Cape Town - A once-promising country, that promised a better life for all, seems to be heading in the opposite direction.
South Africa is now being compared to countries engulfed in war and experiencing instability. Corruption is rife, inequality is widening, crime is rampant, and the auditor-general painted a grim picture – where she said drastic action is needed to prevent the collapse of municipalities.
Although the concept of a failed state is a contested term, it generally refers to a situation where the administrative, political, and economic systems of the state are so weak that certain core functions become inoperable or disintegrate, severely hampering the ability of government to improve the conditions of life for most of its citizens.
Professor Amiena Bayat, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Cape, said SA is not really a failed state.
“Even though the capacity of the state has been significantly eroded over the past decade, and there are serious concerns of incompetence and corruption, basic functions of government are still running, albeit at compromised levels,” said Bayat.
She added that the government has performed relatively well in its social assistance programmes.
“More than 11 million people currently receive assistance from the state and this is one of the most effective pro-poor programmes that has and continues to keep vulnerable South Africans from falling deeper into poverty,” added Bayat.
Bayat said that one of the main areas where the state has failed is in economic growth and development. Economic growth rates remain a serious concern. The general de-industrialisation of the state has also been alarming. One of the manifestations of this failure is the high levels of unemployment – which stood at 34% in the second quarter of 2021, with the expanded definition registering 44%. Youth unemployment is a staggering 46.3% among young people aged 15-34 years, in the first quarter of 2021.
“Inequality is growing and remains high. This failure to stimulate the economy is one of the biggest threats to the state, and continues to breed social discontent and disruption,” added Bayat.
Underlying most of these failures are appalling levels of corruption, lack of coordination both at a policy and institutional level, under-staffing and cadre deployment, and a lack of accountability.
Development and economist activist Funzani Mtembu said the question of whether South Africa is a failed state largely depends on who it is posed to.
“On the one hand, we have 55.5% of South Africans living below the upper poverty line (many of which are black and women), and this has been so for many years post the apartheid era. That is then indicative of the fact that working class people have been living in a failed state, even before the question of whether or not we are heading to a failed state had been conceptualised in the context of South Africa,” said Mtembu.
On the other hand, she said: “We have the financial markets that would likely argue that SA is heading towards a failed state, mostly because of the South African economic performance and governance.”
The country’s debt servicing cost stands at R20 billion.
Professor Bonang Mohale, president of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) and chancellor of the University of the Free State, among others, agreed that the country is in shambles, but said there is hope for the country.
“We are fairly a resilient bunch, we normally go up to the precipice, the tipping point, and, just before we fall over – we then pull back. That is what we did during apartheid, nobody gave us a chance and yet ours is a negotiated settlement, without firing a single bullet,” said Mohale.
He said the country is holding world records for all the wrong things, including the highest failure of SMMEs.
“Even though we spend 10x more on education than most African countries, our education outcomes are the worst in the world. There is hope that we can recover, but that depends on our actions and not our utterances,” added Mohale.
He said beneficiaries of state capture must be sent to jail and the government must quickly roll out the vaccine.
“At the moment, we are woefully behind. The government must reduce government debt because it is becoming unsustainable and unaffordable. The government must reduce the public sector wage bill. We must implement the digital migration that we have been talking about for the last decade,” concluded Mohale.