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African Briefs

Africa Brief                                                                             24 January 2016

A Tactical Retreat?     

by Cees Bruggemans and Prof Willie Esterhyse                  words 830

The rethink regarding finance Minister Nene’s successor in emergency session by the ANC leadership on December 13 was not an indication of a different school of political thinking winning out. Instead, pure self-preservation to the fore, apparently realising a misstep had been made, but only a tactical one, leaving the broad policy philosophy very much intact.

As it proved too difficult to reappoint Nene (him having supposedly been proposed for the regional office of the BRICs bank, and reportedly refusing the offer of reappointment), the next best solution was to recall Gordhan. This was an ironic twist, seeing that 18 months earlier Gordhan had been dismissed under similar circumstances (on similar grounds?), and had been replaced by his second in command Nene, at the time a political unknown, with Gordhan fobbed off with a minor ministership (let it be said, apparently gratefully accepted, for it meant staying in the game).

Africa Brief                                                                            3 January 2016

The Incomplete Restoration   

by Cees Bruggemans                        words 1200

We sadly waved finance minister Nene goodbye, unceremoniously dumped one Wednesday night in early December, as so much unwanted rubbish put out in the road, only to hear about a surprising senior ANC leadership meeting the next Sunday after an orgy of market turmoil in between, with more such turmoil still to come in following weeks (making for anything but a restful Xmas) and banks nervously congregating in anterooms waiting for an opportunity to explain what this could mean. That offered insights into political economy with a difference.

Only to joyfully welcome back finance minister Gordhan after a serious change of political minds, after which supposedly all forgiven and forgotten? Well, not quite, you don't just dump good finance ministers and replace them with pliable nonentities without losing an awful lot of “face” (that Chinese thing) & credibility (that Western thing). And if you then in record time, unprecedented in living memory, are made to see the error of your ways (perhaps also remembering what's happening to Rouseff over in Brazil right now), and recant, it doesn't mean you immediately regain all lost credibility or face, no matter how good the reputation of incoming finance minister Gordhan or the promise of less political meddling (if true, for take a very good look at the overall leadership).

Africa Brief                                                                            25 December 2015

South Africa’s Road Forward  

by Cees Bruggemans  and  Prof Willie Esterhyse                        words 1030

SA history has had a few very major modern turnings in the road. The 1948 election outcome ending the Smuts era. The 1960 MacMillan Winds of Change speech. The 1964 Mandela Rivonia trial speech from the dock. The Verwoerd parliamentary knifing in 1966. The June 1976 Soweto uprising. The 1985 Botha Rubicon speech. The dramatic 1989 exit of Botha as President. The 1990 De Klerk announcement setting all free politically. The 1994 democratic election. The 2009 elevation of Jacob Zuma to the purple. And now the serial firing, hiring, redeploying & reappointing of three SA finance ministers in a matter of four days in December 2015, in the process showing up Zuma as a winged president.

And the bigger question by far: do we stay on our chosen path, as decided by Zuma, or are we in the process of another fundamental course correction? Staying the old course suggests its own extrapolated route to ruin. Changing course, depending on the helmsman, may give us hope of giving the looming rocks a miss.

Africa Brief                                                                            23 December 2015

Recapturing the State   

by Cees Bruggemans                        words 860

Does the obvious stare us in the face? First losing the state and then having to recapture it. But that still begs two questions: did we ever fully lose the state, and can we truly recapture her, if already critically lost in parts?

There is the sense that president Zuma during his six years in power since 2009 has captured the state, that the Nene firing two weeks ago was the major banana peel, and that reformers are now well positioned to recapture the state. Yet all these propositions can be questioned.

Africa Brief                                                                            20 December 2015

The three-dimensional Zuma   

by Cees Bruggemans                         words 1600

There appear to be three faces to our president, not unlike the Three Faces of Eve, that don't make it any easier to understand the man, his actions, his times & what comes next. But one should perhaps try, for we have an ever sharper duality, regarding whether he would go (early) or whether he stays (to the end of his second term, though a third and more term now seems a bridge too far following events of last weekend).

The three dimensions I have in mind operate independently of each other, possible hugely increasing complexity.

Africa Brief                                                                             16 December 2015

The Zim Road Pushback   

by Cees Bruggemans                        words 850

On what kind of road is Zim, and are we following in her footsteps? Or are we different, more complex, resilient, less easily taken, forwards evolving where Zim by now has retreated 500 years into past medievalism and still accelerating?

The Zim decades started off promising enough, but when people turned against their ruler they got a taste of the whip (North Korean brigades) and democratic voting mechanisms became rigged, meaning elitist kleptomaniacs took control.

Africa Brief                                                                            13 December 2015

Fearful, Fearless    13/12

by Cees Bruggemans                        words 700

I have a problem. It is called a duality. Thinking South Africa (there is a much bigger other South Africa, worthy of its own psychoanalysis), breaks down into two clear groupings, those fearful (many by now petrified) and those not fearful (many to the point of casualness). There doesn't seem to be a middle way. This is just an anecdotal observation, but a powerful one, for where does this distinction in thinking originate?

It doesn't remind of dog lovers (nearly everyone can be made to love a dog, no matter the mongrel), but certainly of cat lovers (most human populations split in two, either loving cats, or hating them with a passion, but nearly no-one being indifferent to them, something to do with regal cat personalities which calls forth either genuine admiration or deeply felt abhorrence).

Africa Brief                                                                            6 December 2015

On Edge but not in Crisis  

by Cees Bruggemans                        words 900

There are many commentators describing SA as being politically on the brink of an economic crisis. The President's lingering presence is seen as especially problematical. If he doesn't go soon, the argument runs, crisis will engulf us all. It is then but a small step to suggest the President will vacate before his time is fully up, after which all will be fine.

Perhaps none of that is quite true. Though our politics may be indulging in many expensive pastimes, the country is not close to economic crisis. Is that the same as saying the President is not close to going before his time is up? And even when he goes, all will not suddenly be fine? It is the expensive pastimes that need to be rolled back, not a given when so many seem to identify with them.

Africa Brief                                                                            29 November 2015

The Right, Wrong, Crooked   

by Cees Bruggemans                         words 620

A simple framework distinguishes between right & wrong, the good & the bad. But in SA we have to acknowledge yet a third possibility: the crooked. And it turns out the crooked are in charge, making fools of both the right & wrong.

This makes for some confusion, many thinking that wrong & crooked are the same, but they aren't. The wrong are merely misguided. The crooked really bad.

So who is wrong, who is right, and who crooked?

Africa Brief                                                                            15 November 2015

When push comes to shove   

by Cees Bruggemans  and Prof Willie Esterhuyse                       words 1250

When push comes to shove, the politically entrenched have a way of offering pushback. But their preferred styles & policy choices may have their own logic, in democracies leading to performance disappointment and from there to eventual turning of flanks in leadership battles, and at worst political majorities being lost, political fragmentation deepening and new alliances & leaders coming to fore, their existence long being unsuspected.

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