The “New” South Africa Is Now a Newly-Failed State: Don’t Look for Things to Improve

  • February 13, 2024
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Recently, South Africa evoked opposition in some quarters by bringing a case against Israel to the International Court of Justice on the account that the latter is perpetuating genocide against Palestinians. Israel’s response to the terror of Hamas has been widely denounced by the mainstream press, but irrespective of the legitimacy of South Africa’s claims, this matter has brought South Africa to the forefront of public discourse, and as such, an examination of the country is necessary.

South Africa is a country mired in social and economic turmoil. After the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1994, many thought that the nation would embark on an era of sustained prosperity, but this ambition failed to materialize. Instead, the African National Congress became so enmeshed in corruption that studying the pitfalls of postapartheid South Africa emerged as an academic cottage industry. Research has established that a perverse relationship between the African National Congress and crony capitalists has enriched politicians and business elites at the expense of average South Africans.

Under the leadership of the previous president Jacob Zuma, this incestuous relationship blossomed to the detriment of public finances. In collaboration with the government, prominent businesspeople benefitted from lucrative contracts, and government officials who refused to endorse corruption were replaced. Zuma resigned in 2018 and was slapped with a litany of charges from tax evasion to fraud.

Socially, South Africa is crumbling with an education system in shambles. Most government schools are underperforming and many lack laboratories, toilets, libraries, and sporting facilities. To make matters worse, Rosa Sommer reported in an article that in 2022 over fifteen hundred underqualified and unqualified teachers were employed in public schools. Mismanagement of resources is a serious problem in South Africa because poorer countries outperform South African students on important tests.

Discussing the research of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, BusinessTech points out some shocking statistics:

After a year of attendance in school, over 50 percent of grade one students are unable to identify all the letters of the alphabet.
Of grade four students, 78 percent are not functional readers in any language.
The average public school teachers lack subject knowledge and the professional skills to teach.
Even more shocking is that 79 percent of grade six math teachers scored lower than 60 percent on a grade six test.
South Africa’s students also placed last in an international science proficiency test.

Reading international reports on South Africa is quite troubling since they rarely promote a favorable picture. Writing for Bloomberg, S’thembile Cele likens South Africa to a failed state where people meticulously monitor time so that they can use utilities before they malfunction. Power outages are a routine and government services barely work, so time management is a must to achieve daily tasks. Prominent South Africans think that the government is failing society. Cele quotes the bleak remarks of policy analyst Tessa Doom: “We don’t feel the effects of having a failed state. . . . But we certainly are feeling the effects of a failed government.”

In Spiegel International, journalists reveal that 60 percent of young people are jobless, over half of residents are affected by poverty, and twenty-five thousand people are killed annually, thus making South Africa one of the most violent countries on earth. With poverty levels so high, it is unsurprising that 47 percent of people rely on welfare. South Africa’s president is either unaware that such a high reliance on welfare indicates stagnation or (probably) he is playing politics since he thinks that a population trapped in dependency is an achievement: “We are the only country here in Africa that is giving grants to almost half of its population because here in South Africa there are 60-million people and 29-million are getting money from the state every month. There is no other country in Africa that takes care of its people like we do here in South Africa.”

It is also ironic that South Africa is accusing Israel of genocide when the government has disregarded the racially driven killings of white farmers. However, the lunacy continues because the government is still pursuing land expropriation in the public interest, although landowners will be better at commercializing their properties than the government. The bill could make it possible for the government to seize land that’s being held for speculative purposes, which is a violation of rights considering the government should have no business telling people how to exploit the economic potential of their property.

Interestingly, when the state redistributed farmland to some individuals years ago, they were unsuccessful at producing. In 2010, Land Reform and Rural Development minister Gugile Nkwinti contended that most of the farms that the state purchased for farmers were undeveloped: “More than 90 percent of those are not functional, they are not productive and therefore the state loses revenue. . . . That land has been given to people and they are not using it. No country can afford that.”

South Africa is a country with no sense of direction, so instead of battling with Israel, probably Cyril Ramaphosa should focus on improving the standards of his country. Surely, this will be more beneficial to South Africans than a proceeding against Israel.