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Reflections on politics: South Africa in disarray

The spotlight on the pandemic must never make us forget the role of politics in the country’s current decline.
Our united voices are about more than just nation building, says the author; it is time we use them as a powerful source of political action. Image: Shutterstock

Before I retreat from Jozi to my home village Fafung, which is 50km outside Brits in the North West, I want to reflect on 2020 in terms of politics in this column and follow it up with another on the economy.

The political sclerosis has the economy sailing through stormy waters. Actually, this can be said of the entirety of the rainbow nation.

Throughout the year I have demonstrated the depth and shallows of miseries visited upon our beloved country by its political leadership. I have also critiqued the clash between political aims or dreams with the real-life experiences of ordinary people and the economic logic.


It is worth pointing out too, that both (politics and the economy) have their own faults, misconstructions limitations and logic. However, our political leadership seems determined to ensure the two don’t work hand in hand.

Promises in the mist

What started out as a New Dawn – (a slogan of the current administration) when President Cyril Ramaphosa raised his hand saying “Thuma Mina” (‘send me’) to his party, the ANC, to rekindle political hope – turned out to be a mist that quickly disappeared as the sun rose.

I call it political hope, because many saw his election as a return to a collective identity shaped by attitudes that are about rebuilding the promise of a better South Africa. There were expectations, as it were, of a leadership that could rouse South Africans to collective action for a shared commitment to pulling the economy and its people out of the abyss the politics of the previous 10 years had plunged the country in.

However, we soon found out that a leopard rarely changes its spots.

When all is said and done, protecting the interests of the ruling party will always define the actions of our nation’s leaders.

First, there have been many moments when Ramaphosa could have taken decisive action against corruption and moved to break the extensive patronage network in government and state-owned entities (SOEs).

Second, the current government’s economic policies are unable to solve entrenched structural problems, possibly because the economic policies of the ruling party itself tend to be multifarious in what they seek to achieve, how they are made, and their outcomes. In a way, that has made economic reform impossible.

The president’s struggle

In a year where politics have been overshadowed by the pandemic, it is almost easy to overlook how the current logic of politics in South Africa and indeed of Ramaphosa the ANC president has been about achievement and exercise of power.

This is understandable, if he is to strengthen his position in the ANC and make significant strides against corruption while at the same time reforming the organisation – as seen in the party’s August national executive committee outcome declaring all ANC members and government officials should step aside when accused of alleged corruption pending investigations.

It makes sense then, that for Ramaphosa to exercise power in government against fellow party members and to tackle corruption, he first must consolidate power within the ANC.

This is the most telling example of mutual interference between political aims founded on power and the economy.

Unfortunately for South Africa, the price we pay for this manoeuvring is that the economy is beholden to political power – and because the latter is a fought-for instrument between clashing factions, it becomes the sole focus.

And it becomes the sole focus to the neglect of developing plans that will drive economic activity that could lead to growth and prosperity.

Getting the fundamentals wrong

Moreover, the many misses of the country’s leadership who are preoccupied with power politics means failures in serving the people and failures in government – be it on basic service delivery, governance or management.

One would think our leaders would have learned from other developing countries that economic growth that is distributive and prosperity is the underpinning of political harmony and a society that can heal as it moves forward.

The price for this political chaos (right now the focus is on state capture and the ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule saga; I doubt it is on the discussion documents related to economic reform) is paid by society in three ways:

  • First, the loss of social justice and law and order as seen in the high levels of crime, violence against women and children, and the unrestrained corruption involving Covid-19 relief funds.
  • Second, policies meant for macroeconomic stability have become victims of political wrangling because the attention is on power struggles. In an economy that was already sluggish, we see domestic sectors that have been devastated by the pandemic and a level of global competitiveness that has been all but wiped out.
  • Third, power politics threaten democracy because they become a vehicle for individuals who believe they are entitled to rule and use radicalism and fascist rhetoric disguised as nationalism and renewal to attain power.

Continuous restriction

In a year where the spotlight has been on the pandemic’s effects and less on the country’s political landscape, I reflect on the continuous restrictions politics place on the economy and as such hold society’s progress back.

I hope each of us takes time to recharge during the holiday season and continue in the new year to use our differences for collective action to defend our democracy against the politics that seek to plunge us into darkness.

Our united voices are about more than just nation-building; it is time we use them as a powerful source of political action against the politics that have turned into power wrangling at society’s expense.

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I agree with a well-written article. It is the recurring problem throughout Africa that politics is still seen as the means to wealth through power instead of the vehicle that enables economic growth through the creation of a stable and favorable environment.
It exposes the myth of all liberation movements that claim to be acting in the interests of the ordinary citizens. More’s the pity that the puffy cheeked liberals that aided and abetted them don’t get to also experience the consequences of their misguided support without which none of these rogues would have attained power in the first place!

SA is in terminal decline — not disarray !!!

Too many people see the ANC as the only way to get anywhere in life, particularly in the rural areas. This should not be the case.

It should not be the case indeed , however there is actually no Alternative .It is entirely feasable that even DA supporters my well end up voting ANC simply to keep the Ultimate Fascist EFF out of power . The DA will in reality NEVER be the govt , so in reality the ANC despite it being a useless Compromised Mafia cabal , remains preferable to the EFF & the DA is frankly irrelevant given the countrys demographics.

I agree!

How on earth can the ANC be the solution when they are the cause of all the disarray?

I’ve always maintained that if the tax payer alone had the vote, the ANC wouldn’t even have a seat in Parliament.. the uninformed and uneducated is their support base and to hell with the rest of us..We’re just there to fund their lifestyle

Communities of relatively educated people, with strong moral and ethical principles, who respect the rule of law and are quite homogenous in culture and material position, thrive under a democratic dispensation. Everybody plays according to the rules and the legal system is able to act against those who don’t. Such a nation functions well under a constitution of Human rights.

A hierarchical society that is structured around chieftainships, Indunas, warlords, tribes, clans and ethnicity needs that hierarchy to enforce law and order through the traditional methods that are brutal and cruel but efficient. When such a nation is communalist, and don’t understand the concept of property rights, individualism, accountability and law and order, they need the traditional leader to ruthlessly enforce the rules. When a new democratic dispensation removes the hierarchical justice system to replace it with a system of human rights and democracy, it becomes a free-for-all, a feeding-frenzy, a license to loot.

The Chinese are a strongly hierarchical society where family values and family bonds are protected and respected. People are intelligent, well educated and have developed strong moral and ethical principles through Confucianism. They are also communalist. The modern Chinese state is highly successful with its system of Social Capitalism or Socialist Market Economy. The secret of this success is the fact that they are not democratic. They are strongly hierarchical and law and order are strictly enforced without the interference of human rights or democratic rights. As they say: “It does not matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”.

South Africa has the wrong system for its demographic and socio-political reality. We have mixed the recipes for tripe and rusks, and now, not even the dog will touch the results.

Most of the cadres will hold on to their position like drowning persons to something floating because they know that in the normal world where merit still rules they are without a hope of ever getting a similar well paid position. So the whole ANC mess is solidifying more and more. I think we will still make Zimbabwe look good in time.

SA is NOT in disarray. People (I include the majority) think we are to carry on with our high standard of living compared to rest of continent, but we don’t give the output.

SA is still overtly industrially developed & out of kilter with rest of Africa. Over time, given African (i.e. POOR) leadership….measured by my western-value mindset…all economies converge to an equilibrium. Nothing makes SA more special than rest of Africa.

NO disarray. In the mindset of citizens holding on dearly to a western based value system (incl. accountability/ respect for property rights, etc)…is may seem like disarray.

We have a slow and progressive ‘slant’ (no sinking ship pun intended) to a traditional African-based (tribal?) value system. The question is not which value-system is right or wrong for Africa. The majority dictates a country’s future…am respecting that (even if it’s not what I as minority would prefer).

Hence citizens that prefer the slant to an African value system (and those naively hoping for a return to western-value system), need to mentally prepare for the future of SA:
– Getting used with less choice of products & services.
– Patchy infrastructure / less reliable service delivery.
– Paying more for 1st world services/products (like medical) in a 3rd world country.
– Longer queues. More frustration.

(…the above already been happening the past 2 decades. Now the cracks are more noticeable)

If we agree with the logic that the state of the economy is only a reflection of the mindset of the average voter, and that statistically, the average South African voter is less educated and of lower cognitive ability than the average Zimbabwean or Venezuelan, then it becomes a mathematical certainty that the local situation will eventually reflect that reality.

This implies that tampons will become the preferred local currency because it will be scarcer then thousand rand notes, that antiretrovirals will become a status symbol and that only the wealthiest individuals in the country will be able to afford insulin and antibiotics.

If this tendency is left to run its course, then 20 million locals will die of diabetes, TB and Aids within the first year of hyperinflation. That is the optimistic scenario because, in Venezuela, the situation is worse than this already.

Scary indeed SENSEI. Especially your words “..the mindset of the average voter…” indicating what lies ahead for SA (or is it Azania..)

I’d better stock up in tampon currency 😉

Let’s not forget the role the ANC politics has had on the country’s current decline.

It’s not politics, it’s the ANC.

Another way of looking at why the country is in disarray. There have been 2 ruling parties in the last 72 years: The National Party and the ANC. There’s your answer right there, no more explanations needed.

Was it not RW Johnson that stated SA’s wealth started to unravel halfway during the National Party regime, and then the ANC accelerated the slide.

Wonder how would SA have looked like today IF say the country was controlled by Britain? (…but alas, there’s a long list of ‘former’ or failed British colonies. SA would’ve been one of them, sooner or later…)

SA’s powerhouse heydays were in the early to mid 1900’s, with its countless mining companies. And the SAAF had rows of beautiful Spitfires lining the apron.
Then along came Dr Christiaan Barnard and cocked it all up 😉

I agree with you and the ANC spurned the opportunity to learn from the racism of apartheid that equality and real non-racism was the solution. They chose to go with racism by regulation (I believe due to self-interest of the ANC leadership – look at Ramaphosa’s wealth) and we now live this unlearnt history again.

This blunt ANC refusal to learn from history, choosing personal interest, mainly wealth but sometimes ideology spells doom. Prosperity is simple, but hard for venal, self interested people. Simply appoint the best people, limit government, ensure equal application of the rule of law; property rights in particular, have a fair tax system and up we go.

Miss Molopyane wants collective action.

If one looks at the voting pattern in Southern Africa the same parties are still in power 40 years later, despite dismal performance: Zanu-PF in Zim, Frelimo in Moz and MPLA in Ang.

Why – because the voters have been denied voter education by the liberation parties and have accordingly failed to keep the ruling parties accountable. The same is happening here.


If it was possible to get a Zim citizen that experienced both Smith and muggergrabber and asked to select one, I would put my money on Smith. One never appreciates things and systems until it is irrevocably gone. Too bad, so sad.

End of comments.



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