NEWS & ANALYSIS

State failure is the 'new normal'

John Kane-Berman says our institutions are falling apart across the board

While Cyril Ramaphosa promises "new dawns" and plays around with property rights, latest crime figures remind us yet again that the government cannot provide South Africans with the security they pay for.

Although the incidence of some crimes has decreased, murders are at the highest level in 15 years. The number in 2017/2018 was 20 336 – the first time the figure has topped 20 000 since 2003/2004. The latest murder rate – 35 for every 100 000 people – is the highest since 2009/2010. The police are better at implementing their employment equity targets than in combating crime.

South Africa's murder rate is around 30 times those of France and Australia, and eight times that of the US. No wonder then that the director general of the National Treasury, Dondo Mogajane, said a few months ago that South Africa was "on the verge of becoming a failed state".

Almost every day there are reports of failure. In February this year a water specialist said that 80% of the country's sewerage systems were dysfunctional. In April the finance minister said that some of the country's cities were "on the brink of collapse". The following month the government admitted that hundreds of its Thusong service centres had all but collapsed. In June the Office of Health Standards Compliance said after carrying out 851 inspections of public hospitals and clinics that the score for cleanliness was below 50% in six of the nine provinces.

Periodic "stock outs" at government pharmacies are another sign of failure, as are the endless delays in licensing medicines before they can be provided to patients. The deaths of 144 – if not more – Life Esidemi patients make headlines only because the numbers are so high: the recent deaths of six babies from Klebsiella barely make the news, no doubt because preventable infant deaths in public hospitals are a regular occurrence.

Small wonder then that the national Department of Health's headquarters in Pretoria is plagued by numerous health and safety problems. Earlier this month, three firefighters died battling a blaze at a building in Johannesburg housing various provincial departments, among them health. That building was only 21% compliant with required standards. According to the Gauteng administration, eight of its other buildings in the city do not comply with legal standards.

Three months ago the health minister said that if his department's Bureau for Occupational Diseases had functioned properly, miners with lung disease would already been compensated, so that they would not have needed to go to court to obtain compensation from mining companies.

Then there is safety on trains: the fatality risk on our trains is 25 times as high as that on trains in the European Union.

South African children have some of the worst education in the world. The timetable for replacing pit latrines with safer lavatories stretches years into the future. Many sector education and training authorities (Setas) are wasteful and unproductive. Thousands of students at technical and vocational colleges (TVETs) have to wait several years before they receive their certificates. Students at universities have inflicted almost R800 million worth of damage on these institutions – because they know they can get away with it, another example of state failure.

Millions of homeowners are unable to obtain their title deeds. State housing waiting lists stretch for more than a decade. The head of the Post Office admits that we are 10 years behind developed countries. And so on and so on. Eskom. SAA. The looming water crisis. Land reform failures...

State capture now makes headlines daily. However, it is only one facet of a larger problem: South Africa is run by elites who consume more and more money, and assume more and more power, but who have so lofty a disdain for ordinary people that they provide less and less in return. Corrupt and inept politicians who push ordinary people off the roads as they flash by in their motorcades are a metaphor for rule by the ANC. There is an even bigger problem: despite periodic violent protest, the country has largely resigned itself to the fact that state failure is now the new "normal".

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.