Let's Think

Case history shows symptoms of SA state disintegrating

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South Africa is showing symptoms that are frighteningly similar to those found in Venezuela, a case study of a failed state.

South Africa and Venezuela (currently experiencing a severe economic crisis) differ in details regarding economic structure, social make-up, culture and history. However, there are also strong similarities and in some instances – like a narrow commodity export base. The differences are only a matter of scale and not fundamental

The similarities in the symptoms of the economic, political and social turmoil and uncertainties besieging both countries at present are inescapable when reading a recent analysis by Lisa Sullivan, coordinator for the School of the Americas Watch on the Information Clearinghouse. With the site’s known strong socialist and anti-American stance, it even rings true when she starts off with in general by blaming “…a reassertion of U.S.-backed neoliberal policies in Latin America” for most of Venezuela’s socialist government’s problems.

Devil in the detail

Even taking this slant into account and with personal experience used as a backdrop, or more importantly despite that, the details of her analysis brings out the truth is inescapable that many of the problems – like the failure to timeously diversify the economy and jack up the educational system – are homegrown.

And it does not take much imagination to see the similarities to what has been, and is, taking place in South Africa.

Her analysis relates how Venezuela’s crisis “is a crisis of critical shortages of food and medicine. Its reasons are extremely complex and fall on many shoulders. And it threatens the health, well-being and future of too many Venezuelans today, especially the poorest ones”.

“How did the nation with the world’s largest (oil) reserves come to this, a nation of hungry and desperate people?” she asks.

It sounds frightfully familiar when she writes: “Well, that depends on who you ask. The opposition blames President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro blames the U.S. The press blames socialism. Maduro’s ruling party blames capitalism. Economists blame price controls. Businesses blame bureaucracy. Everyone blames corruption.”

She herself fingers the over-reliance on the country’s abundance of oil reserves as South Africa did on the export of mineral resources.

Venezuela also imports in excess of 70% of its food due the neglect of agricultural development – a factor presently also impacting on South Africa, due to its worst drought in 100 years and an underdeveloped small and existence farming sector.

Some claim it happened because the oil boom was squandered and not enough done to prepare for when it could end. Others blame the late president Hugo Chavez for being too preoccupied with the task of providing healthcare, education and shelter to  previously-abandoned households before launching on major home repairs.

“Some say because chavismo made it very hard for businesses to produce (although in reality, most large businesses in Venezuela don’t actually produce, they just import things already produced. And then – to boot – they actually purchase them with dollars provided almost for free by the government,” Sullivan writes.

And, she writes, of what is imported in terms of food, medicine and the like, a “good chunk … ends up in the greedy hands of corrupt businesses, bureaucrats, military, ruling party members, and black-marketers.” (Our emphasis.)

The harsh reality

The harsh reality is that among the poor, social unrest has become the norm. She relates how her partner on his way to her texted to say that roads “to our town are blocked with hunger protests and he is returning to the city”.

“But to me, the extraordinary thing is that Venezuela has not exploded until now. This crisis is now several years old really, depending on how you measure it.

“The fact that the upper echelons of Venezuelan have not exploded is because many have given up on their country and left: two million, mostly young professionals.”(our emphasis.)

Solutions, anyone?

When talking about possible solutions, the familiar note comes through strongly again: “The three major players (Venezuelan government, opposition, and the U.S.) spend endless amounts of time and resources pointing fingers of blame to one another, while doing a poor job of hiding their real political and economic interests. Meanwhile, the losers are the people of Venezuela, who grow hungrier and hungrier.”

Most Venezuelans “want to see less political rhetoric and more economic action. The currency system must undergo radical change. The poor must be guaranteed access to food, but not by subsidizing the product (which ends up in the hands of the corrupt and not the mouths of the poor), but subsidizing their families.

“And finally, there is a treasure trove of creative grassroots initiatives and productive solutions that this crisis has unleashed and that merit attention.”

It would seem that for both countries the solution for the grass roots poor lies with the grass roots themselves. We need policies and programmes that empower them to look after themselves. 

In the medium to long run that would take care of the country as a whole as well.

by Piet Coetzer

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