Saturday, June 16, 2018

What to look for when assessing South Africa's president, Ramaphosa

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South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has a tough job of fixing the damage caused during Jacob Zuma’s era.

Now that Cyril Ramaphosa has served as South Africa’s president for more than three months, many pundits and ordinary citizens are assessing his performance. Some have argued that he’s doing a great job others are less impressed.

Whatever one’s view, perhaps the most important element to take into consideration when assessing Ramaphosa’s work so far is that he took the country’s reins under circumstances that were far from ideal. He stepped into the role vacated by President Jacob Zuma when he had to be recalled by his own party in order to allow Ramaphosa a greater latitude as a leader.

Since Ramaphosa was elected to the position by parliament rather than in a national poll, he will be hoping to secure his own full-term, and with good margins for his party, after the 2019 general elections. So far he has taken an inclusive approach to keep the ship steady towards the 2019 general elections.

He is treading a delicate balance between expressing his own distinct leadership and cultivating cohesion within his party. This is not without difficulty, as fissures deepen in the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal province despite Ramaphosa’s quest to achieve unity. He has also failed to assert his will in the North West province, where his party is also riven by tensions.

And yet, Ramaphosa needs to be firm if he’s to reverse Zuma’s legacy that left behind a deeply damaged economy and state institutions.

He will not succeed if he becomes a teddy bear within his party, especially given its chaotic state. This is even important given the fact that the pro-Zuma faction is not giving up and will possibly mobilise against Ramaphosa at the 2022 elective conference of the African National Congress.

Ramaphosa should bear in mind that he does not have much time at the helm of government, since there is no South African president under democracy who has completed two terms in office.

Need for better focus

In his hastily delivered state of the nation address a day after he replaced Zuma, Ramaphosa presented a 10-point plan that emphasised the economy, renewal, and unity as the centrepieces of his presidency.

He’s come up with many ad-hoc initiatives and ideas. These include the jobs summit, the investment conference and the special investment envoy. He’s also been talking about reviving manufacturing, supporting black industrialists, boosting youth employment, growing the tourism sector, and a digital industrial revolution commission, among others.

These are all sensible and promising programmes. What they need to succeed is better rationalisation, clearer focus, and technocratic finesse. They will also need sound indicators to measure success. Otherwise they run the risk of gathering dust in filing cabinets.

Some good moves

There are some commendable practical steps Ramaphosa has taken so far, which will need a strong push to bear results. On the political front, Ramaphosa has managed to exercise influence over the core of the economic cluster in government. Agencies such as Treasury, Trade and Industry, Economic Development, and Mineral Resources are now steered by figures that enjoy credibility with the public and the private sector.

At the institutional level, he has taken little time to get on the work of overhauling leadership in struggling state owned enterprises. Boards at Eskom, Denel, Transnet and SAA Express were replaced with fresh blood and individuals that have experience and integrity. New leadership appointments have been made in the security cluster.

The head of the South African Revenue Services Tom Moyane, a known Zuma ally, has been suspended and is likely to be dispatched to the wilderness before his contract comes to an end.

Law enforcement agencies were quickly on the heels of those implicated in acts of corruption. Among those feeling the heat are the Gupta family which had been untouchable due to its closeness to Zuma and their allies like the former minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane. Even the ANC general secretary Ace Magashule is feeling the pressure.

Ramaphosa’s short tenure has, no doubt, brought a sense of urgency in cleaning up government and other state institutions. This is something to be encouraged. However, the road ahead requires much more.

Beyond slogans

Beyond a set of programmes and short-term plans, Ramaphosa needs to develop strong signature themes that define his leadership, and not just piecemeal programmes. He needs to express a clearly discernible mission beyond the feel-good slogan, “Thuma Mina”, a campaign to galvanise citizen activism in addressing the country’s challenges.

Whatever people think of former South African leaders such as Nelson Mandelaand Thabo Mbeki, their leadership had strong imprints that were felt early on. Whether it was reconciliation and nation-building, in the case of Mandela, or African renaissance, in the case of Mbeki, what their presidency stood for was clear. Ramaphosa is yet to show his leadership identity.

However Ramaphosa’s record is assessed, people should not lose focus on the responsibility of citizens to keep leaders accountable. They should not allow themselves to be reduced to applauding spectators. Leaders are here today and gone tomorrow.

Positive efforts should by all means be supported but citizens must avoid complacency at all costs. They can play a critical part in contributing meaningfully to consolidate the country’s democracy and promoting social change by getting involved in initiatives that seek to address social ills.

The ConversationMatlala Setlhalogile coauthored this article. He lectures politics at the University of Johannesburg.

Mzukisi Qobo, Deputy Chair: SA Research Chair on African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

There's a new way of measuring poverty in South Africa: Here's how it works

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A poverty index is revealing new insights about deprivation in South Africa.

There’s more to understanding a country’s poverty levels than merely calculating how much or how little individuals earn. That’s why a method called the multidimensional poverty index was introduced globally in 2011.

The multidimensional poverty index reflects aggregate levels derived from a number of socioeconomic indicators. These include education, health, standard of living and labour market activity. It unveiled new insights about the nature of poverty around the world.

South Africa had been watching with interest. In 2014, Statistics South Africa adopted the multidimensional poverty index into understanding the nature of the country’s poverty. The move produced the South African multidimensional poverty index (SAMPI).

Before this, the picture of the country’s poverty was mainly informed by the money-metric approach, which examines the proportion of the population with income below the minimum level required for survival (poverty line).

The SAMPI is still a relatively new and thus developing method. With that in mind, our recently published study zoomed into Statistics South Africa’s new multidimensional approach, pointed out and addressed numerous shortcomings in the method. We were then able to develop a more granular version of SAMPI. Our version focused on smaller geographical units in South Africa, namely district municipalities, from 2001 to 2011. The aim was to identify, more clearly, the location and characteristics of the poorest individuals.

The most important finding of our study is in refinement of the SAMPI by indicator. It shows that unemployment contributed the most to SAMPI, followed by years of schooling and disability. The results indicate that the government needs to move with urgency in its efforts of boosting job creation and improving quality and access to education and healthcare.

Some good news

Our version of SAMPI found a generally downward trend in the proportion of deprived population for all indicators, except the disability indicator, between 2001 and 2011, as reflected in the figure below.

Proportion of population deprived in each indicator (%)
From the authors

But we also found some alarming indications. In 2011 just under half of the population still did not have access to a flush toilet and refuse removal at least once a week. These two proportions were 53% and 50% for Africans but only 1% and 9% for the white population.

We found that poverty was most severe amongst female Africans living in rural areas in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. In 2011, the top five least deprived district municipalities were West Coast, Cape Winelands, Overberg, City of Johannesburg and City of Cape Town.

In contrast, Alfred Nzo a district municipality in the Eastern Cape was the most deprived district. It was followed by OR Tambo also in the Eastern Cape, uMzinyathi (KwaZulu-Natal), Harry Gwala (KwaZulu-Natal) and Chris Hani (Eastern Cape).

One encouraging finding was that the most deprived districts in 2011 were also the ones enjoying the most rapid absolute decline in the multidimensional poverty index between 2001 and 2011. This result is not surprising given the government’s effort to improve the provision of free basic services since the democratic transition.

The key drivers

It should be no surprise that unemployment contributed the most to multidimensional poverty index. South Africa’s unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high and is currently seating at 26.7%. This rate is shockingly high for the youth aged 15-29 years at 44.3%. Nearly half of the unemployed youth struggle to find the first job.

The couple of initiatives directed at addressing youth unemployment have not made a difference. These include the Employment Tax Incentives Bill or the Youth Wage Subsidy. Only time will tell if the newly introduced Youth Employment Service initiative would change the situation.

It’s been clear for a while that the South African economy changed into one that has greater demand for more educated and high skilled workers. This dynamic is not being addressed adequately. In 2017 only 53% of African job seekers aged 21-25 years completed Matric. This proportion was 83% for the white counterparts.

South Africa was ranked second from the bottom in Grade 8 Mathematics and last in Grade 8 Science mean test score in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. South Africa was also ranked last in Grade 4 Reading mean test of the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. The disappointing performance of South African learners in these tests strongly suggests the presence of poor quality education at most schools, which subsequently becomes a crucial factor that sustains and deepens poverty.

The under performance of learners has to do with a wide range of factors. These include family socio-economic status, access to basic learning resources such as textbooks and school facilities, teacher quality, remuneration and absenteeism, and even quality of preschool education. All these areas should receive urgent policy attention.

Data from the 2016 General Household Survey indicated that when feeling ill, only 55% of Coloureds and 60% of Africans consulted healthcare workers (compared to 80% in the case of Indians and whites). Also, about 20% of African-headed households living in poorer provinces, such as Limpopo, needed more than half an hour to visit the nearest health facility.

And the proportion of households claiming they were very satisfied with the quality of healthcare services received was relatively low for certain demographic groups. It was 58% for African-headed households but 86% for white-headed households. It was 55% in KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Northern Cape but nearly 70% in Western Cape.

A better understanding of public healthcare issues in terms of access and quality is needed, especially given imminent major health reforms via the proposed National Health Insurance.

Room for improving the SAMPI further

The SAMPI has revealed new and useful insights into the nature of South African poverty. These can be used by policy makers to come up with more informed interventions. And our version has produced an even more refined understanding. But there is still room to improve the SAMPI further by considering other non-money-metric poverty indicators like transport assets, financial assets, physical and social isolation and vulnerability and helplessness.

The ConversationThis is an extract from the journal article titled “Multidimensional poverty in South Africa, 2001-2011”, which the writer co-authored with Tina Fransman, an Economics Masters graduate at the University of the Western Cape.

Derek Yu, Associate Professor, Economics, University of the Western Cape

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Patience with Ramaphosa's presidency is waning among South Africans

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Patience might be running out for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has just crossed 100 days in office with increasing signs that his honeymoon period is already over. The economic realities are hitting home. And the accompanying impatience which seemed suspended since he took over in February is reemerging.

Ramaphosa’s tenure came with renewed hopes about the future of the country’s economy. His state of the nation address, followed by the national budget, raised optimism that the economy would soon rebound. This followed President Jacob Zuma’s rule which wrecked the economy through a series of corruption scandals and destructive economic decisions.

Given the depths to which Zuma had taken the country, it was easy for the Ramaphosa euphoria to emerge. A couple of speeches promising a “new dawn” did the trick. The people ululated and the markets cheered.

But it would seem that the honeymoon is over. Patience is waning and giving way to protests against long standing grievances. The failure by the ANC government to deliver basic services and endemic corruption is driving people to the streets.

Many celebrated the decision by one of the top three credit rating agencies to leave South Africa’s rating unchanged. What they missed was it’s long list of warnings.

I believe that this all adds up to the need to be extremely cautious about the country’s immediate future. The real test for Ramaphosa’s presidency is how he will respond to the immediate pressing needs. The people, markets and rating agencies will stand waiting to judge. The latest economic growth figures, showing a 2.2% dip in gross domestic product (GDP) during the first quarter of this year, is not a good sign.

A closer reading of S&Ps decision

S&P downgraded South Africa’s sovereign rating to sub-investment grade towards the end of last year, warning that further downgrades were possible. The country’s economy was in a perilous state and faced the possibility of slipping deeper into sub-investment grade.

Against this backdrop, S&P’s most recent decision, not to downgrade South Africa further, was greeted with delight. But its decision can be interpreted from two perspectives.

On the one hand, the decision was a sign that the rating agency was impressed that the country’s position has not deteriorated further since its last downgrade in November 2017.

The other view is that S&P acknowledged that the country has not done much to improve its fiscal position which remains significantly weak. By keeping the country’s outlook stable, the rating agency is anticipating the economy could improve modestly in the near future if certain reforms are undertaken. But it’s also a warning that should there be deterioration it will be forced to do another downgrade.

What’s been done, and not done

Ramaphosa’s government has largely focused on saving key institutions ravaged by the patronage of the Zuma era. This include the police and prosecuting agencies and state-owned enterprises.

There have been big changes in the management of key state-owned enterprises such as the power utility Eskom, regional airline SA Express, defence company Denel and transport and logistics enterprise Transnet.

This shows that Ramaphosa’s government is committed to rooting out corruption and improving service of these enterprises.

But a number of issues remain problematic. First, the country’s economic growth figures remain subdued and are likely to stay that way for a while. That’s because government is still not showing any firm commitment to undertake structural reforms that are required to jump-start growth.

Secondly, unemployment remains significantly high with no practical solution in sight besides a proposed job summit. South Africa’s unemployment stands at 26.7%. The rate is much higher, around 36%- if disgruntled work seekers are included. Youth unemployment stands at more than 52%. Something drastic is required to tackle this problem. Nothing from the prevailing talk fits the bill.

Thirdly, government’s debt burden continues to rise. This is on the back of low growth and a rising social service bill. The bloated civil service and cabinet are not helping the situation. Ramaphosa had a chance to review the cabinet size when he reshuffled it in February but he let it slip presumably for fear of unsettling political support. The continued power balance within the ruling party means that he will shy away from taking hard decisions like rationalising the civil service.

There is also the lingering financial burden posed by state owned enterprises. Besides improvements in their governance, many are run on fundamentally unviable funding models, making it impossible for them to be weaned from government support.

And finally there are the disturbing uncertainties around the ANC’s move to undertake expropriation of land without compensation. This is undermining the pledge to restore policy certainty and improve economic growth.

Possible solutions

Ramaphosa has inherited a ruling party and government faced with a tricky overriding challenge. The ANC is getting increasingly pressured by its voter base to deal with poverty and inequality. And the noise coming from populist groups like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is piling up the pressure. Arguably, it is this dynamic which led to the adoption of the land expropriation without compensation resolution at the ANC conference in December last year.

And so the government finds itself trying to strike a balance between addressing poverty and inequality while maintaining property rights and ensuring food security.

The main priority of the government should be centred on growing the economy to create jobs and reduce poverty. This could be achieved with structural economic reforms. These could include liberalising the labour market by making changes to the employment laws to lower the costs of hiring and firing workers in order to improve the ability of companies to respond to market shocks.

The ConversationEconomic reforms should include the removal of bottlenecks in the product and service markets to allow establishment and sustenance of small businesses. In addition, the reforms must aim at improving the country’s delicate taxation system through broadening the tax base with targets to reduce social spending in the medium to long-term.

Misheck Mutize, Lecturer of Finance and Doctor of Philosophy Candidate, Graduate School of Business (GSB), University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

How CCTV surveillance poses a threat to privacy in South Africa

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CCTV cameras are becoming a “normal” feature of public life, tracking peoples’ movements as a matter of course.

Locational privacy is a fairly new and novel aspect of privacy rights. It refers to the right of people to move about freely, without having their movements tracked.

But as CCTV cameras become more widespread in public spaces for use in a range of functions such as crime-fighting, it’s becoming more difficult for people to protect this kind of privacy in public spaces.

The cameras, linked to a display monitors, can be used to monitor human movements in particular spaces, including streets and shopping centres. A video recorder can also be added to record activities. But, the problem with CCTV is always the human capacity to process the information gleaned from the cameras. The cameras can only film fixed areas. Unless they are ubiquitous, they cannot be used to track movements.

The need for human monitoring places a natural limit on the analysis of camera footage. But, with digital tools of analysis, this is changing. When linked to a computer loaded with software capable of algorithmic analysis, huge amounts of footage can be analysed. These camera based surveillance systems can capture information about a person’s physical location. Some may only provide real time information, while others may record information for further analysis.

But governments of a more authoritarian bent can misuse this information to establish people’s movements, political activities and associations. People may not participate as robustly in democratic life as they would if they feel that they are being watched, and their movements tracked.

Invasive forms of data analysis such as number plate and facial recognition are being introduced in South African cities without any public debate about the implications for privacy in public spaces. Likewise, there’s no debate about about their implications for the ability of citizens to practice a range of rights in these spaces, such as the right to assemble.


Increasingly, CCTV cameras are becoming a “normal” feature of public life, tracking peoples’ movements as a matter of course. Video analysis tools also allow for more sophisticated analyses of footage.

Computer analysis enables CCTV to be turned into “smart dataveillance” devices (that conduct surveillance through the collection and computerised analysis of data), which make individuals and their movements more visible to the state. These are meant to assist in “smart” policing, whereby police use data tools to enhance the effectiveness of policing.

Another example is facial recognition technologies. These can be used to identify a particular person from a facial database. Potentially, these technologies can, and are, being used to identify people engaging in politically activities, such as protests. This triggers concerns that governments may be tempted to use them for anti-democratic purposes.

South Africa has followed international trends in street-level surveillance and embraced technologies whose affect on crime fighting and intelligence work are, at best, unclear and contested. International academic research points to CCTV systems being most effective in specific contexts, such as parking lots, and least effective in open spaces.

Other kinds of crime such as white collar crime and domestic crime, are not recorded by street cameras, which perpetuates an ideology of crime being street crime perpetrated by strangers.

Critics have also blamed the use of CCTV systems for displacing crime, rather than deterring it. Where reductions in crime levels have taken place because of CCTV, they were localised and often not statistically significant.

A security officers monitoring activity captured on CCTV.

The difficulties of assessing the impacts of CCTV on crime is made harder by the fact that local authorities have not been undertaking independent impact assessments (including on privacy). This means that the public is forced to rely on the state’s version of events, which for public relations purposes, emphasises the positive impacts. Yet, in Cape Town in 2015 for instance, the police were criticised for making only 107 arrests following 2640 criminal incidents caught on camera.

In 2016, the City of Johannesburg announced that it was rolling out smart CCTV cameras complete, with automatic number plate and facial recognition technologies, as part of its ‘safe cities’ initiative.

Yet at the time of writing, the City had enacted no requirement for signage at the entrance to an area under CCTV surveillance – a key privacy protection requirement. The City was in the process of finalising a policy on the roll-out of CCTVs, coupled with a master plan, but these were still at draft stage, pointing to the fact that the technology had run ahead of the policy.

CCTV rollouts tend to “follow the money”. In other words, they tend to follow patterns of wealth in the major metropolitan cities in South Africa. This contributes to the enclosure of city spaces by private capital, and consequently to the privatisation of public spaces and the reproduction of spacial inequalities.

It’s not at all clear if the growing capacity of local governments to collect street-level data on peoples’ movements is making a substantial contribution to policing, as the police do not use this data routinely.

The risk of dumbing down policing

Technology is being used as a silver bullet for policing of public spaces, when more basic interventions may be more appropriate (such as improving investigative techniques), risks dumbing down policing. Yet, at the same time, the regulation of CCTV for its impacts on privacy is lagging behind the actual rollout of the technology.

Data-driven surveillance tools, such as smart CCTV, consistently over promise but under deliver in fighting crime. Yet, governments are adept at creating panic about crime to obscure these failings. People’s fear of crime, and their need to feel protected from it, should not stop them from asking the critical questions that need to be asked.

The ConversationThis is an edited excerpt from the author’s latest book, Stopping the Spies: Constructing and Resisting the Surveillance State, published by Wits University Press.

Jane Duncan, Professor and head of the Department of Journalism, Film and Television, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How Huddleston and Powell squared off about racism in a televised debate

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Anti-apartheid cleric Trevor Huddleston, centre, with South African liberation struggle icons Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela in 1991.

British Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s 20 April 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech has been making headlines as the UK marks the 50th anniversary of its delivery.

Powell claimed that immigration was responsible for a demographic and social revolution that threatened British society. His toxic rhetoric and the responses to it, shaped policy and legislation.

Only fragments of Powell’s speech were captured on film, and the address in its entirety was preserved as a text. This April, Radio 4 asked actor Ian McDiarmid, who played Powell on stage, to read out the notorious 3183 word speech. Uproar ensued.

Critics argued that the broadcast contributed to normalising racism. Others thought it should not be aired. The BBC defended its decision to proceed with the broadcast. It explained that the speech was interspersed with historical context. It claimed that the discussion emphasised the harmful impact of Powell’s words on his contemporaries.

I came across an astonishing piece of television during my research on the anti-apartheid activist and Bishop of Stepney Trevor Huddleston, and the impact of his experience in apartheid South Africa on race relations in Britain. The programme, called The Great Debate: My Christian Duty, aired on October 12, 1969 on ITV.

It was the result of a lengthy and public confrontation between Powell and Huddleston.

Huddleston protested the “rivers of blood” address and the two commented on each other’s positions throughout the year. When Huddleston called Powell’s rhetoric “evil”, the latter wrote to Huddleston to defend his position. In their correspondence, they agreed to present their arguments to the public.

The location for their public meeting turned out to be a television studio with a live audience. This may sound like a curious choice of venue. In fact, Powell turned to the media habitually to promote his agenda, as did Huddleston.

During the 40 minutes of the debate, both men used the emerging genre of the televised political debate to rally support for their views. The terms of the debate were set by Powell and the links he created between immigration, race and British decline. Huddleston could not sever these imagined ties. He did, however, invoke the evils of apartheid as a warning post to his fellow countrymen. He used his experience in Johannesburg to reflect on the dangers of racial discrimination.

Faith in humanity

Huddleston cultivated his public image as a moral authority in South Africa from the mid-1940s. Between 1943 and 1955, he worked as a priest in Sophiatown, a black suburb of Johannesburg. In those years, until his forced recall back to England in 1955, Huddleston was a prominent participant in the struggles against apartheid. By then, his biographer concluded

[Huddleston’s face was] the most photographed of any Christian except the Pope.

His bestselling memoir of the period, published in 1956, made him a household name in Britain too. Huddleston reminded viewers of Britain’s material and moral debt to its former empire in Africa and Asia. He argued that the British, through colonial expansion, had “quite deliberately” moved into other people’s countries. They have

created and sustained regimes of power over African and Asian people.

This, and Britain’s long reliance on the slave trade, and later, on the inscription of labour from the Commonwealth to fight its wars and build its towns, created a commitment to these populations.

Huddleston’s aim, however, went beyond a history lesson. He harnessed the medium of television to issue a call for solidarity to fight the crisis ensuing from Powell’s address. He drew on his experience of collaborating with activists across the colour line in South Africa to signal a path for a dispersed group of anti-racist protesters.

He was successful in this, as the hundreds of letters from viewers that he received in response to the debate testify. His performance energised anti-racist and anti-apartheid activists, lay and clerical Christians, as well as individuals affected by so-called Powellism. Huddleston offered Britons his faith in humanity as flexible, tolerant and inclusive, and his arguments were rooted in the language of reconciliation. Accordingly, in his vision, immigration was a source of opportunity, and an indication that Britain was embracing its role as a positive engine of change.

Tackling toxic rhetoric

Today, as in 1969, Huddleston’s alternative vision to Powell’s remains relevant. The animated public reaction to Huddleston’s television performance, which included bags of hate mail in addition to support, demonstrates the price and profit of standing up to toxic rhetoric.

The ConversationWhen we assess the legacy of Powell’s speech, it is important to consider the diverse experience that fuelled the opposition to it. Huddleston’s vision for Britain, shaped by his tenure in South Africa, and the solidarity and political activity it spurred, should also be remembered.

Tal Zalmanovich, Postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the ERC funded project APARTHEID-STOPS that studies the transnational circulation of anti-apartheid expressive culture., Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This article was originally published on The Conversation.