of time before he was kicked out of State House, the Deputy President said then. The other grandies thought so too. He was still here, old wily fox that he is.

When the president first told him he had nominated him to lead his staff, it was almost too good to be true. Not that Thabo Njoko was not ambitious. After all, that was the only reason he joined politics during those heady freedom-fighting days back in Varsity. It was ambition that drove him to run for the presidency of the University Students Union. He’d always thought his fellow students were a little naïve. What power did a student president who hoped to graduate have against those with the means to stop him? He’d always longed for real power to do things, change things. Top on his agenda was to change the racial mix of God’s Own Country’s economic system. This was supposed to be easy under a President Tshabalala. Well, at least so he thought. The President had been unusually slow in announcing a replacement for the outgoing Governor of the Central Bank of God’s Own Country (CBGOC).

‘Mr President, I say this with all due respect. But you need to get off your a** and appoint a new central bank governor’

President Tshabalala raised his head slowly and stared at his Chief of Staff. The boy had some guts, you had to give him that. He’d always been irritated by how easily his ministers jumped on his every word like he was the messiah himself. Bloody wimps! But on this morning, Thabo surely didn’t choose a good time to be courageous.

‘What did you just say, Thabo?’ The president was clearly irritated, Thabo thought.

‘My apologies, Mr President.’ The Wand depreciated by 5% again yesterday.

This appointment cannot be delayed any longer.’

The president’s indecision on the matter was still a mystery to him. Surely, the president was not about to throw away this opportunity. Thabo had thought about what he was going to make sure the press secretary said when the appointment was finally made. They were going to rid those communists of their favourite talking point. With the finance minister and central bank governor both black, it would be difficult for the president’s opponents to continue to say God’s Own Country was still under economic subjugation. At least, so Thabo thought.

‘Tell me, Thabo. Those pair of shoes you are wearing. It is leather, isn’t it?’ ‘Why do you think it is priced so high it could buy you a hundred cows? It is made of cow hide after all, is it not?’

Thabo pondered about the right answer. The old man usually went philosophical before a dress down. Best to keep quiet. ‘It is a simple question, Thabo’ said the President.

‘I’m not sure I see your point, Mr President. ‘Take a seat, boy!’ This was not going well. Thabo prepared for the worst.

‘Why did that bank appoint two co-CEOs, one white, one black? ‘Better still, do you think they could ever appoint two white co-CEOs?’ Thabo had many shortcomings; dullness was not one of them. President Tshabalala hoped the boy would finally learn something. After all, he could be President himself someday.

‘Oh, I see. You need to replace Dr. Kruger with another Dr. Kruger. Crickey!’

‘Now you understand the dilemma our great father faced’ said the president.

Thabo was astonished at how politically immature he really was. God’s Own country could not afford the two guardians of the country’s economy to both be black. Not yet, at least. It all made sense now. When markets worried about Dr. Kruger’s upcoming departure, it was not really because they’d miss him. Of course, he’d done a fine job. In spite of the ratings downgrade and labour unrest, global market participants’ confidence in the Central Bank of God’s Own Country (CBGOC) remained unwavering. Dr. Kruger’s fine stewardship was a major factor, of course. The old fox knew that although Dr. Kruger’s deputies were more than qualified, market participants would remain jittery for a while if any one of them were appointed. The administration needed some reprieve on the economy. Not with all the other problems the president was still grappling with.

‘I’ll prepare a list of suitable candidates right away, Mr President.’

***********

*The President’s dilemma is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

*Photo credit: http://www.missouriskies.org