SA’S IN A BAD WAY, BUT IT IS NOT QUITE WHERE OTHER AFRICAN COUNTRIES HAVE GONE
Africans from other countries on the continent are flabbergasted by some aspects of South Africa’s decline. Yet, when most fellow Africans arrived in South Africa in the early 1990s, they marvelled at the dazzling modernity of Mandela Land. At that juncture, South Africa, the most industrialised country in Africa, was economically ahead of Portugal, Poland or Hungary. Amid Pan-Africanists’ celebration of the liberation of the last colony on the continent, it was believed that in the postcolonial era, the advanced South African state would spearhead the continent’s renaissance. But 26 years down the line, it is evident that South Africa was not immunised against the spell of continental political impairments.
Owing to rampant corruption perpetrated by political appointees, Eskom is on the verge of bankruptcy. Its debt amounts to about $40-billion, which is almost the GDPs of Senegal, Chad and Mali combined. Nightmarish load shedding disrupts the lives of the people and negatively impacts the economy. More astounding is the decline of the South African military infrastructure and arsenal, the main causes of which are blatant maladministration.
Nonetheless, South Africa is far from being on an irreversible trajectory to state failure. There is no pervasive institutional breakdown or generalised cessation of state operations in the entirety of the territory. Undoubtedly, there are pockets of abject misery, particularly in townships. Also undeniable are dramatic disruptions and delays in the delivery of most key public goods and services. However, in general, water, education, health, maintenance of roads and security, are provided by the state to a large chunk of the population. The South African people are not literally left to fend for themselves. In contrast, in many parts of the continent in the 1970s to the 1990s (and the situation persists and worsens in many cases) state failure was tantamount to a generalised social catastrophe.
The trajectories and experiences of many African countries undoubtedly indicate that political pathologies and state dysfunctionalities that were not promptly corrected led to state failure and collapse. Is South Africa immunised from these regressive occurrences and thus from this fatal trajectory?
South Africa has a political system possessing some exceptional features. Constitutionalism is still sacrosanct. The justice system still enjoys a significant degree of independence. Worldclass academics, a generally unbiased media, fearless civil society, assertive churches leaders and a vigilant opposition safeguard South Africa from an expanded and systematised predatory despotism, total failure and then collapse. Imhotep Kabasu Babu