Reflecting On South Africa’s Failed State

Hats off to Professor Bonang Mohale, chairman of Business Unity South Africa, for saying the quiet part out aloud: “We are not a failing state, but a failed state” (Business Report, February 17).

This has been increasingly obvious countrywide, with the exception of the Western Cape which has managed to withstand some of the ANC-inflicted looting and incompetence.

The irony of this tragic situation is that before 1994 it was the ANC’s policy to make the country ungovernable. Nearly 30 years later, they have succeeded. All three levels of government are bloated by cadre deployment, profligate spending and arrogant indifference to the batho pele principle – ‘we serve.’

What passes for government by the ANC is characterised by internecine warfare between factions that resort to killing to gain access to the diminishing looting troughs while infrastructure decays, maintenance is haphazard, and debt and poverty increase.

While we may cry for the beloved country, sober reflection on the history of Africa since 1960 should inform us that things were unlikely to be much different here. Martin Meredith’s 700-page study, The Fate of Africa, dissected the history of every country on the continent and reached the conclusion that “Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before…. After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have been hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good” (pp 681; 688).

Meredith’s words apply precisely to the ANC. While speculation abounds as to how coalition formations could steer the country clear of the abyss it faces, what needs to be recognised, as Helen Zille has perceptively noted, is that the cancer-killing the country is embedded in the cadre-controlled civil service.  Reducing the ANC’s occupation of seats in parliament and in councils would amount merely to cosmetic change.

Decades of the policy of demographic representivity (which is a euphemism for cadre deployment), the deliberate retirement of institutional memory and the prioritising of corruption instead of service, has reduced the public service to a hollow shell. To repopulate it with competence and integrity is a tall order given the shambles in education.

As the preamble of the constitution recognises, our past was populated by people who worked to build and develop the country. Sadly, a new generation of such calibre is not apparent on the horizon.

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