With the rule of law on the ropes, crime and unemployment at crisis levels, rail infrastructure in ruins, crippled state-owned entities leading to rolling blackouts, experts have agreed that it is hard not to conclude that South Africa is a failed state.
When social unrest threatened to engulf the entire country and risked a civil war in July last year, the law enforcement apparatus failed to act, with citizens left at the mercy of anarchists.
In a country with a 33.9% unemployment rate and youth unemployment at 66.5% and the economy compromised by power cuts, fears of further civil unrest are very real. Former president Thabo Mbeki even warned that SA could soon face its own Arab Spring.
According to Africa Leadership Initiative, a state is deemed to have failed if it loses control of its borders; there is increased erosion of legitimate authority; it is unable to deliver basic public services as defined in the Constitution; state monopoly on physical violence (police, army) is compromised; it can no longer contract with other states and political corruption becomes endemic.
Research Director at North West University, Professor André Duvenhage, explained that there are three categories of states: soft, weak and failed state.
He said the soft state has control over its borders but has no control over endless corruption. The weak state has corruption, cannot control its borders and is unable to act in a developmental maintenance way.
Duvenage said a failed state is one that was losing its sovereignty over its territory and is not the dominant actor in certain environments.
“In other words, the zama zamas control the mines and the police are running away, they then established their own order, sometimes you see a terrorist organisation occupies a territory and is dominant in that territory. In terms of these categories, SA is a weak state, on its way to a failed state. It is not a completely failed state yet,” he said.
Duvenage said to ensure that South Africa does not become a failed state, there must be order, stability and security, as well as a strong justice system to properly deal with those behind the July unrest.
He said currently the South African government is not dealing with corruption nor upholding the rule of law, which means the country is now a mafia state.
SA risks becoming a failed state
Skidding into a failed state is among the nine top risks facing South Africa, according to the Institute of Risk Management in South Africa‘s (IRMSA) latest Risk Report edition, including the breakdown of ethical and legal principles, unmanageable societal unrest as well as a breakdown of the rule of law.
According to the report, the risks the country faces are so interrelated and interdependent that the materialisation of some of them may result in South Africa becoming a failed state, with arguments that this may already be the case.
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The institute has warned that if SA continues to experience a deterioration of ethical and legal principles, unmanageable societal unrest and a break down of the rule of law, complete economic collapse will become almost inevitable.
The report concluded that due to a continued lack of inclusive socio-economic growth, sustainability of energy supply and government capacity, as well as continued state capture and increasing unemployment, South Africa is becoming a failed state.
This, the report noted, results in a future characterised by a direct threat to democracy, capital flight, hyper-inflation, social unrest and currency collapse, which will not be turned around within the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) and National Development Plan (NDP) timeframe.
Lack of leadership to blame
According to Dr John Molepo, Senior Lecturer in Public Administration, University of Mpumalanga, leadership failures in dealing with unemployment, inequality and poverty were the main reason South Africa could be seen as a failed state.
He said poor service delivery, due to a lack of decisive leadership, was the main reason behind South Africa’s myriad problems, including slow GDP growth, local political uncertainty and security threats.
“These failures should be blamed on the indecisive leadership. For some reason government has a distant approach to its masses and employs a firefighter approach of governance and work only when there is a crisis. But South Africa is not a failed state,” he said.