Governance Watch

Is South Africa already a failed state as ANC meets?


Starting on Friday, the governing ANC will be in a five-day ‘policy conference – can it save South Africa from failed state-status fast descending on the country?

It is the reality – a failed state – that should be the background against which the ruling party must approach its conference, that is supposed to decide on policy options going forward, but looks set to be dominated by internal factional battles and leadership contestations.

Many commentators are warning that the country is ‘in danger’ of becoming a failed state. However, it is a legitimate question to pose if the failed state is not already a reality?

Symptoms of failed state

The question comes in the face of, amongst others, the following facts, and developments:

  • There were 1.5 million more South Africans battling to survive on social grants than those in jobs at the end of 2016;
  • At the same time a joint venture between government and the private sector to create a million youth internships came to a standstill after the previous Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, was unilaterally removed from the cabinet by President Jacob Zuma;
  • Parliament’s oversight mandate in terms of the Constitution is treated with contempt by members of the cabinet and senior civil servants, and officials of state;
  • A minister stands accused of illegally granting citizenship to a family from India, who is the subject of a number of credible reports finding that ‘state capture’ has taken place;
  • Ministers, on a regular basis, are not allowed by members of the citizenry to take to the stage at official functions, and must be escorted away by security personnel;
  • A labour union federation and a business leadership organisation finds it necessary to join forces to resist ‘state capture’ and "other elements" threatening economic stability in the country;
  • If civil protests against a range of matters, from poor service delivery and housing shortages to labour grievances, degenerate into violence and destruction of infrastructure;
  • The Secretary to Parliaments is facing claims of mismanagement; and
  • The latest Auditor General’s report reveals the nation-wide failure of municipal governance structures.

Danger of chaos  

When the SA Institute of Race Relations released its latest South Africa Survey, finding that more people are on social grants than those in jobs, its analyst, Gerbrandt van Heerden, said: “As the economy stagnates, and tax revenue slows, demand for more grants will increase. The government will then have to cut other areas of expenditure in order to meet popular demands for more and higher grants. We predict that this will lead to much higher levels of violent protest action.” (Our emphasis.)

When the historic Bloemfontein city hall was recently burned down by protesting workers, a respected commentator in an email conversation to friends, wrote:

“Anarchy, like trains being set alight in Cape Town (almost a hundred already) is not only because of frustration about trains running late, but is also driven by housing shortages and other services not delivered properly …. a clinic supposed to deliver health services to a poor community was burned down.

“Anarchy can also be detected in South Africa’s crime statistics. A country where 50 people are murdered per day, is not busy self-correcting (as some ANC leaders claim). It is rather what Hobbes called a ‘natural state.’

“I do not detect any ‘correction’ of the ‘Zuptastan’ yet and the anarchy that it has brought on. Do we just have to accept this as the ‘new normal?’”

This is just a short extract from a conversation between 18 friends over several days, but reflective of the despair taking hold of especially members of the middle class from all population groups.

As one member in the group put it: “I have given up hope for the South Africa the Mandela constitution aimed to establish.”  

What to expect from conference

With an ANC which has become increasingly factious, especially since the shock dismissal of Pravin Gordhan – some hoping to unite it, others battling for dominance or to protect own interest, punting of ideological preference, and all of it finding expression in personality ‘cults’ – the run-up to the policy conference and elective conference in December, has become extremely confusing with high levels of uncertainty.

Even if, as is lately rumoured, some compromise ‘elective slates’ and other organisational structural change does become reality, it would be idle hope that it will bring certainty and stability on the political front. For that, the dividing lines and decay in the ANC runs too deep.

It is unlikely that a turnaround in South Africa’s fortunes will start before the national elections in 2019, that is if the country’s social fabric can withstand the strain until then, and the violence that will most likely come with the elections, particularly if the rank and file of the ANC starts to believe the party might lose its overall majority. 

And, it is going to be a hard, challenging road to claw our way back to functioning as a fully democratic state.

by Intelligence Bulletin Team

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