Unlocking South Africa’s potential: The case for federalism – Woode-Smith

South Africa’s potential as a federal republic remains stunted by the ANC’s centralised control. The shift to federalism would empower provinces as self-governing entities, tailoring policies to local needs. Decentralisation enhances efficiency, accountability, and risk management, curbing corruption and incompetence. Moreover, it encourages mobility, enabling citizens to choose better-governed regions. In a diverse nation like South Africa, federalism is not just a solution but a necessity for progress and prosperity.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith

By virtue of being divided into semi-autonomous provinces and municipalities, South Africa already has the foundation to be a federal republic. But the ANC’s obsession with total control, socialist dogma and absolutism has prevented this country from reaping the rewards of embracing a federal system.

A federal system would see South Africa’s provinces go from mere administrative divisions of the central government into genuinely self-governing territories, with the central government acting as a representative of all the provinces, and custodian of the armed forces. For all matters affecting a local area, its local government would have the primary say.

But why does South Africa need federalism?

Decentralisation is Efficient

Smaller parts of a whole are easier to maintain and administrate than a larger entity. South Africa’s incompetent government has proven time and again that it struggles to keep even a single government building in working order; much less public infrastructure, and institutions for an entire country.

The solution is to reduce the responsibility of government to its immediate territory and mandate. While municipalities and provincial governments already have limited power to govern their constituencies, they aren’t given the leeway or power necessary to fix all their issues. SAPS is still run (incompetently) by the central government. Eskom and Transnet are still nation-wide monopolies wreaking havoc on South African prosperity. And we are all beholden to terrible legislation that makes all our lives worse.

Decentralisation will allow provinces to cater their policies, institutions and attention according to local needs. If the Western Cape needs a specialised response to gangsterism in the Cape Flats, then a local police force can be equipped to deal with that local problem. If the Eastern Cape needs more liberal property rights to encourage investment, then it can embrace those laws.

Localised policies aside, local governments being able to dedicate more time and money to their own issues will also ensure that they solve local problems. Incompetent municipalities will also be held more accountable, as the onus will shift from national to local representatives.

Risk Management

Decentralisation also mitigates risk. Corruption, incompetence and bad policies spread like the plague. With decentralisation, corrupt officials won’t be able to affect institutions outside of their territory. Bad policies will not spill over into neighbouring localities. And incompetence will stop at the door.

And if a province does begin to fall apart due to bad governance or policies, then South Africans have a genuine solution besides voting to remedy their situation.

Vote with your feet

Already South Africans are flocking to better-run municipalities and provinces; the ‘semigration’ trend seen in the Western Cape being the prime example. But while this helps South Africans escape decaying infrastructure and bad local governance, it doesn’t help anyone escape the terrible overarching problems of this country.

In a federal system, provinces are incentivised to have superior policies and governance, so that taxpayers and citizens will move into their localities. We will visibly be able to measure the success of a province based on the movements of and settling of people.

Having policy independence will also allow provinces to implement radical reforms needed to get themselves back on track.

South Africa is Big and Diverse

This is a massive country, with an incredibly diverse people with different needs and desires. Our political system should reflect that. The needs of the Western Cape, relying on tourism for its money, should in no way reflect the needs of the mining provinces, or more rural provinces that need a leg up in property rights and direct investment.

Federalism is the exact system that South Africa needs, to be able to flourish. The government only needs to abandon its obsession with unitary, absolute governance and then we can see our provinces begin to fix themselves.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission