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African Briefs

Africa Brief                                                                             23 May 2016

Endgame in progress     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 1050

It is difficult to escape the sense of an endgame in progress, not between the ruling ANC government and its assorted opposition, but within the ANC. Thus the cleavages between parties has now finally come out in the open inside the ruling party, too.

Between the forces of modernism and tribalism, populism and order, radicalism and pragmatism, ethics and its absence. And a few shades in between. It is hardly straightforward. For is it merely a duel between corrupt cadres and clean ones? Or does it go deeper, also regarding the policy frames they stand for? The future outcome depends on it, whatever shade gets on top and gains a free hand in shaping things (until eventually also checked by new forces brought forth by an evolving SA society).

Africa Brief                                                                             22 May 2016

Mobilizing for Decency     

by Cees Bruggemans and Prof Willie Esterhuyse                   words 1050

The ruling SA governing party appears to have fallen apart, with two major factions remaining in the ring, battling it out as to who will inherit the Zuma legacy. There are those who put self-interest first, in the manner they have succeeded in gaining advantage from state relationships and wanting to perpetuate such advantages into the future. And there are those who put the national interest first, and to that end pledge their loyalty to an ANC that represents such values.

Without putting a finer point to it, we are talking about the dark forces of rent-seeking as opposed to the forces of public decency. There is a huge ethical difference between them, and also one of policy, the one taking us assuredly backwards, the other wanting to take the country forwards.

Africa Brief                                                                             15 May 2016

The Zuma Groove     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 1100

For younger readers, the vinyl long-playing records are probably, along with the Beatles and other assorted 1960s paraphernalia, an absolute mystery. An old technology so ancient, it must be difficult to envisage what it looked like, never mind how it worked and its quirky ways.

For on scratched records, the needle had a way of getting stuck on a particular groove, starting to make the most awful noises, reminding mostly of cat fights on hot summer nights, howling & whining the night away.

Africa Brief                                                                             8 May 2016

A Love Affair Gone Awry     

by Cees Bruggemans                    words 1650

We can't all be capitalists. Indeed, only a handful generally are. The rest of us are hired labour. The ones that are capitalists, risking capital, reputation, health and happiness, and succeed, either through luck, hard work and/or inherited capital, tend to collect very large rewards for their efforts.

We shouldn't begrudge them their innings. Our progress would be a lot less comprehensive than it has been if they had not tried or if we had denied them the opportunity of fully deploying their capabilities. Then again, there is only so much differentiation a society can handle, especially a freedom-loving one with high ethics. There is something depraved in winners-take all continuously. The distinctions in society would very quickly turn very extreme. And there would be too much temptation all round to live off the family capital long ago accumulated.

Africa Brief                                                                             2 May 2016

Buying some more time   

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 780

The Fed keeps on being interpreted as dovish (is it really?), China gives the impression of stabilizing its growth without looking for a major Yuan depreciation (is it really?), oil keeps rallying on supposed demand/supply realignment (is it really?), SA keeps being rerated as Zuma gets checked left & right (is he really?), and the Rand keeps clawing back lost territory (for sure).

But given shaky foundations, how quickly could this narrative shift, the Fed is back on track, the Dollar resumes its bull run, and the Rand & fragile friends have to head for the hills anew? Could it be weeks, months, or only next year? And how will the economy respond, if at all?

Africa Brief                                                                             27 April 2016

The Trapped Struggle     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 920

Today, 22 years into its universal freedom, SA remains deeply mired in its inner struggle to find its feet, and to get a strong economic development momentum going. Its deep cleavages in terms of exclusion (meaning unemployment, poverty, inequality, discouragement), keep lingering largely unchanged.

SA’s progress to change the nature of participation in the modern part of its economy is mainly forced rather than facilitated. The emphasis is on demands made rather than on what will be contributed willingly. Instead of the economy gearing itself naturally for expansion because it is seen to be in everyone’s interest, large parts find themselves either stripped for personal gain (in the public sector), or otherwise on the defensive (in the private sector).

Africa Brief                                                                             22 April 2016

An Unstable Econ Head    

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 620

In a functioning high-performance economy, one can expect a stable head at the centre of things. Meaning a government coherently offering policies in support of the economy, easing its supply conditions and reinforcing demand incentives, in just sufficient ways to entice strong productive private performance.

That isn't quite what we have. Instead, the head of state is singularly preoccupied with staying in office, engaging in politics that leaves little time for coordinating economic policies. These are left to ministers in charge, people pursuing all kinds of transformative agendas, attacking the existing structure rather than making it work in support of the economy as we find it.

Africa Brief                                                                                  17 April 2016

The Real SA Contest     

by Cees Bruggemans and Prof Willie Esterhuyse                   words 830

Contemporary SA breaks down into two major blocs, for simplicity sake identified as 60% rural traditionalists along with self-serving hangers-on from across the entire societal spectrum, and 40% urban modernists. The real contest for the soul of political, social and economic SA appears to be between these two major sections in society.

On a first reading, the 60% bloc is hewn from granite. Nothing can tear it asunder. If it stands together, it could retain power indefinitely and do pretty much what it wants, always fully acknowledging the constitution of course, but not really restrained by it in following its baser instincts. And the 40% bloc will be left gnashing its teeth, pulling its hair and exhibit more such signs of deep frustration, but with little chance of budging the 60% bloc. For in a democracy 50% is the magic number, granite doesn't weather and progressive opposition doesn't stand a chance in changing this demographic reality.

Africa Brief                                                                             10 April 2016

Chieftaincy & the economy     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 1450

It has taken awhile to sink in, but apparently some while ago we exchanged a modern state-level society and economy, governed by a hard-earned written constitution, for a Chieftaincy of a minor tribe in the person of our President. This exchange didn't remain without consequences for said society & economy, as even a chieftain of a minor chiefdom brings his very own challenges and priorities, as history so richly documents.

On the strength of daily observation, we appear to have taken a few steps back in our governance sophistication, from state-level modernity this past century to something approaching a minor Chieftaincy. That is apparently not the natural progression of things in human affairs, but we seem to have agreed to do so mostly of our own free will, though admittedly perhaps most of the time being somewhat in the dark, not quite understanding this new “2007 class project”, it being done with great stealth. Though also, truth be told, with much bitter complaining at so much that just didn't look, smell or sounded right.

Africa Brief                                                                             5 April 2016

Why SA isn't going down     

by Cees Bruggemans                   words 800

Not all may feel comfortable with the claim that SA isn't going down. At a time that markets have penalised us for Zupta state capture, when rating agencies may shortly confirm the junk spreads dished out by markets, when agriculture, motor trade, electricity generation and non-residential building trade report shrinking output and sales, with too much of industry drifting in and out of coma, and far too many announcements of job cuts.

Though our growth pace has dwindled to near standstill, we are overall still expanding, and hanging together, often in remarkable stable ways. Blame it on the quality of human capital (in some respects), on the institutional architecture (in others), our natural resilience, and of course past investments, with ongoing renewal technologically.

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