Daily Maverick



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


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