@Jamwanda2 on Saturday: South African GNU and Zim Economy

@Jamwanda2 on Saturday

GNU as portfolio control

This week, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was inaugurated for his second and last term in office under the current Constitution.

What is now awaited is announcement of the new Cabinet under the GNU arrangement. Of course the media is simplistically fixated with persons: who is in, and where?

A more thoughtful curiosity centres around portfolio allocations among GNU partners.

It is that, not ministerial persons and positions, which reveals where the loadstar of the new Government is.

Readily, key ministries relate of Defence, National Security, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance and Economy, Mines, Public Service, in South African circumstances Labour, and of course Information. We already know that Speakership has gone to the ANC, deputised by the DA.

 The Mugabe strategy for GNU

Our own experiences here under GNU are quite instructive. The then President, late RG Mugabe, followed a three-tier strategy which we can now place in public domain.

Robert Mugabe

Firstly, he ring-fenced strategic ministries/portfolios he would never have given away. Secondly, he identified key ministries he could give away to ensure his GNU partners had some veneer of credibility of substantive presence in the arrangement.

Thirdly, he isolated key Ministries which for purposes of control-in-sharing, he planned for co-ministering. 

Maybe a fourth tier came by way of portfolios which previously ran as one, but at the time needed splitting in order to accommodate a bigger cast and pool of appointable officials from both ZANU and MDC-T. 

Many might recall we had a Ministry for Constitutional Affairs, which got excised out of the Justice Ministry. Of course he made sure those deputising portfolios he had given away were solid characters who would checkmate ministers from the other side.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet system was strengthened to make sure all key decisions went through Cabinet for clearance.

That left little room for whims or outside influence.

 The role of Permanent Secretaries in GNU

The second key area to address then related to deployment of Permanent Secretaries.

What many do not know is that the soul and continuity in any Ministry reposes in its Permanent Secretary. 

What that means is even those portfolios you give away, remain within the reach of the dominant party if the Permanent Secretary is strong and ideologically loyal and properly aligned.

Critically, the Permanent Secretary controls and deploys the resources of a ministry, whether human, financial or institutional.

He/she also directs the beginnings of Policy. To both ends, he or she controls the direction and tempo of programmes, and even the legislative agenda which any one portfolio processes for consideration by Parliament.

Playfully dissemble and dismantle

The third and last tier relates to parastatals and SOEs, themselves key actors in the public sector.

Many will recall the sharp altercation involving the then Information and Publicity, and ICT ministry over control of ZBC under our GNU.

The appointing authority needs to make sure that what you lose on the swings, you possibly regain on the roundabouts.

Or vice-versa. Overall, this is a very intricate, strategic plan under any GNU arrangement. 

A clever leader will embed within the agreed allocative plan a subterranean strategy of eventually recovering control, both policy/administrative and, even more critically and at the expiry of the GNU, the electoral. 

A good GNU arrangement is one where a hitherto subdued dominant party recovers ground in order to prevail in the next polls. 

An astute GNU leader is one who progressively and gently rattles the arrangement, while steadying the GNU ship for stability and legitimacy; it must not collapse prematurely, or generate too many potentially wrecking complaints from partners.

But eventually, it must be wrecked, whether gently by time, or rudely by well-timed dissolution.

Here we called it “tambawakachenjera”, which roughly translates to: “playfully dissemble and dismantle”.

Propensity for soft lifestyles

Of course South Africa is not Zimbabwe. Foremost, ANC’s strongest partner under GNU is strategic, rich and white. It has a whole white economy behind and backing it. 

This is a far-cry from our rag-tag MDC-T whose material and power profile was well known.

It was not hard to toss Mephistophelian temptations at them, barely hard to distract them through sponsored licentiousness. 

They had never held real power; they were men and women of sparse means who hungrily lapped at fame and softer lifestyles.

Overall, they were hungry for power and good life, both of which became their undoing and utter ruin.

Three years into GNU, an image of latitudinarianism, corruption and blatant abuse of power had firmly encrusted onto their bodies, whether individually or collectively. Not so with the lot in South Africa.

Lurking spooks and ghosts

Second and more critically, white South Africa retains a vast pool of remnant civil servants and security personnel, both traceable to apartheid days.

If truth be told, whites in South Africa never quite disengaged; they remained hovering around key portfolios, steadily and stealthily coming back now and then through consultancies amidst broken services and hefty failures of parastatals and State enterprises.

Or worse, as sub-contractees. Security-wise, the Navy and Air Force barely changed materially, with many veterans from the struggle having been retired from active service.

Worse, the security sector in South Africa got significantly privatised, post-apartheid. 

It was quite disturbing to see the Security Establishment there subcontracting to private security actors management of security in roiling areas like KZN.

 It is easy to quickly move these white spooks and ghosts from the twilight into active, open service as bona fide public servants. Noteworthy, Democratic Alliance has already pre-bargained control of the Public Service portfolio.

Apartheid business dismantle dominant politics

Third and critically, South African Big Business is highly invested in the GNU.

It engineered it anyway, and at great cost. Consequently, it will not be indifferent as parties to the GNU transact portfolios and personnel. 

Fundamentally, Big Business wants a functional State, itself a euphemism for the return of the white State, albeit fronting blacks. Here in Zimbabwe, the State had dismantled the Rhodesian Economy; there in South Africa, the residual yet still dominant Apartheid Economy has dismantled the politics and rulership of a Liberation Movement.

That is a key, fundamental difference.

Which takes me to the main issue for the week.

Makoni, Kasukuwere, Zuma’s predecessors

I read very simplistic appreciation of what the advent of the South African GNU means for Zimbabwe and its Economy. 

This appreciation is largely coming from voices in Zimbabwe’s Business Sector. Some of these voices are actually venting a veiled envy for what has happened in South Africa politically, wishing it had happened here in 2023.

Nothing really surprising; I am aware a good number of business entities here rooted for Chamisa, or at least for a reduction of the Zanu PF margin of winning.

This is what was behind the attack on our currency so close to the election dates. 

Others who were a little more complex, created and egged Kasukuwere on, hoping for a hung result.

Zuma’s predecessor was born here, in the double form of Simba Makoni and Saviour Kasukuwere.

The latter has not shied from admitting to as much in public.

GNU as the preferred political half-way house

So, too, did foreign powers: they preferred a hung result en-route to the eventual capitulation of Zanu PF as a governing ruling party.

The Americans never made this a secret. 

Chamisa did not need structures or even appointable minions post elections; this is why he ran the whole election the way he did.

He was meant to partner Zanu PF, the same way DA today partners the ANC.

Most of his appointees would have come from elsewhere, principally from business and the academia.

Of course neither the Kasukuwere nor the Chamisa strategy worked, much to the disappointment of Zimbabwe business and foreign interests.

Saviour Kasukuwere

Coalitions and control

Let it be remembered that the notion of coalitions is the latest template for imperialism is Southern Africa, particularly in polities were the situation remains unripe for the outright ousting of a Liberation Movement. Or potentially incendiary, in the event of a sudden such development. 

Coalitions or GNU is the preferred political half-way house.

It is important to keep this in mind as we inventory attitudes in local business to South Africa’s GNU experiment: it is local business’ preferred political arrangement which, regrettably for them, got deferred by the August 2023 emphatic result which retained single-party dominance in the shape and form of Zanu PF in our politics.

GNU-was-better myth-making

There is some local hunger to turn South Africa’s GNU into the new model for political arrangements in the whole of SADC, for Zimbabwe especially.

Recall that from 2017 to now, the same voices in local business have indefatigably myth-made the 2008/9 to 2013 GNU as the best era for Zimbabwe, by which they mean the best era for business! Of course as the 2013 vote showed, GNU was the worst Government for ordinary Zimbabweans, whose subsequent vote amounted to a hefty boot-kick on the hinds of MDC-T.

It foundered not for want of foreign effort.

Hence the Multidonor Trust Fund which western countries created and placed under Biti to exclusively shore up the performance of ministries and projects under the auspices then MDC-T.

South Africa-Zimbabwe Economic relations

Let us make a few hard points of Economics on Zimbabwe-South Africa relations.

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner.

The trade balance has always been in South Africa’s favour, from as far back as before 1964, when the mainframe of a Bilateral Trade Agreement between South Africa and the then Rhodesia was cobbled together.

And that trade balance which favour South Africa has been growing ever since. Zimbabwe’s total exports to South Africa rose at an annualised rate of 34,9 percent from a mere US$330million in 2017 to US$2,12billion in 2022. 

South African exports to Zimbabwe, on the other hand, have grown at an annualised rate of 13,4 percent from US$1,3bn in 2017 to US$2,12bn in 2022. 

A year later, in 2023, South Africa’s exports to Zimbabwe rose to US$3,39bn.

I don’t know what the out-turn will be for 2024, but it is barely hard to conjecturally posit a further hefty rise.

The trade variance is starkly clear, and keeps widening yearly, worse so this year of El Niño-induced drought when Zimbabwe has had to lift all duties and taxes on key imports from South Africa.

Put differently, Zimbabwe imports 40 percent of her total needs from South Africa; she pushes over 75 percent of her total exports to South Africa. 

Zimbabwe has a negative trade balance; Zimbabwe is highly dependent on South Africa both as a source market and a destination for its imports. This is key.

Business double-speak

South African capital is quite active in the Zimbabwe market, principally as investment capital, and indicatively in the mining sector. 

Big mining houses which are active here are domiciled in South Africa, however global their shareholding may be. 

Oppenheimer who is largely blamed for engineering the fragmentation of the black South African vote in the just-ended elections in South Africa, to give rise to the GNU, has vast interests here, principally around and land and as-yet-to-be-exploited mineral claims. 

Such a type of capital, given its political activism in South Africa, cannot be expected to be a-political north of the Limpopo.

Probably this is what our business people, speaking with their tongue-in-cheek politically, mean when they say South Africa’s GNU has goodly closed out “left-leaning political parties” whom they regard as “potentially disruptive to the economy (South African). 

Or the obverse, when they say SADC is likely to “see more support for a change agenda”. In both double-speak, they are decrying black politics which challenge a white-dominated business status quo traceable to colonialism and apartheid.

By change agenda, “stronger economic management”, or stabilising both “the political situation and also the economic situation”, our business voices are referring to how white businesses, having prevailed politically in South Africa, will seek to use their clout there to re-mould the whole Region.

The story of illicit flows from Zimbabwe

A more insidious point to make relate illicit flows from Zimbabwe, largely by way of illegal gold smuggling and transfer pricing. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki raised a path-breaking study on this subject which, regrettably, very few have cared to read. 

While in West, East and Central Africa, illicit flows have largely poured into Europe and America, here in Zimbabwe and most of Southern Africa, these have terminated in South Africa, white South Africa to be exact. 

What may have been disturbing those illicit flows were occasional arrests at ports of entry by the ANC administration of those plying this arcane business. We need to keep this in mind as we assess the new GNU in South Africa.

Zimbabwe black workforce, white love!

I make another point. South Africa is a key destination for Zimbabwe’s migrating skills and labour. Interestingly, Zimbabwe’s highly skilled workforce and equally highly hardworking, honest labour force is only hated by the vast pool of South Africa’s poverty-stricken and unemployed black South Africans. 

Up the South African social-business hierarchy which gets paler with each rung Zimbabwean skills and labour are much loved, in fact treasured as the mainstay. This is why the staunchest supporters or defenders of Zimbabwe’s migrant community living in South Africa has been the white-led DA, and the white-dominated South African Bench. 

Frankly, I don’t know how to feel, but this is a fact: poor, unemployed black South Africans hate Zimbabwean migrants; rich, owning white South Africans love and encourage Zimbabwean migrants.

Neither local, nor indigenous!

Against such economic verities, what then behoves South African GNU for Zimbabwe and its Economy? Nothing any close to the fulsome praises and sanguine hopes we hear from our managerial class of overseas and over-rivers business interests. Because they own no economy, they own no opinion except to echo opinions dominant in the white media of South Africa.

How else does one reconcile their yodelling of fragmentation of black vote by white capital, and the placing of black grievances against apartheid legacy on back burner?

Because they manage foreign-owned enterprises which find comfort in relating to white businesses in South Africa itself the beachhead of international finance capital here in Southern Africa the politics of black empowerment as articulated by Malema and Zuma even then falsely trigger goose bumps in them, body and soul! 

They have always appended themselves to white business interests, as those businesses’ lesser managers. The situation and sensibility would have been radically different if Zimbabwe was Nigeria or Kenya where capital is local and indigenous.

Where BRICS will be a good marker

The local managerial class does not only fear indigenous capital while finding comfort in white capital; it also fears capital which is non-western, principally Chinese capital.

For that reason, any politics which appear to strengthen white capital against capital from non-western sources, gives this class abiding comfort. 

It was interesting to note that President Ramaphosa’s acceptance speech made no mention of BRICS. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa

It is no coincidence that the DA wants the GNU to dock back into the traditional western business circuit, well away from the politically and economically upsetting BRICS which South Africa seems now a non-believing member. Zimbabwe is gravitating towards BRICS, starting with affiliating to the BRICS bank.

 The stage is set for collision with the local business class so habituated to doing business in and with the West, including with its South African entrepôt. While we do not know who South Africa’s new Foreign Minister will be, enough indications are already there for all to read. Her politics will follow business.

Local reticence on empowerment, Beneficiation

The local managerial business elite does not believe in black empowerment. This is in spite of itself.

While our business elites may not have openly opposed the nationalist or even autarchic mantra of “Nyika Inovakwa Nevene Vayo”, equally, they have never openly voiced support for it. This is hardly surprising. Some 69,7 percent of Zimbabwe’s exports to South Africa is nickel matte. In dollar terms, this is US$1,02bn, out of a total trade value of slightly over US$1,47bn! Other exports relate to coke (4,72 percent), raw tobacco (5,83 percent), raw cotton (2,81 percent) and platinum (3,07 percent). 

Need we wonder that the GNU is welcome news for such a managerial class which earns from non-beneficiated exports to mother-white South Africa? When you look at South Africa’s vast and widely dispersed exports to Zimbabwe, you then understand local business affinities and sympathies for a stronger white business hand in South African politics.

 If the exclusive ANC government dithered over opening South Africa’s market under SADC FTA, what more under a made-by-business GNU where South Africa’s Manufacturing Business Interests are happier with a hinterland which is one big, multinational Southern African warehouse for its made-in-South Africa exports? Zimbabwe will have to defend itself against the bleak prospect of an accelerated de-industrialising economy under South African GNU! This is why partnerships with hospitable capital and northward search for markets becomes so important.

Platinum, raw tobacco, raw cotton, iron and steel

Lastly, apart from the South African GNU’s attitude to BRICS, two key indicators will drive home how the business environment is beginning to change for the worse and even worst for Zimbabwe and other ambitious states in SADC region. 

The Second Republic has already benchmarked value-addition in all sectors, principally mining. 

It will be very interesting to watch what happens in the platinum sector, itself so closely aligned to South Africa. Agriculturally, it will be very interesting to see how South African interests in our tobacco industry respond to localised funding and beneficiation arrangements already laid out by Government.

 In respect of raw cotton, one anxiously waits to see how Zimbabwe’s clothing industry accesses South African market now that David Whitehead has been resurrected. Add to that our drugs and pharmaceutical products which have always struggled against untold trade barriers. 

More critically, one wants to see South Africa’s attitude towards iron and steel products from Manhize.

These have a double effect of drastically curtailing Zimbabwe’s iron and steel imports from South Africa, while running toe-to-toe with South Africa over northern markets of the same. If we don’t face hurdles on these key test-cases, please come and claim my pumping heart, all ye in business!

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