Final Word

SA regime change might not be all that bad

Regime Change.jpg

Allegation that there are clandestine forces at work in South Africa’s body-politics to effect regime change have been prominent off late – mostly implying it is bad news.

But, does regime change have to be a bad or a negative event, as claimed by President Jacob Zuma and the ANC faction associated with him?

Judged by history and the origin of the word, and the notion of regime change, however mostly in the end deliver change for the better – be it on the political front or in the world of medicine, the other terrain where the term is most often found.

The first hint comes from the dictionary definition of regime. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary first up, gives it as: “ a method or system of government, especially one that has not been elected in a fair way; a fascist/totalitarian/military, etc.(as in)  regime (is) an oppressive/brutal regime.”


The word in English dates back to the late 15th century from the French word regime (14c) , from Latin regimen, meaning ”rule, guidance, means of guidance or rudder."

 In Latin, it came from regere "to direct, to guide" (from PIE root reg- "move in a straight line," with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line," thus "to lead, rule.")

The word gained traction in the political/government sense of the word in the late 18ty century on the back of the French Revolution from the French expression l'ancien régime, in reference to the system of government before the revolution of 1789.

In a way, the French revolution was the first example of “regime change,” and one can just imagine how the members of the old, l'ancien, regime would have referred to Napoléon and his fighting forces in similar terms begin used today in South Africa in reference to “third forces planning regime change.”

Modern usage of regime often gives the term a negative connotation, implying an authoritarian government or dictatorship. Webster's definition states that the word régime refers simply to a form of government, while Oxford English Dictionary defines regime as "a government, especially an authoritarian one.

Wider usage

The term has, however, over time also found wider application than the popular and journalistic usage, indicating "an intermediate stratum between the government and the state.

In academic global studies and international relations the concept of regime is also used to name international regulatory agencies, which lie outside of the control of national governments. Some authors then also distinguish analytically between institutions and regimes even if recognizing that they are intertwined.

Although the term regime is also often used in the medical and related professions to describe a treatment- or dietary plan, the related term regimen, to refer to a systematic plan for therapy (often including diet), is, academically speaking, the more correct one.

Final word on regime

Considering the roots of regime change in the political/governmental sense of the word, those working or planning for regime change in South Africa should be careful not to be caught in the pattern of that first example in France, and often repeated throughout modern history.

While the French Revolution finally delivered the Republic, it took much blood shedding and years of dictatorship under Napoléon before it arrived.

by Piet Coetzer

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