26 November 2014
Special Report

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Special Report


South Africa is not on the verge of a precipice

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Constitutional democracy will survive the threat of an ANC-in-crisis.

Moneyweb recently published two controversial opinion contributions from Max du Preez and Magnus Heystek which garnered a swift, emotional and blunt response from the Moneyweb community.

Heystek penned the blog The death of the rainbow nation in which he points to the recent brawl in Parliament as a sign that South Africa is hurtling towards being a failed state.

Du Preez’s piece entitled SA is heading to its Tunisia Day offered a stern warning that in the current political environment under President Jacob Zuma, South Africa may be heading to violent instability over the next few years, similar to the Arab Spring that overthrew the Tunisian government in 2010.

I have immense respect for both of these individuals and their sometimes provocative agenda-setting perspectives, but I do not fully agree with their sentiments that South Africa is on the verge of a political implosion.

Although deeply concerned about their views, I am of the opinion that the current political environment is a consequence of a fragmenting ANC under its worst leader in its history, but that South Africa will emerge from this in a better state than that foreseen by many commentators.

South Africa’s political landscape has always been volatile; we have experienced poor presidents and leaders over many generations. Somehow, we muddle through as ordinary South Africans who love this country.

I am not alone in this belief. Many people have phoned or emailed me in response to the “alarmist” pieces and echoed the comments from many readers below the articles that all is not as dire as it is made out to be.

South Africa is not on the verge of a precipice. Yes, it is facing significant challenges and we are on a slippery moral downward trajectory, but it seems as if the current political turmoil is a result of public rebellion against the status quo.

The rebellion is not only from opposition parties, but also from the current and historical ANC supporters’ base. Cope, the EFF and the breakaway of Numsa are clearly the products of significant discontent.

The fact is that we have aggressive opposition against Zuma and the ANC and this stems directly from the success of our constitutional democracy. Zuma and his band of ANC leaders are desperate to seize control of key state institutions to try and cling to power, but the vibrancy of the opposition remains a beacon of hope.

Even the bursting of police into Parliament to try and arrest an EFF MP for saying the president is a corrupt thief, should not be seen as an attack on our democracy. It should rather be seen as a desperate act of an ANC trying to protect its position of power. I doubt that this will happen again.

The writing on the wall for Zuma may also be closer than many think. Zuma’s second term as president of the ANC will come to an end in 2017, while his presidency will terminate, theoretically at least, in 2019. This will result in a very similar scenario to that of 2007 (Thabo Mbeki ruled the country, and Zuma the ANC), where two different individuals head up the ruling party and the country.

This was also the case when Mbeki was recalled, and it is doubtful that the ANC could find a worse candidate than the incumbent. The results of the local government election next year could be pivotal in this scenario.

South Africa has a history of poor governance, as have many other countries around the world. But despite this, South Africa has seen periods of prosperity, albeit between periods of hardship. We are currently in the latter and the short-term prospects are not too promising, but the cycle will change again.

If there was any logic in South Africa’s history, the country would have imploded a long time ago.

Different perspectives

There are many ways to look at current developments. One approach is similar to a 70-year-old who gets a headache and immediately panics: “Oh no, it is a tumor. The end is near!” Another perspective is that of a 20-year-old who merely pops some aspirin when the headache strikes and thinks nothing of it. The answer to the current scenario in South Africa is probably somewhere in the middle.

Maybe this is a naïve perspective and I rely too much on the irrational human trait of hope. Maybe I have no choice as to believe in a success future. My reality is that my children are six and eight years old and I do not have a foreign passport or, more significantly, I do not have the resources to hop on to the next plane to London, Toronto or Perth. I also don’t want to. These countries also have problems, albeit very different to those of South Africa.

I want my children to grow up in a multi-cultural society and prosper. Most critically, I believe that every single South African parent has this dream for his or her children.

The current ANC regime is a threat to this dream, but I am confident in our constitutional democracy to ensure that the country will survive this threat and emerge stronger and more unified.

The fragmentation of the ANC will not be the end of this beautiful country

The Money Whisperer

Author: Magnus Heystek|

17 November 2014 00:12

The death of the rainbow nation

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Bad things can happen to good countries.

If anyone reading this column still had any lingering hopes that SA is not hurtling towards being a failed state, then I'm sure these hopes were finally dashed by what happened in Parliament on the evening of November 13 2014.

When the president of a country, according to some reports, starts sending in his jackbooted thugs into the most hallowed halls of democracy in order to silence dissenting voices, then you need to realise that the end is near for what is described as a constitutional democracy.

These are the kind of images you would expect from a tin-pot dictator in the middle of an African jungle, where some buffoon has proclaimed himself Leader for Life, wearing a full military uniform with rows and rows of gleaming medals, all awarded to himself by himself.

Not in a country where most concerned middle-class citizens were hoping against hope that South Africa would escape the now familiar cascading collapse of the economy, infrastructure and political tolerance in most post-colonial African countries. But it is happening, right before our eyes and we can see just how powerless we are.

Uhuru (Swahili: freedom) in Africa, the cynics often said, lasts for about 20 years before everything starts collapsing: the infrastructure, the economy, the collection of taxes. Does that look familiar to you?

Let there be no doubt: what happened on Thursday evening will have serious consequences, much as the nail-painting ANC-cohorts would like to laugh and jeer. The world is watching and from what I can gather they were alarmed by what was transpiring.

Within minutes of the unfolding events on Thursday evening, my inbox started beeping. Messages and questions started pouring in: from a brother in the Bahamas, a friend in Australia, foreign clients with money still locked up in this country. All the questions were same: what the hell is happening in South Africa?

And what can you say? “Everything is fine, Boet. When are you coming home?”

Such a suggestion will be met with scornful laughter: ”Not in a million years,” would most probably be the reply.

Power-mad liberation movement

In one dramatic and shocking evening the ruling ANC party was unveiled for what it really is: a power-mad liberation movement prepared to follow a scorched-earth policy in order to achieve its political objectives.

The world is watching and the world is worried.

Every time one of the international credit ratings agencies such as Fitch, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s downrate our country, as happened two weeks ago, it is laughed off by local politicians as not being important.

We will see how important it is when we get downrated to junk-bond status and our bond, property and currency markets suffer in the fall-out.

The ANC has only one political objective and that is to remain in power.

It will use every mechanism available to it. It will use legislation that was drawn up by the Nationalist Party in 1961 in order to control the flow of money, namely foreign exchange control.

It will use the legal system for as long as it can at the expense of the taxpayer. It will use the tax system to spy on taxpayers. And it's bound to get worse.

Where is our so-called “best constitution in the world”, as it is so often described?

When they come for you and your possessions the constitution will be of little comfort.

If you doubt me or think I’m talking through my hat my dear friends, then I suggest you spend some time reading the book BEE: Helping or Hurting by Dr Anthea Jeffery (Tafelberg), one of country’s most respected political analysts, published only weeks ago.

Like a proverbial sleuth has Dr Jeffery attempted to link the various, at first glance, unrelated and seemingly innocuous pieces of legislation already before Parliament or in the process of being drawn up. They deal with BEE, Affirmative Action and the right of the State to take possession of property if it deems it to be in the national interest.

“Behind the schemes, however, the ANC had other objectives in mind. In particular, it had long been committed to a national democratic revolution (NDR) aimed at eliminating property relations and ensuring demographic representivity in every sphere of society. In addition, its allies in Cosatu and the SA Communist Party—joint rulers with the ANC in the governing tripartite alliance—had long identified the NDR as providing the shortest and most direct to a socialist and then a communist society,” she writes.

Since coming to power the ANC has never deviated from its belief in the NDR, with the most recent reaffirmation coming at its national conference at Manguang in the Free State in 2012.

Read the book, all 500 pages, over the coming Christmas break and then tell me you are not worried.

Property rights under threat

And 'property' in this context, does not merely refer to your personal residential property, it refers to property in the broadest possible sense of the word, i.e. all your earthly possessions, be it a farm, business, factory, restaurant, café and even intellectual property rights which you might own. All mineral rights in SA were confiscated by the State in this manner some ten years or so ago.

My advice for some time has been to repatriate as much as your personal assets out of the country as you can.

This followed on, in particular, after my altercation with the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb), when I saw first-hand the enormous power this institution has over the individual and how it can be abused [by] individuals within the system.

Where is our wonderful constitution when the Sarb can make rules and regulations in secrecy, attach your personal property at whim and then act as judge and executioner should you wish to dispute the rulings?

I took a vow at the time in 2010 that I will never allow myself to be in such a position again and I repatriated all my disposal assets at the time out of the reach of the local banking system and out of reach of the clutches of the Sarb. This has, ironically turned out to be an outstanding investment as I bought US dollars at R6,7 and invested most of it in biotech and technology funds offshore where the returns have been in excess of 200% so far.

And with the way the rand and economy is performing I’m sure that these returns will get even better over time. My view is that the rand will be R20 in four years time. More on that in the next column.

Asset swaps not as safe as you think

And don’t for a moment think that your rand-hedge investments will protect you when the collapse in the rand really gets going. Few investors realise (and the fund management companies will try and keep this very quiet) that assets swaps exists at the mercy of SA’s exchange control regulations. If the Sarb - under direction from the government - orders all these asset management companies to unwind these asset swaps you will end up with local investments again, most probably at a time when your need for offshore investments is the greatest.

And don’t think it can’t happen. It can and most probably will happen in the next five years as the cumulative effect of weakening growth, weakening foreign exchange and a rise in direct offshore investing starts to manifest itself.

Government will one day, is my forecast, simply send in its jackbooted bankers from the Sarb to switch off the offshore investing tap. It will happen overnight, without warning and at precisely the time when the demand for foreign assets is at its peak.

It reminds  me of the old joke that used to circulate in the offices of The Star in the mid 1990’s when I was employed there: there are only two types of ex-Rhodesians in the world. Those who took all their money out of the country and those who wished that they did.

*Magnus Heystek is the investment strategist at Brenthurst Wealth. He can be reached at magnus@heystek.co.za for ideas and suggestions.

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