What is driving the de-development of SA?

Ernst van Zyl writes on the contagion that has afflicted our country, and now spread to Western ones

Economist Russell Lamberti has described South Africa as a “de-developing country”. What exactly lies at the root of this process of de-development? To answer this question requires looking into what South Africanisation entails. South Africanisation is a trajectory that a country follows, which is a detrimental consequence of a particular combination of factors, rather than of any of these factors in isolation. This affliction does not only affect South Africa, but has already spread, like a destructive virus, to many developed countries, particularly in the West. What combination of symptoms should you be looking out for to diagnose this infection?

Fusion of ruling party and government

By 2024, the ANC’s grip on the national government and other institutions will have lasted for 30 years. This fact caused the line between government and ruling party to increasingly blur for ANC politicians and the public alike. A significant driving force, which resulted in this blurring of the line, is the ANC’s determined pursuit of cadre deployment.

Cadre deployment is the process of inserting party loyalists into every component and corner of the government and public service apparatus. Apart from being a way of handing out tickets for the government’s gravy train to loyal supporters, family and friends, cadre deployment primarily serves the purpose of rendering the government leviathan under the ruling party’s increasingly all-encompassing control. This process has been one of the top priorities, if not the top priority, of the ANC since the party gained power in national government in 1994.

Corruption becomes compulsory

James Myburgh, editor of Politicsweb, observed: “The point about corruption in South Africa is not that it is and was condoned, but that it is compulsory. You can’t legally do business with the state or state-owned enterprises without essentially cutting in some or other ANC faction.” This state of kleptocracy, where corruption has become the norm and therefore something many businesses budget for, is a characteristic of South Africanisation that flows naturally from the first aspect, cadre deployment. The ANC is inherently incapable of dealing with corruption because by attacking corruption head-on, it would mean striking itself and its allies.

Increasing centralisation of power

You would be hard pressed to find an example of where the ANC willingly relinquished government power in its history as the governing party. The ANC is gripped by an insatiable drive, mandated by their National Democratic Revolution (NDR) dogma, to perpetually increase the power, influence, control and reach of the government. The only instances where the ANC government has ever relinquished power or control are cases where they were forced to do so by a court or, more commonly, as the result of the deterioration or even collapse of government capacity.

This increasing centralisation of state power and control also manifests itself in a vast and ever-growing social grants patronage system that makes nearly 50% of South Africans dependent on some form of government grant. This is not a flaw of ANC governance, but rather by design. The ANC has no incentive to curb poverty or unemployment, because an increase in either leads to more citizens becoming dependent on government welfare. In turn, this helps to strengthen the ANC’s grip on power, especially during election season, and helps the NDR march on.

An overpowering race agenda

Finally, a country’s trajectory would not qualify as being on the path of South Africanisation without a ruthless and fanatic dedication to a race agenda. This agenda mandates demographic representation in every facet of society, from corporate boardrooms to primary school rugby teams. The extent of this obsession is obvious with the ANC prioritising its race agenda above almost anything else, even above providing the country with a vital, uninterrupted electricity supply.

A striking example of this obsession with race is the ANC government’s 2020 Tourism Relief Fund of R200 million, which was established to provide support to struggling small businesses in the tourism sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. The distribution of funds was guided by broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) legislation, which meant that the racial make-up of the ownership of businesses would determine whether they qualified to receive relief funds. The Minister of Tourism justified this move by stating that it was “perfectly rational” to use race criteria in the distribution of these funds.

The fact that the ANC government still prioritised its race agenda even during a pandemic – when businesses that were owned by and employed people of all races suffered and/or had to close their doors permanently – indicates how important their right to discriminate is to the country’s ruling party.

It should be noted that this overriding race agenda serves as moral veneer to facilitate the other characteristics of South Africanisation. Under the guise of black economic empowerment (BEE) compliance, party loyalists, and friends and family of ANC politicians gain lucrative government tenders and positions on corporate boards. BEE is also the moral facade that is used to justify cadre deployment.

The cure and the way forward

Fortunately, the ANC’s modus operandi has the seeds of its own collapse baked into it. The ANC government’s capacity and reach are collapsing due to chronic mismanagement, the rejection of merit-based appointments, skyrocketing wasteful expenditure, endemic corruption, abysmal service delivery and a shrinking tax base. From the dust of this collapse, decentralisation of power, state-proof models of operation, community-based solutions, a selfdoen (do-it-yourself) mentality and increased federalism and autonomy are naturally emerging as a counter-balance. Where government fails, civil society organisations and communities are picking up the slack. In doing so they are creating oases of order in a desert of disorder.

South Africanisation provides a golden opportunity to develop an antidote to a problem much larger and older than South Africanisation itself, namely increasing state centralisation. Whether order or chaos will reign in the wake of government collapse in South Africa will hinge on whether communities and individuals will be willing and able to wean themselves off the debilitating, dependence-forming and poisonous drug of government centralisation. As far as state-proof solutions go, South Africa is a new frontier, and on the frontier both surviving and thriving favour the bold.

Ernst van Zyl is a campaigns officer for strategy and content at AfriForum. Ernst holds a master’s degree (cum laude) in Political Science from Stellenbosch University. He is co-presenter of the Podlitiek podcast, presents the Afrikaans podcast In alle Ernst, and has a channel for political commentary and interviews on YouTube. Ernst usually publishes contributions on Twitter and YouTube under his pseudonym Conscious Caracal.

This article first appeared in Afrikaans on the Maroela Media website.