President Cyril Ramaphosa's mission to fix two of South Africa's most troubled state companies, power firm Eskom and South African Airways (SAA), could take longer than planned after their chief executives quit within a week of each other.
Investors say the CEOs' resignations could slow the implementation of turnaround plans seen as critical to shoring up confidence in Africa's most industrialized economy, which has for years struggled to grow and whose last investment-grade credit rating is hanging by a thread.
Since becoming president in February 2018, Ramaphosa has pledged to woo investment, create jobs and tackle deep-rooted corruption.
The roles at Eskom and SAA are some of the most challenging in corporate South Africa, with fierce disagreements over how the companies should operate, meaning it will be difficult to find replacement leaders quickly.
Both have received government bailouts in recent years but executives say that financial support was insufficient.
Eskom is choking under 440 billion rand ($30.3 billion) of debt -- equivalent to around 9 percent of South Africa's 2018 gross domestic product -- and this year implemented some of the worst power cuts in several years. It said last month that CEO Phakamani Hadebe would step down in July for health reasons.
But two sources close to Hadebe told Reuters that another reason for his departure was that he felt frustrated at being excluded from important decisions affecting the utility.
Ramaphosa has appointed a raft of advisors to come up with solutions to Eskom's woes and has preferred to listen to their views rather than consult Hadebe, the sources said.
"The government needs to understand that if it wants these companies to be run properly, then it needs to create an environment where the new CEOs can function," said Pavel Mamai, partner at fund manager ProMeritum.
"The CEO changes make the task of fixing Eskom and SAA more urgent."
SAA CEO Vuyani Jarana wrote in his resignation letter last week that his plans to revive the loss-making airline were being undermined by a lack of state funding and too much bureaucracy.
Jarana, who will leave SAA at the end of August, told Reuters in a May 2018 interview that government funding was critical to fixing the airline.
Hadebe and Jarana had both been in their roles for less than two years when they resigned -- a common trend at South African state firms.
"The revolving-door policy at key state-owned enterprises does little to instil investor confidence," said analyst Shaun Murison at IG Markets.
Hadebe's phone was switched off when a Reuters reporter called on Monday. An SAA spokesman said Jarana was not available for comment.
The search for replacements for Hadebe and Jarana has only just got under way.
But the new Eskom and SAA executives will face monumental challenges, which include navigating the competing interests of different sections of government and society.
Eskom and SAA report to South African Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, a close Ramaphosa ally respected by investors for running a tight ship while finance minister but whose management style opponents call interventionist.
Gordhan's aides told Reuters on Monday that the financial and operational crises at Eskom and SAA necessitated close attention from the minister.
They said the scale of the problems facing Eskom, which range from liquidity issues to coal quality, meant it was unrealistic to expect the CEO alone to solve them. Fiscal constraints meant the government had to opt for a "phased recapitalization" rather than giving SAA all the money it wanted in one go, they added.
The new executives will also have to establish a close working relationship with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who this year likened giving state funds to Eskom to pouring water into a sieve and last year said SAA should be closed down. The airline has not made a profit since 2011.
A further complication comes from labor unions and sections of Ramaphosa's governing African National Congress party that vehemently oppose efforts to trim the two firms' bloated workforces.
Analysts say job cuts should be a key component of the companies' recovery plans and that the stakes are high if those plans fail. Eskom employs roughly 48,000 people, after hiring about 12,000 additional employees in the past decade. A World Bank research report published in 2016 said it was significantly overstaffed.
"If Ramaphosa does not come up with a solution to this crisis soon, there is a good chance Moody's will remove South Africa's last investment-grade credit rating," said Nigel Rendell, a director at Medley Global Advisors.
"Eskom is the biggest issue hanging over financial markets, and there won't be a happy ending unless there is a significant capital injection from somewhere."
South Africa’s new national government and nine new provincial executives have taken office following recent elections. They all have a huge job to do, and it cannot be business as usual.
The country is at a turning point following the nine years of former President Jacob Zuma’s ruinous administration. It needs strong, principled leaders in all spheres of government to put the country on a path of economic growth and to improve the quality of governance.
Many of the current governance failures are linked to corruption or state capture. This includes malfeasance in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, the power utility and Transnet, the rail and port company. There are also other serious governance problems in some national government departments and provinces and in most of the municipalities.
The main governance problems are non-compliance with legislative requirements designed to keep the running of government clean and free from corruption. These include the Public Finance Management Act and the Municipal Finance Management Act.
The biggest challenges include a lack of oversight and accountability, poor appointments in key positions, tolerance of corruption, and poor management and technical skills.
All these problems can be fixed if some basic steps are taken. These can be narrowed down to a list of seven. The focus should be on improving governance and weeding out corruption. The list would include: bringing those involved in corruption to book, setting clear targets for each minister, imposing a proper accountability structure and appointing an ethics officer. Accountability will also be improved if the involvement of communities is improved.
The added ingredient is leadership. An important first step would be for President Cyril Ramaphosa and the nine new premiers to show commitment to ensuring integrity and to improve transparency and accountability.
South Africa performs badly in the global governance context. The country scores 43% and is 73rd out of 180 countries on the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The index focuses on public sector corruption. It draws on surveys and assessments by experts.
It’s also gone backwards from last year in the latest Ibrahim Index on African Governance. South Africa is in 7th position with a combined score of 68%, which is slightly down from 2017. Mauritius is in the first place with 79,5%.
South Africa’s weakest score (57,4%) on this index is on transparency and accountability.
The index defines governance as the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their state. It also factors in the state’s responsibility to deliver to its citizens.
One of the significant ways of improving accountability and governance would be to ensure that the work of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture results in the successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Other practical steps that should be considered are:
Setting clear targets for each of the new ministers and members of the executive councils. This must include regular public reports on their performance;
Adopting a good governance programme that focuses on enhancing integrity, transparency and accountability;
Sourcing the best expertise in the public and private sectors to fill key senior management positions;
Appointing a senior manager as “chief ethics officer”. This could be the secretary to the national cabinet and secretary to the cabinet in each province;
Strengthening the oversight role of the nine provincial legislatures and Parliament. This could be done by ensuring compliance with the accountability requirements in the various pieces of legislation;
Ensuring the effective use of information technology to enhance good governance; and
Creating an enabling environment for more constructive community involvement when it comes to delivering public services.
Practical measures like this would help improve the quality of governance. It would also contribute to improving South Africa’s score on the Ibrahim Index.
Why governance matters
Poor governance compounds the already huge task facing the newly elected executives. South Africa has huge economic and social inequalities. This means that it needs a new pragmatic approach that uses the skills and expertise of all citizens, beyond what the government is able to provide.
This implies the development of innovative solutions to some of the country’s biggest problems. These include a lack of adequate housing, poor education and a lack of safety. And every day ordinary South Africans feel the brunt of dysfunctional municipalities. These need to be turned into well-functioning entities that serve their communities well.
The “co-production” method, which entails using the combined expertise of both the private and public sectors in the design and delivery of public services, should be used on a much larger scale. A good example of successful co-production is Partners for Possibility, which makes a significant impact in improving education.
The African National Congress (ANC) will govern South Africa for another five years. But this sixth victory of the democratic era since 1994 was hard-won.
For the first time in a national election its share of the vote dropped beneath 60%. This suggests both a normalisation of South Africa’s electoral landscape and an increasingly competitive multi-party democracy.
On arrival at the national results centre in Pretoria on Thursday, with around 60% of the votes counted, the party’s chair Gwede Mantashe expressed his anxiety to me about the outcome: “We need 60%”, he said.
I responded by saying that the evidence suggested the ANC was heading for 57% or 58% and that this represented an upturn of their fortunes after the dramatic dip to 54% in the 2016 local government election. It was, I said, therefore a very good result. He appeared to accept my logic. Mantashe is a supporter of President Cyril Ramaphosa and is currently the minister of mineral resources.
The pivotal issue for Election 2019 was whether the outcome would give Ramaphosa more political space within the ANC to drive his reform programme forward. Since he ousted Jacob Zuma from power in February 2018, having won a very tight race to succeed Zuma as leader of the ANC at its five-yearly national elective conference the previous December, Ramaphosa has begun to execute a complicated turnaround strategy.
But the job is half done. So far he’s appointed several commissions of inquiry to expose the rot of what he called “nine lost years”. This paved the way for the appointment of competent, honest men and women to lead key state institutions such as the SA Revenue Service and the National Prosecuting Authority that had succumbed to the Zuma-enabled project of “state capture”.
Yet the Zuma faction within the ANC has not been vanquished and so Ramaphosa has had to drive with at least one eye on the rear-view mirror. His own party has been a drag factor. Would Election 2019 deliver a sufficiently big victory for Ramaphosa to shake them off?
The optimal outcome
Some have argued that were the ANC to win 60% or more in this election, it would have given the party a blank cheque for further larceny. But a below par score beneath 56% would have weakened Ramaphosa and provided ammunition for his opponents within the party to attack him and undermine reform plans. These include the much-needed unblundling of the state-owned power utility, Eskom, which represents a major risk factor for South Africa’s sluggish economy and its beleaguered public fiscus.
A 57% or 58% outcome for the ANC could arguably represent an ideal outcome for the country. The people would have reprimanded the party for its reprehensible conduct over the last decade and, as many of its leaders were conceding yesterday, its failures to deliver good public services. At the same time it would give Ramaphosa the opportunity to claim a victory and, thereby, the fresh mandate he needs.
This indeed appears to have been the outcome.
More popular than his party for the first time since Nelson Mandela in 1994, and more trusted than the leaders of the opposition, Ramaphosa can claim to have saved the ANC’s bacon.
How the opposition fared
Election 2019 was also a referendum on South Africa’s appetite for the sort of populist politics that has prospered around the world in recent years. The local version is Julius Malema and his militant Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The exponential growth that the party promised on its campaign trail has proved elusive. The six million young (18-29) people who chose not to register to vote certainly represent a potential untapped market for Malema, to build on the 1.5m or so who voted for the EFF this week. But for the time being South Africa has rejected a populist alternative in favour of more of the devil it knows.
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), had a very poor election. It lost votes from its right flank to the Freedom Front Plus – an Afrikaans party – and failed to gain them from the middle ground. As a result, overall it has stagnated. Its share of the vote overall may even drop – despite the fact that the conditions for challenging the ANC were so conducive.
Questions will inevitably be asked of the DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane. Was he tough enough to cope with the existential ambivalence that undermined its ability to define a clear value proposition to the electorate?
The DA had hoped to add to its progress in the local elections in 2016 when, with the help of the EFF, it drove the ANC out of city hall government in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Both fall within the Gauteng province, South Africa’s economic hub. In the national poll the DA appears to have failed to prove its case in the region where the ANC looks set to hang onto its majority – albeit by its fingernails.
The ANC’s domination has been in decline since 2009. In four successive national and local government elections since Zuma entered office that year, the ANC’s share of the vote has fallen.
The party’s leaders know it, but find it hard to accept. As Mantashe moved on from my conversation he turned back for a second:
But we would still like 60% – it’s an ego thing.
The ANC’s ego may not have been stroked by South Africa’s electorate on this occasion. On the contrary, it has fired a shot across the bows of Nelson Mandela’s party. A quarter century after Mandela became South Africa’s first black, democratically elected President, the ANC’s hold on power has weakened. Now it must continue to cleanse the body politic of the contamination of the Zuma years.
Ramaphosa will need to use the victory to turn the reform platform he has built over the past year into a springboard for economic growth and job creation. Both are urgently needed.
Otherwise, the lesson of Election 2019 is clear: next time the electorate will say enough is enough and turn away from the ANC.
Even with a decisive election victory for South Africa’s ruling party this week, the country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa could still struggle to push through the tough reforms needed to galvanize Africa’s most developed economy, say analysts and some party insiders.
The former union leader turned business tycoon has promised to introduce major economic reforms and extend a crackdown on corruption if his African National Congress (ANC) party is returned to power in Wednesday’s national election. Ramaphosa’s allies say a result close to 60 percent in this week’s parliamentary vote, which some opinion polls suggest could be possible, would strengthen his hand to deliver on those pledges.
But some analysts and ANC party insiders are skeptical that Ramaphosa would make much progress with reforms, even with a clear election victory. They cite his tenuous grip over the party’s decision-making bodies, where former comrades in the struggle against the brutal apartheid regime are at each other’s throats in a high-stakes battle for power and wealth.
“Ramaphosa needs a united ANC to achieve his agenda, but he doesn’t have that,” said a veteran ANC politician who did not wish to be identified discussing internal rivalries. “His enemies are going nowhere.”
Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst and author of a book on Ramaphosa, echoed the view. “There’s a herd mentality that if Ramaphosa gets a strong majority for the ANC, it will somehow strengthen him. That’s not the case,” he said.
Ramaphosa disputes that his hands will be tied if he is returned to power. At a campaign event last week in Johannesburg he said there would be a “step-change” in the pace of reform and that the economy was ready for lift off. “Our government is now going to open up the valves of our economy and give our people an opportunity,” he said.
Ramaphosa became leader of the ANC in December 2017 after narrowly defeating a faction allied with his scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma. This will be Ramaphosa’s first national election since taking over as head of state in February 2018, after roughly four years as Zuma’s deputy.
The president is under pressure to address gaping racial disparities in income and wealth that persist 25 years after the end of white minority rule. He also wants to reverse a slide in support for the ANC, which has governed South Africa since 1994 but in recent years has lost support in major cities like the financial and political capitals of Johannesburg and Pretoria.
In the 15 months since he took office, Ramaphosa has been forced into uneasy compromises in key policy areas like land reform and fixing struggling state power firm Eskom, opposition politicians say.
Ramaphosa has vowed to accelerate the redistribution of land to the black majority, endorsing an opposition bill to amend the constitution to make expropriation without compensation easier.
But he also has offered assurances that investments and food security would not be threatened. In doing so, he satisfied neither radical left-wing nor business-friendly factions within his governing alliance and the opposition.
On Eskom, the president has promised trade unions that there will be no layoffs as part of a turnaround plan, even though company management and energy experts say the utility’s bloated workforce is one of its biggest problems.
Getting land reform right and repairing Eskom will be critical to restoring investor confidence in an economy where growth has slowed to a trickle due to a toxic mix of corruption scandals and regulatory upheaval during Zuma’s tenure.
“If you see progress in the clean-up of state-owned enterprises like Eskom that would mean that big headache that investors have would fade away,” said Tilmann Kolb, analyst at the financial services firm UBS Global Wealth Management.
With a crucial election looming, populist and nationalist rhetoric put forward by world leaders like President Trump is making xenophobia in South Africa worse.
The health minister claims they crowd hospitals. The largest opposition party promises to secure the borders against them. Police stop them at random, demanding to see their IDs. And sometimes, their own neighbors violently turn against them, looting their shops, stabbing them in the street, and even burning them alive.
African nationals living in South Africa — whether as undocumented migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, or citizens — have long struggled for full inclusion in society. But advocates say their situation has worsened as elections approach and that the rise of global nationalism, particularly in the US from President Donald Trump, is to blame.
South Africans will cast their votes on May 8 in the first election since a massive corruption scandal took down the country’s last elected president, Jacob Zuma. Immigrant rights advocates worry not only that politicians will continue to use Africans as scapegoats, but that the acts of violence committed against them will get worse in the so-called Rainbow Nation.
Vusumuzi Sibanda is the chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, an organization that combats xenophobia by acting as a watchdog whenever public figures make anti-immigrant statements, and by fostering dialogue between South Africans and other African nationals. Sibanda, a Zimbabwean who has been living in South Africa for the past 19 years, told BuzzFeed News from his office in downtown Johannesburg that he believes South African politicians have been influenced by the growth of nationalist politics around the world, especially in countries like the US and the UK.
This populist mentality combined with South African politicians’ refusal to take responsibility for failing public services has made the African immigrant community the target for all the country’s ills, he added. Just as Trump’s immigration policies have demonized people not born in the US under the guise of protecting Americans and giving them better opportunities, South African political parties are capitalizing on the chance to promote similar policies at the expense of Africans who weren’t born in South Africa.
During the launch of the ruling African National Congress party’s manifesto in Durban — a city on the eastern coast of South Africa — in January, President Cyril Ramaphosa talked about the importance of “effective border management” in order to ensure public safety, and promised to come down harder on illegal trading and the selling of counterfeit products, the latter of which is a commonly held perception about undocumented African migrants.
Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Two months later, two separate attacks on African migrants took place in Durban. At least six people were killed, and another 150 were forced to flee their homes until the violence subsided. Human Rights Watch and the African Diaspora Forum condemned the xenophobic attacks, and argued that they were a direct result of Ramaphosa’s comments.
But throughout this campaign season, the Democratic Alliance (DA) political party, the official opposition party with 89 of 400 seats in parliament, has been the most vocal when it comes to taking a hard stance on immigration. Its posters promising to “Secure Our Borders” are seen throughout Johannesburg, and the current mayor, DA member Herman Mashaba, is notorious for the anti-immigrant statements he’s made in the past. Last November, in an exchange on Twitter with someone over the potential risks of selling meat in the city, he wrote, “We are going to sit back and allow people like you to bring us Ebolas in the name of small business. Health of our people first. Our health facilities are already stretched to the limit.”
After his comments provoked a backlash, Mashaba apologized the next day.
“The DA says they want the borders to be tight because they’re porous right now, but what are they thinking? Of building a wall? Putting an army at the borders? The US was at a standstill in January because of the money it would take to build a wall, so what can South Africa do?” African Diaspora Forum’s Sibanda asked, referencing the 35-day US government shutdown that resulted from Congress being unable to agree on whether or not to fund a $5 billion wall along the US–Mexico border.
Conversations around African migration focus on those who embark on the treacherous journey from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe. But the truth is, there is significantly more movement that happens within the continent than outside of it. And South Africa has historically been one of the bigger recipients of foreign nationals, beginning in the late 1800s when people from Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Angola, Zambia, and Tanzania came to the country seeking work as miners shortly after Dutch settlers discovered, and then exploited, gold there.
Like black South Africans, these migrants were also later forced into townships and bore the brunt of a violent apartheid regime that lasted half a century. More recently, political and economic instability and civil wars in countries as close as Swaziland (which is located inside of South Africa, along with Lesotho) and as far away as Ethiopia, caused citizens there to flee in search of a better life, and for many of them, South Africa was the destination of choice. The multiculturalism that resulted from communities representing every region on the continent — along with those from Asia and Europe — led to former South African president Nelson Mandela, echoing the words or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, naming the country the Rainbow Nation in a speech following the abolishment of apartheid.
Similar to the US paradox of the “melting pot,” South Africa’s history is interwoven with migration and multiculturalism, yet it still struggles to ensure equality not only among its own citizens, but for the immigrants who literally built the country. The reactions to and treatment of African newcomers has grown increasingly antagonistic in recent years, and has gotten markedly worse during election season.
One of the biggest challenges African migrants face in seeking justice for mistreatment by South Africans is law enforcement itself. Migrants and human rights groups have reported instances of officers simply looking on while foreigners were being assaulted in the streets. And the hope for protection shrinks even further when authorities publicly express their own feelings toward other African nationals.
In July 2017, Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi claimed, without evidence, that foreigners made up 80% of the population in a Johannesburg neighborhood of Hillbrow, known for its high crime rates, and that South Africans were surrendering their land to them. But the most recent census data is from 2011, and only provided gender, race, and language statistics for Hillbrow. And a provincial survey from 2016 only gave the numbers on foreign nationals in the entire city of Johannesburg. While African migrants composed 80% of all foreigners in the city at that time, they only made up about 14% of the total city population.
Last November, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said during a nurses summit that foreign nationals were overcrowding hospitals. His statement was proven false, but Sibanda said comments like that from officials fuel the dangerous stereotype that immigrants drain the country’s resources, and effectively put them more at risk for violence.
“The government knows people are frustrated,” Sibanda said. “Clinics are known for opening late and closing early, and employees take two-hour lunch breaks. It’s hard to get seen when you go in.”
Sunday Times / Getty Images
Democratic Alliance supporters during the party's manifesto launch in February
But this blame is not meted out among all of South Africa’s immigrant groups; it’s aimed directly at people from other African countries, not those who come from Europe, Asia, or North or South America. Because of this, many people reject the use of the term xenophobia in favor of a more specific one to describe the situation in South Africa: Afrophobia, the fear of other Africans.
Daniel Dunia, a Congolese refugee who’s lived in South Africa for 13 years, has experienced the discrimination and violence directed at African nationals in his personal and professional life. As the secretary general for the nonprofit Africa Solidarity Network, the 44-year-old facilitates conversations between South Africans and African migrants in order to debunk stereotypes and build peaceful relations among them.
As a foreign national himself, Dunia has lived through the violence perpetrated by South Africans against immigrants. He told BuzzFeed News over coffee in downtown Durban that in 2015, local South Africans led an attack on him and thousands of other African immigrants in their neighborhood, a town called Isipingo. At least seven people were killed — Dunia said that some were thrown inside a stack of tires and burned alive, a replication of the “necklacing” tactic employed by some ANC supporters against suspected traitors in the struggle for freedom during apartheid — and dozens had their shops and homes broken into and looted. Dunia, his wife, and their three children fled their home and lost all of their most valuable possessions. They, and about 5,000 others between March and May that year, were displaced and made to live in what essentially amounted to refugee camps built by the government. Dunia and his family, who came to South Africa seeking asylum from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lived in the camp for six months before returning to Isipingo.
Dunia, 44, says that a lot of progress has been made in Isipingo since the 2015 attacks to mend the relationship between native South Africans and African immigrants, but ultimately, he doesn’t expect significant change to happen in the country until the government actually acknowledges xenophobia.
“Action only happens when there’s been an attack, or if someone has been killed,” he said. “The government is in denial. They don’t want to project a negative image of the country.”
The violence foreign nationals face from South Africans comes specifically from black South Africans, according to Dunia. When asked whether he believed this was because they are disproportionately affected by high rates of crime and unemployment, which could make them feel even more animosity toward other black Africans whom they perceive as having “made it,” Dunia said that didn’t add up.
“I don’t think they’re attacking us because they’re poor,” he said. “If someone has taken your privilege, you should be attacking them. If that were true, they would be attacking white South Africans, not the people who came to this country with less privilege than them.”
And the negative sentiment toward foreigners goes beyond a person’s ID card. Sometimes, foreign nationals who gain South African citizenship still deal with discrimination because they weren’t born in South Africa.
Rogan Ward / Reuters
Supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters carry a poster after leader Julius Malema.
Somali businessman Ahmed Mohamed came to South Africa in 2001, seeking asylum. He was granted refugee status, eventually became a citizen (which refugees can do after 10 years), and has lived in the country ever since. Four of his six children have never even been to Somalia.
But Mohamed told BuzzFeed News from his office in the wholesale warehouse he owns that while he now has the same green ID card all other South African citizens have, he is still seen as and treated like a foreigner.
“I’m a South African citizen, but I’m not welcome here,” said Mohamed. “Practically, I’m Somali, and that’s the problem. I go to public institutions and they won’t turn me away, but the stigma of being a foreigner is still there. I can still feel it.”
Like Dunia, Mohamed was also targeted in the 2015 attacks. Five of the small shops he owned were completely destroyed. Just before speaking to BuzzFeed News, he held a meeting with some of his employees to discuss how to respond to threats that one of them had received in a nearby neighborhood.
There are a few parties that have publicly defended African migrants and advocated for better treatment of them — namely, the Economic Freedom Party, known for its pro-black stance on political issues — but Sibanda has no real hope that the situation African migrants face will improve anytime soon. And while the EFF is supported by members of the African foreign national community, it has routinely come under fire for issues ranging from allegations of members abusing women in the party to controversial statements about killing white Afrikaners.
“As long as South Africa trails ahead of other countries in terms of development, there will continue to be problems,” Sibanda said. “People will want to come to a country where the standard of living is better. The government needs to recognize that.”●
Source: BuzzFeed News
It is in South Africa's interest to see a thriving and stable Zimbabwe. A collapse of its neighbour's economy would probably see an influx of legal and illegal migrants into South Africa – a situation that could fuel xenophobia and further strain service delivery.
Yet there has been a bewildering contrast between South Africa's messages of solidarity and its inaction where it matters. On the one hand, President Cyril Ramaphosa's government has maintained its support for President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration. South Africa was the first to congratulate him on his electoral victory in August 2018. This has been followed by spirited calls for the unconditional lifting of sanctions and restrictive measures placed on Zimbabwe nearly two decades ago.
On the other hand, South Africa has come short of providing what Mnangagwa urgently needs: a financial bailout. The just-ended Zimbabwe-South Africa Bi-National Commission session – the third since the inaugural session in 2016 – might have put paid to the many rumours that South Africa would provide Zimbabwe with a much-needed cash injection. Instead, it ended with a joint communiqué that reads more like a political statement of solidarity with little in terms of relief for its cash-strapped neighbour.
Established during the tenure of former presidents Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma, the commission has been little more than an annual symbolic gesture of friendship between the two. Ramaphosa's team sent ahead of the Bi-National Commission engaged in robust meetings with key players in the private and public sectors presumably to try to establish how South Africa could help its beleaguered neighbour.
While the decision to not bail Zimbabwe out is probably based on practical economic calculations, the anti-sanctions rhetoric is a different matter. A cursory view of the anti-sanctions call might lead one to the conclusion that lifting sanctions would grant Zimbabwe access to lines of credit from the international market and thereby ameliorate its currency crisis.
However, considerations for South Africa are as much political as they are economic. Sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by Western countries relate to the blatant human rights abuses of the Mugabe regime. South Africa's anti-sanctions position could also be interpreted as a general stance – shared by the wider Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) region – against sanctions in general.
The ‘sanctions must fall' mantra should be seen as a distraction from the economic mismanagement of the past three decades. Even Mnangagwa has said the ZANU-PF government shouldn't use sanctions as an excuse for the country's economic woes.
So why has South Africa taken up the ‘sanctions must fall' mantra while staying silent on the human rights abuses, killing of protesters and a heavy-handed clampdown on civic space during the January fuel hike protests?
South Africa is wary of being perceived as aligning with the West, especially the United States (US). The US government has been vocal and forthright against the Mnangagwa regime's use of force against protesters to the extent of renewing sanctions for another year.
Offering the Zimbabwe government unqualified support becomes an opportunity for South Africa to demonstrate its international foreign policy independence and to shore up against "invasive" Western neo-colonial tendencies.
At the same time, well aware of the depth of Zimbabwe's economic and currency crises, South Africa knows that giving bilateral aid of $1.2-billion wouldn't necessarily stabilise its neighbour's economy. Without addressing the enduring currency crisis, any bailout would be sucked into an economic black hole just to have Zimbabwe requiring more. The shortage of hard currency only begets more shortages.
The Zimbabwean government needs foreign currency for consumer goods, including for the procurement of fuel and wheat, as well as to service debt, which the finance minister estimates to be around $16bn.
The recently introduced interbank foreign currency trading system has so far not been able to address the foreign currency shortage. The real-time gross settlement (RTGS) dollar continues a steady depreciation against the US dollar from the 1:2.5 at its introduction to 1:3 in six weeks.
Worse, the floating of the RTGS dollar has not engendered confidence in the monetary system. On the black market, the RTGS dollar continues to plummet weekly and inflation is on the rise. Prices of basic commodities such as bread have risen steeply. There is still no guarantee against arbitrage and policy somersaulting from the cornered government.
Further, a bailout would put South Africa in an invidious position. South Africa is itself in the throes of economic stagnation emerging from sluggish growth of 0.8% in 2018. The country's unemployment rate is currently hovering above 25% – one of the highest in the world.
The recent worsening of power cuts only plays into an already volatile domestic situation. Any talk of bailing Zimbabwe out would probably elicit a backlash from the restive population already prone to xenophobic tendencies towards citizens from neighbouring states. The African National Congress can ill afford to antagonise citizens any more in an election year.
Strong parallels can be drawn with the situation in South America where South Africa has been supporting Nicolás Maduro Moros's government in Venezuela against the machinations of the US's Donald Trump administration.
While the matter forming the basis of the Zimbabwe crisis is different from Venezuela, the geopolitical script plays out in the same way. South Africa is choosing the course of solidarity with the "besieged".
As Zimbabwe's economic and political situation continues to teeter on the verge of chaos its southern neighbour seems to be taking a considered approach to the crisis. The dilemma for SA is that without a cash infusion, the economic crisis will worsen, and a worsening economic situation will probably result in more protest and civil unrest. The Mnangagwa administration has already shown itself only too eager to approach protest with force and brutality.
This pushes South Africa further into an unenviable choice between principle, as enshrined in its Constitution, and the realities of geopolitics. It remains to be seen for how long South Africa will give Zimbabwe a palliative response before the wheels come off.
Ringisai Chikohomero is a researcher, Peace Operations and Peace Building Programme, Pretoria
Political figures in South African have condemned the latest attacks on foreigners in Durban. At the same time, their anti-migrant rhetoric ahead of elections on May 8 is fueling the country's simmering xenophobia.
Loveness James was chased from her home in Burnwood, an informal settlement in Durban, in the middle of the night early last week.
"It was a normal day. I went to work at the salon, came home, cooked for my husband and went to bed," the 22-year old Malawian national, who is nine months pregnant, told South Africa's Independent Online.
Then a violent mob broke down the door of her house.
"They started shouting and telling us to leave, they kept chanting that we must leave their country, they hit and kicked my husband. All I could think of was my unborn baby, my water breaking and me giving birth in front of people who wanted us dead," she said.
Others migrants have similar stories after groups started attacking, looting and burning homes, shops and cars owned by foreigners in Durban a week ago. Three people died in the violence, and dozens were injured, like the man in the picture above.
"It was about 1 a.m. on Monday when we were forced out of our rented rooms," Miriam Mussa, a Malawian immigrant, told GroundUp, a South African public interest news agency.
"I was with my baby and my husband. Even though they did not hurt us after seeing that we had a small baby, they allowed us to leave with only the clothes we were wearing. We watched them as they took out all our furniture," Mussa said.
A hand pulls down the back of a man's T-shirt to reveal a long scar
This man was injured in the xenophobic attacks in Durban
Mussa and her family, along with some 60 other migrants, ended up fleeing to a local police station, camping for several days in the open in its grounds. Dozens of others foreigners took refuge in a nearby mosque.
The xenophobic attacks have created a sense of fear and betrayal among the immigrant community, says Hupenyu Makusha, from Refugee Pastoral Care. The Durban-based organization has been providing blankets, tents and clothing to those forced out of their homes.
"These people [the victims] were actually neighbors to the locals, who turned against them. So they feel very betrayed by their neighbors … very insecure," he told DW in a phone interview from Durban.
Ongoing cycle of xenophobic violence
Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularlyin the past decades in South Africa.
Against a background of chronic unemployment for black South Africans, immigrants are often seen as stealing valuable jobs and taking advantage of housing and health services squeezed by mismanagement and corruption. Migrants are also often accused of being involved in crime.
The facts simply don't support this, says Loren Landau, the director of the Johannesburg-based Africa Center for Migration and Society.
For example, although exact data is difficult to come by, it's estimated some 1.5 to 2 million migrants live in South Africa, a country with a population of 58 million. But a far larger number – around 9 million – of locals are unemployed.
"Even if you you took [the migrants] out, you wouldn't see that many more jobs," said Landau.
"But it's not facts that are driving the violence. It's the way in which it's being framed by national and local leaders," Landau told DW in a telephone interview.
Parties take a hard line on migration ahead of elections
On May 8, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is facing what is probably the party's most competitive national elections since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, already said in September 2018 that immigration would be one of its key campaign issues, arguing that borders needed to be more tightly controlled.
Recently, the ANC has also seized on the issue.
Speaking at an ANC rally earlier in March, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised a crackdown on undocumented migrants.
"Everyone just arrives in our townships and rural areas and sets up businesses without licenses and permits. We are going to bring this to an end. And those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from, must now know," Ramaphosa said before a cheering crowd.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule also warned in March about foreigners perpetrating crimes.
"If they are undocumented when crime happens, you can't even get these people. You can't get their fingerprints. [This is about] the safety of the country. It is not being opportunistic," Magashule told City Press, a South African news outlet.
Cyril Ramaphosa and his ANC party are facing tough general elections
Migrants 'scapegoats' for government failures
These kinds of statements imply that immigration and lapsed border control are somehow responsible for South Africa's considerable social problems rather than the government's failure to tackle crime, lack of services, poverty and corruption, says Landau.
The ANC has "started to look for scapegoats, look for excuses – and migrants are a convenient excuse," he said.
The strongest words against the xenophobic attacks in Durban came from Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), while addressing a party rally on Saturday.
"We don't want votes from people who are xenophobic," he said. "We must love one another as Africans because showing love to someone from Mozambique, Guinea, Egypt and Nigeria is self-love."
At the same time, Malema regularly makes inflammatory comments about 'Boers' (white Afrikaans-speaking farmers), Jews and southeast Asians and is often accused of inciting racial divisions in South Africa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said he "condemned violence against foreign nationals in South Africa" in a statement issued by his office on Monday – more than a week after the first attacks broke out.
Ramaphosa also called on police to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.
When it comes to persecuting xenophobic crimes, however, the state has a poor track record.
According to Human Rights Watch, "virtually no one has been convicted for past outbreaks of xenophobic violence, including the Durban violence of April 2015 that displaced thousands of foreign nationals."
Hundreds of foreign nationals attended a meeting organized by the local government after the attacks
'Hesitant' condemnation of attacks
In Durban, more than 70 Malawians caught up in last week's xenophobic attacks are looking to return to their country, according to Hupenyu Makusha, because they are too scared to stay.
As for the political response to the violence, while Makusha praised the local government for working "tirelessly" to calm the situation, he said it's been "too hesitant" at national level.
"To me, this seems to signal a point where, if the leadership, especially the president and members of the ruling party, are not saying anything … then it is maybe interpreted in different ways.
"One may say that it means approval," he said.
Zimbabwean and South African officials will meet next week, as preparations for the visit by South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa to his northern neighbours gather momentum.
President Ramaphosa will visit Zimbabwe on March 12 for the Third session of the two countries' Bi-National Commission (BNC), and Zimbabwe's Ambassador to South Africa Mr David Hamadziripi said yesterday that preparations for the visit were underway in both Harare and Pretoria.
The two countries held their last BNC in October 2017 and the visit by President Ramaphosa will give a lift to the already existing strong bilateral relations.
"We are going to have meetings with relevant South African officials next week to prepare for the BNC," he said.
"It is important to note that the BNC, which last met in Pretoria in October 2017, will review co-operation across the board.
"We expect issues around trade and investment, energy, transport, health, security and defence among others to be the major talking points."
He said one of the major issues expected to dominate the discussions was the establishment of a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at Beitbridge. Under the concept travellers will be cleared once for passage into either country as opposed to the present situation where travellers have to queue twice at either side of the border to complete the same processes, which slows down the movement of cargo and human traffic.
Zimbabwe and South Africa enjoy cordial relations dating back to the days of their struggle for liberation. There is also likely to be a strong geopolitical flair as South Africa, the most influential neighbour and Africa's strongest economy, will likely throw weight behind Zimbabwe on the back of external pressures against the country, notably regarding illegal sanctions imposed on the country by the West.
Last week, the 28-member European Union bloc reviewed its restrictive measures on Zimbabwe, which was but a small token amid opposition to the embargo from progressive forces.
South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu this week revealed that South Africa remained ready to help Zimbabwe, underscoring that the regional giant had a strong interest in having Zimbabwe as a peaceful and prosperous neighbour. She said of sanctions against Zimbabwe was central to this and that sanctions would feature in the discussions between Presidents Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa. President Ramaphosa has been a strident anti-Zimbabwe sanctions campaigner himself.
Last month, he took the campaign to the 49th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where he publicly called for the lifting of the embargo. Last year, he also called on the European Union (EU) to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe during the 7th South Africa-European Union Summit in Brussels, Belgium, where they discussed a number of issues around trade, climate change, women's rights among other global issues.
The EU and the United States of America maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe, with the EU having progressively loosened the measures. The US remains adamant, tying the punishment of Zimbabwe and Zanu-PF to give an advantage to the opposition MDC-Alliance.
Policy debates in SA’s energy sector are becoming increasingly polarised, but it is critical to ensure broad participation if we want to re-imagine the energy sector and solve SA’s energy crisis, argued experts at a recent discussion hosted by the UCT GSB in conjunction with Power Futures South Africa.
Breaking up Eskom’s vertically integrated model will help turnaround the ailing power utility and create more efficiencies in the energy sector.
This is according to panellists at a public discussion recently on the Eskom crisis which was hosted by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) in conjunction with Power Futures South Africa - a platform for inclusive, evidence-based discourse for a just and transformed South African energy sector.
Eskom, which supplies 95% of SA’s electricity, is in a severe financial crisis and is struggling to pay the interest on its massive R419bn debt out of the revenue it generates. The power utility is regarded as the single biggest risk to the SA economy by the Treasury and credit ratings agencies.
This week President Cyril Ramaphosa told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the Eskom crisis would soon be resolved.
“We are currently developing a response to the financial and operational crisis at the country’s electricity utility, Eskom. In the next few weeks, we will be announcing a set of measures to stabilise and improve the company’s financial position and to ensure uninterrupted energy supply,” the president said. In a bid to turnaround Eskom, the governing party the ANC is considering the restructuring of the utility, including separating it into three parts focussing on generation, transmission and distribution.
Speaking at the UCT GSB public discussion, Mandy Rambharos, the Climate Change and Sustainable Development Manager at Eskom, said she personally supported the breaking of the power utility.
“It will increase efficiencies. You will have an independent systems operator who treats all generators the same,” said Rambharos. However, she said there were concerns around municipalities and whether they can manage distribution networks. Eskom is owed just more than R13bn by municipalities, with the top 10 nonpayers owing R10bn. In turn, municipalities are owed R139bn by residents for services. Some residents have attributed their failure to pay for electricity to high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Nhlanhla Ngidi the head of electricity and energy at the South African Local Government Association (Salga) said the drive to turnaround Eskom will affect a lot of municipalities.
“We need collaborative leadership. You can [try turnaround Eskom] all you want, but if people do not have jobs, you will not crack it. You will have an electricity industry that is not sustainable. We have to look at design of municipalities as well. They [some municipalities] are failing by design. some of them are built on mines, and when there are no more mines, people do not have jobs,” said Ngidi.
He agreed that breaking up Eskom could turnaround the utility, but more needed to be done to create competition in the energy sector.
Professor Anton Eberhard, the director of the GSB Managing Infrastructure Investment Reform and Regulation In Africa (MIRA) programme has pointed out that breaking up Eskom may seem like a radical restructuring proposal, however it is not.
“It was proposed in the Energy Policy White Paper in 1998. And it’s logical. It separates the potentially competitive elements of the electricity industry — power generation — from the natural monopoly component, transmission. It’s also potentially efficient as it creates focused utilities,” states Eberhard.
This would help to remove impediments to investment – especially in renewable technologies – and facilitate much-needed economic growth while helping secure a sustainable energy future for SA.
Further ideas to address Eskom’s financial crisis and facilitate SA’s energy transition that were mooted at the same event, included a suggestion from Louise Scholtz, the Manager of Energy and Urban Futures in the Policy and Futures Unit at World Wildlife Fund South Africa that non performing municipalities must lose their ability to distribute and sell electricity.
“Eskom should take back that capacity until they [the municipalities] prove that they can have fiscal responsibility and have the ability to manage their own distribution systems,” said Scholtz.
Steve Nicholls, the head of Environmental Sustainability for the National Business Initiative (NBI), said all of society needs to play a role in determining SA’s energy transition.
“We as society have to engage with government and say this is what we think strategy should be, which sectors will emerge and how do we retrain people.”
Catrina Godinho, one of the founders of Power Futures South Africa said the policy debates in the electricity sector have become increasingly exclusive and polarised.
“This at a time when the world is changing around and with technological developments and environmental issues. We need to re-imagine our energy systems,” said Godinho.
Lauren Hermanus, a sustainable development practitioner and the co-founder of Power Futures South Africa said SA’s electricity crisis requires broad participation, not just by academics, politicians, and engineers.
“There is really an urgent need to access accurate information [to drive] the transition of the energy sector,” said Hermanus.