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Strictly Personal

Proportional representation and secret ballots in SA’s coalition future, By Martin van Staden



Tshwane was widely regarded as the test case for a stable coalition government: the Democratic Alliance (DA)-led multi-party reformist coalition had a majority in the council and was therefore not dependent on parties aligned with the African National Congress (ANC) or its ideology.

Recent events, particularly the speaker election earlier this month, casts doubt on the success of this experiment.

The reformist coalition had agreed to elect ActionSA’s Kholofelo Morodi as speaker. In the event, the Electoral Commission (IEC) deemed the DA caucus’s 69 votes to be ‘spoiled’ and declared the runner-up, Mncedi Ndzwanana, as speaker. The reason for this can be traced back to a 1998 Act of Parliament forcing council office-bearer elections to be held as secret ballots.

The DA, to identify dissidents who break the party line, required its councillors to mark their votes with an assigned number, thus negating the secrecy of the vote.

Inelegant handling 

While the Tshwane coalition has had its ructions, this is not an example of coalition failure. When both Parliament and the IEC have taken steps against a coalition, it is highly unlikely that it would succeed, no matter how well the coalition partners get along.

The DA caucus’ handling of the speaker election was inelegant and, arguably, unlawful. But there is a difference between a spoiled ballot and an unlawful electoral practice.

A spoiled ballot in a free and open democracy is a ballot that does not clearly show how a vote was cast. If it is obvious from the ballot who the voter voted for, the ballot cannot be spoiled unless it was unambiguously communicated to the voter beforehand that voting in a particular way would not be accepted.

The DA caucus’ votes were clear, and as a result, cannot be deemed ‘spoiled’. The IEC has harmed its own legitimacy during a crucial time in South Africa’s democratic development by grasping at straws to arrive at a particular electoral outcome.

Parliamentary diktat

If the IEC has a reason – and in this case, I think it might – to believe the DA caucus conducted itself in contravention of schedule 3 of the Municipal Structures Act of 1998, the correct thing to do would be to approach the courts since this is a legal dispute. If the court is to find in favour of the IEC, the election can be re-run. Legal disputes involving the electoral authority in a free and open democracy are not resolved by unilateral action.

But there is something nefarious about the Municipal Structures Act – a law drawn up by Parliament – dictating rules and procedures to municipal councils. South African constitutional law recognises the principle of subsidiarity, which effectively says that a government function must vest at the lowest (that is, closest to the people) level it can effectively be exercised. There is also a principle of cooperative governance found in section 40(1) of the Constitution, which clearly states the three spheres of government (central, provincial, municipal) are not superior or inferior to one another but are rather ‘interdependent and interrelated’. Parliament is not the ‘boss’ of ‘lower’ assemblies.

Somehow, Parliament figured it could include a provision in the Municipal Structures Act that dictated to municipal councils that speakers, mayors, and others, must be elected on a secret ballot when section 160(6)(b) of the Constitution empowers a municipal council to ‘prescribe rules and orders for its [own] business and proceedings’. Whether or not a secret ballot is utilised is something that an assembly decides for itself on a case-by-case basis. Part A of Schedule 3 of the Constitution, of which schedule 3 of the Municipal Structures Act is in substance a reproduction, unambiguously only applies to institutions in the central and provincial spheres, not municipalities.

Parliament dictating a secret ballot to municipal councils betrays a superiority complex that is without clear constitutional footing. Any legislation the Constitution allows Parliament to adopt regarding municipal councils must be compatible with every other constitutional provision and principle, including subsidiarity and cooperative governance. Indeed, section 151(4) of the Constitution provides that ‘The national or a provincial government may not compromise or impede a municipality’s ability or right to exercise its powers or perform its functions’.

Rules of the game

It seems that Parliament requiring secret ballots in municipal councils might be unconstitutional. But more than that, if one appreciates the fact that coalition politics is the future of South Africa in the municipal, provincial, and central spheres, secret ballots are also unnecessarily disruptive to an already raucous phenomenon.

A secret ballot among political representatives must be distinguished from the firm democratic rule that the public’s votes in elections must be anonymous.

Coalition partners, among themselves and in full view of their voters, must be able to form agreements with one another and hold one another to account. Government must remain respectfully distant from deciding the rules of the coalition game – because, ultimately government itself is a player. The rules of the game are predetermined in the Constitution before the game begins.

When government, via Parliament, introduces disruptive devices like the secret ballot, coalition politics becomes significantly more opaque. Imagine the chaos if the ANC, Economic Freedom Fighters, and Patriotic Alliance formed a majority coalition in 2024 by an enforceable agreement, but the National Assembly, through a secret ballot, elected John Steenhuisen as President and Pieter Groenewald as Speaker.

In this respect, it might also be worth considering a constitutional amendment to Schedule 3 of the Constitution to remove the secret ballot requirement for legislative elections of office-bearers in the central and provincial spheres.

This would only make sense in a proportional representation system like South Africa’s. In such a system, voters bestow a mandate upon a political party, not upon individual candidates. In a constituency system, the phenomenon of allowing an individual representative to ‘vote their conscience’ makes sense because, to a large degree, that is precisely what voters entrusted that representative to do. But a political party has no conscience, and the consciences of its representatives carry no mandates and are therefore largely irrelevant. The electorate must be able to see how the representatives of the party they put in power cast their votes.

Strictly Personal

Uganda’s expiration pandemic: Expired courses, drugs, brains…By Joachim Buwembo



I swear, Ugandans on Twitter will not go to Heaven! And it is not just on account of the cruel comments they make when a prominent personality dies. It is about their views on everything and anything. They closed the month of May by dismissing everything as expired.

It started with an inadvertently ambiguous statement from the National Council of Higher Education, NCHE, which categorised many courses offered at both public and private universities as “expired”.

It transpires that courses are supposed to be assessed and periodically reassessed, but this has not been done for many courses by the relevant universities with approval of NCHE.

The clarification came quickly but not quickly enough. Whoever drafted that notice started regretting the minute it hit public media, as it became a feast of mincemeat on Twitter.

One of the earliest tweets was of resignation, saying that it was all obvious as expired courses had produced expired health workers who administered expired contraceptives to women, which led to the birth of expired babies, who are now offering expired services to the public.

You can say that this cruel diagnosis is itself logically expired. Unfortunately, there seems to be evidence around that expiry is the real malaise dogging our steps, whichever direction we want to take. With apparently expired experts directing the economy (locally pronounced enkonome), full national recovery from Covid-19 and Ukraine seems to be taking rather long.

The public debt has grown beyond 50 percent of GDP and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is not collecting enough. But how can it conceivably collect enough when the biggest taxable sources are themselves expired?

One of URA’s cash cows is importation of old cars that expired long ago in the countries of origin. The terribly fuel-inefficient contraptions thus guzzle sinful quantities of fuel — which is heavily taxed.

The fuel itself is expired, the type that was long abandoned by developed countries, with lots of sulphur, poisoning the poor Ugandan bodies, as it gets pumped into the air around us.

The other tax cash cow is beer, which is an expiry accelerator that makes humans age faster and the drinker’s brain to expire rapidly.

But a tax source even bigger than petrol, old cars or beer is expired mobile phone services. Although these services are the in-thing in a poor country, they are still rudimentary, as the digital capabilities are underutilised.

Things like 5G are more talk than reality and buying the best phone on the world market will not give you the experience it should when you use it here. But we cannot say much because many expired journalists are scared of criticising mobile service providers because they are big advertisers who, if annoyed, can hurt the journalists’ employers, it is often said.

With such expired sources of tax revenue, the country has little option but to rely on expired loan arrangements to finance its budget. The loans are designed in expired format by expired minds of the lenders. The lenders operate with the expired philosophy that the borrower is not supposed to think smartly, hence the skewed terms that are the cry of poor nations all over the globe.

They had started running away from major Western lenders, citing being given embarrassing “conditionalities” for the loans. They ran to new lenders whose mentality turned out to be even more expired, leaning more towards the Shakespearean Shylock from Merchant of Venice, whose method of loan recovery was to slice a pound (half kilo) of flesh off the borrower’s chest.

Now the borrowers are running back to the older expired lenders, as the expired debt pendulum swings back and forth ceaselessly. The borrowers themselves are exhausted with expiration and are even rumoured to be going to commercial money lenders next.

But, not to worry much, the NHE has clarified by rendering the expiry term itself expired. NHE now calls the courses “un-reassessed.”

So, expiry itself has expired.

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Strictly Personal

Telecommunications’ greenfield ventures conundrum, By Dilip Pal



For most businesses, expansion, especially to a new geographical area is both an exciting but also expensive and nerve-wracking process.

As the global economy is shifting and changing, due to globalization, this is becoming a necessary move for most businesses. And it is no different in the dynamic and agile telecommunications sector which involves building operations from the ground up.

Establishing new networks or infrastructure from scratch in untapped markets requires significant upfront investments, extensive network rollout, regulatory compliance, and patience before profitability can be achieved. In economic terms, this foreign direct investment is known as greenfield operations.

From experience, though, I have learnt that most of the stakeholders lack patience, tolerance and understanding when it comes to these greenfield operations and their associated start-up costs.

Mobile Network operators must deal with the complex and resource-intensive infrastructure development. Building a robust network infrastructure requires substantial capital expenditure, meticulous planning, regulatory approvals, and optimal coverage. These factors contribute to a longer waiting period before positive cash flows materialize.

The most recent investment by Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia in Ethiopia is a recent showcase of greenfield operations. Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia has close to 3 million customers and built a distributor network of over 114 outlets, delivered an award-winning premium quality network in 22 cities and regions; with close to 1300 network sites and over 900 staff, 81% of whom are Ethiopians. All these are capital and resource-intensive greenfield operations.

The telecom sector operates in a highly regulated environment, requiring licenses and permits to operate in different regions. Navigating through some of these bureaucratic processes and securing necessary approvals adds delays and costs to the overall timeline of profitability. Fierce competition in the industry further complicates the landscape.

The nature of telecom services presents additional challenges. Operators face limitations in network capacity, spectrum availability, and geographical coverage. Expanding infrastructure to reach remote areas or densely populated regions requires time and substantial investments that may not yield immediate returns.

Investors and analysts must thus recognize that the telecom sector’s path to profitability is not linear. Expecting instant gratification and immediate profits can hinder the long-term growth and potential of greenfield operations. By focusing solely on short-term financial indicators, investors may overlook the underlying value and potential of telecom companies investing in expanding their networks and reaching untapped markets.

Telecom operators need time to build a solid foundation, establish a customer base, and optimize their operations before achieving sustainable profitability. Investors and analysts must have a long-term perspective and appreciate the intrinsic value of greenfield operations in the telecom sector.

The lack of new entrants in the industry and greenfield ventures limits understanding of evaluating the telecom sector’s prospects. Investors and analysts often rely on precedents and established metrics from mature companies, which may not capture the long-term potential of greenfield operations.

Way forward

When assessing greenfield operations in the telecom sector, it’s crucial to consider the balance between short-term and long-term prospects. Initial losses and the time required to reach profitability may impact stock prices in the short term. However, taking a longer-term perspective reveals the immense potential for growth and returns in untapped markets. Recognizing the strategic value of expanding into new regions, capturing market share, and establishing a solid customer base is essential.

Investors can make informed decisions that prioritize long-term gains over immediate financial indicators. It’s vital to look beyond present fluctuations and focus on the promising horizon that greenfield operations in the telecom sector offer.

Secondly, greenfield operations in the telecom sector demand innovation and adaptability. They involve introducing cutting-edge technologies and customized solutions tailored to target markets. Telecom operators must stay at the forefront of technological advancements, embracing trends such as 5G, IoT, and artificial intelligence. By fostering innovation and investing in research and development, greenfield ventures can position themselves as leaders in the telecom landscape, driving progress and shaping the future of connectivity in digital services, education, healthcare, and e-commerce.

Investing in these ventures contributes to bridging the digital divide and fostering inclusive development, aligning investments with positive societal impact.

In conclusion, to foster an environment that supports greenfield operations in the telecom sector, a shift in investor mindset is necessary. Recognizing the potential for long-term growth and profitability requires patience and a visionary approach. Emphasizing the transformative power of connectivity and its positive impact on societies and economies is essential. Greenfield investments are important, not as an end but as a means to create jobs, support the growth of the digital economy, bridge the digital divide, empower communities and contribute to a more connected and inclusive world.

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