Zuma’s legacy – SA risks becoming failed state: Why 20/20 vision is needed.

John Clarke

JOHANNESBURG — About a month before the ANC’s crucial elective conference, the prospects for the country’s future are appearing ever bleaker. A stalling economy, as well as rampant corruption, have taken hold. The only way out will be if the ANC ejects the Zuma camp – a possibility that seems up in the air. Either way, action needs to be taken soon to save the country otherwise it risks going the direction of failed African states like Somalia. – Gareth van Zyl

By John Clarke*

It’s time for 2020 Vision.

Hindsight is always 20/20 vision. Jacques Pauw’s The Presidents Keepers has revealed the ominous reality that Jacob Zuma’s Presidency is leaving South Africa trembling on the edge of falling into the abyss of another ‘Failed State’. John Clarke still believes that, come 2020, South Africa could be back on the road to the “Walk Together” vision that the Dinokeng Scenario dreamers hatched eight years ago. Two years, and some change, is enough time to chart a ‘meando’ back from the brink.

“.. Zuma’s interests in office are narrow. They are essentially about retaining power in order to avoid the alternative; in Zuma’s case, prison. He is, in both ideological and policy terms, a vacant space – a medieval ruler surrounded by a dry moat, in which various interest groups, organisations and factions jostle for space and domination.”

The Zuma Years: South Africa’s Changing Face of Power

Richard Calland, The Zuma Years: South Africa’s Changing Face of Power. Published 2013.

Years before I started getting into trouble for opposing the award of mining rights on the Wild Coast and questioning Sanral’s grand tolling ambitions in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, I was employed as a humanitarian worker within the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), tasked by the World Health Organisation to report from a public health, humanitarian perspective on the “Triple Threat” that Southern African countries were facing. These were Chronic food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, and Governance incapacity. South Africa was deemed to be capable of handling those issues with a sound governance and strong economy. There was no need for UN intervention.

I was one of only two South Africans employed among the 200 or so humanitarian specialists from the various participating agencies (Unicef, UNDP, UNAIDS, WFP, FAO, WHO, UNFPA). (Sisonke Msimang was the other, working for UNAIDS. She encouraged me in ways she was not aware of, just by being the wonderful person she is.)

It was a dream job. Johannesburg served as the headquarters of the UN Regional Interagency Coordination Support Office (UN-REACSO). So, I could stay at home, in between humanitarian missions to suffering communities in Africa in the grip of the Triple Threat.

REACSO was not a fiasco because South Africa provided everything a well-coordinated humanitarian effort required. A State of Capture was unimaginable back in 2003. I was popular by virtue of the fact that I could explain the mysteries of the game of cricket to my disbelieving expats colleagues from Latin America. (It so happened that the Cricket World Cup was on in South Africa). When my expat colleagues needed some R&R I would point them in the direction of the Pondoland Wild Coast. They came back rejuvenated and inspired. For those interested in the miracle of South Africa’s negotiated agreement, I would boastfully explain that our Constitution was the best in the world for several reasons, bound by a progressive realisation of the right to Social Security. We even had an NGO named “Section 27” to hold the State accountable to that obligation and a free and vigorous press to expose shortcomings and scandals.  

That was fifteen years ago and a State of Capture was unimaginable.  

Today, by the same criteria of the Triple Threat logic used then, South Africa now qualifies on “Governance incapacity” as well. We have managed to address the challenge of access to antiretroviral therapy, but our health systems are in a shocking state due to corruption and bad management. If the summer rains don’t come food insecurity will increase. Our proud achievement of providing 11 million people with a social safety net is under threat of a rapid reversal under Minister Bathabile Dlamini who seems to believe that any means to remain within the favoured faction of the ANC are justified. (See Noseweek https://www.icosindaba.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=130:plan-z-the-social-grants-crisis-is-a-secret-machination-to-get-nkosazana-zuma-elected-president&catid=79&Itemid=493)

Unless we are able to emancipate the State from captivity I fear that when 2020 comes around I will be welcoming some of my old UN expatriate colleagues back to Johannesburg. Instead of proudly showing off how much we’ve achieved in the last two decades, I will need to explain why the number of beggars at traffic intersections have multiplied and it looks increasingly possible that we will need the large scale humanitarian assistance usually reserved for other African countries.

Read also: Malema: By ignoring Constitution, Zuma is pushing SA towards a failed state

My stint at the UN ended in Somalia on a humanitarian mission to assess the impact of the Asian Tsunami on the coastal residents, and I started to learn the telltale signs of a Failed State. It got me close up to see what a Failed State actually looked like, and sharpen my eyes to what to look for. And what to look out for.

A Failed State is not even worth capturing. But a captured state will almost inevitably become a failed state.

What will our country look like in 2020?
How will our citizens fare?
How will we stand in the world?

Those three questions were debated by a group of 33 high profile leaders from business, civil society, politics and media who gathered in August 2009 to flesh out imaginary scenarios for the decade that lay ahead. Depending on how State and Civil Society actors chose to relate to one another, four logical options were theoretical possible, but they only gave content to three: Walk Behind, Walk Apart and Walk Together.  

torn flag south africa

The normative ideal is the Walk Together Scenario:      

This is a scenario of active citizen engagement with a government that is effective and that listens. It requires the engagement of citizens who demand better service delivery and government accountability. It is dependent on the will and ability of citizens to organise themselves and to engage the authorities, and on the quality of political leadership and its willingness to engage citizens. It entails a common national vision that cuts across economic self-interest in the short-term. This is not an easy scenario. Its path is uneven – there is robust contestation over many issues and it requires strong leadership from all sectors, especially from citizens.

The fourth logical scenario – Engaged Civil Society walking ahead while a Corrupt and Ineffective State walked back into captivity – was considered implausible at the time.

What I had witnessed in my involvement on the Wild Coast was an excellent example of that very Walk Ahead scenario. Now, after reading the spate of books which feature President Jacob Zuma on the cover (including my own) there can be little doubt that the implausible, unimagined “Walk Ahead” scenario is exactly what has now come to pass.

Read also: Council of Churches: SA on the brink of imminent collapse – ANC must act now

Somalia may have honed my lens in viewing the Failed State but my four years immersed in the Amadiba Wild Coast struggle for justice, showed me they were already exemplifying the “Engaged and Active Citizenry” ideal. Fortunately, their Civil Society allies were strong, and the media willing (let it be said for the record, especially Stephan Hofstatter and Bongani Bingwa) to support the Amadiba on the Wild Coast to stop the plunder of their natural resources. 

It was clear that by 2009, with the Xolobeni Mining rights award and SANRAL’s N2 Wild Coast Toll Road development, a State of Capture was underway. By 2011, when the Department of Mineral Resources allowed the mining company back again for a second attempt to gain mining rights and the Minister of Environment showed herself spineless in resisting the pressure by SANRAL and the commercial interests they serve, it was clear that the Powers That Be were prepared to use every means necessary to plunder the coastline’s wealth of heavy minerals.   

Read also: John Clarke: Nazir’s Nadir – The N2 Wild Coast shortcut.

By 2016, after the still unsolved murder of Bazooka Rhadebe in March, it was self-evident that the critical ingredient for the promise of justice – the Rule of Law – had been deliberately eroded and the State, is “Corrupt and Ineffective” and cannot be relied upon.  

It is time for a radical change.

How do we articulate the “Walk Ahead” scenario in 2017?

This is the scenario of endless “lawfare” where a corrupt and ineffective state attempts to cover up its failure to deal with critical challenges by using the public purse against the public interest in litigation by attrition. State failure is the culmination of deepening political factionalism within the ANC: weak, unaccountable leadership, weak capacity in government departments, and tightening economic constraints that are not dealt with realistically or inclusively. The State Security apparatus is used to intimidate and harass critics, including those within the ANC who stand up to be counted.  It is the State of Capture scenario where the commercial self-interest of foreign business empires strategically place their controlling hands over the hands of a corrupt President who has taken hold of the levers of power by patronage, blackmail and Machiavellian manipulation. Civil society, with the media playing a critical role of Naming and Unmasking the Powers, galvanises to not only match the ‘lawfare’ tactics to prevail against the attrition strategy, but to deliver a series of embarrassing defeats and own goals in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, leaving the Executive increasingly shorn of legitimacy.  Social media provides a means of distribution and mobilisation and new civil society organisations emerge to engage/confront the Powers with disarming truth. Solidarity networks are formed to protect whistle-blowers and hold the Executive (including State Owned Enterprises) and Legislature accountable to constitutional values and principles. Opposition parties grow at the expense of the ANC, with significant losses of control at local and provincial tiers of government. Investigative journalists and editors use the constitutionally guaranteed right to free press to expose corruption at every level.

State capture is all the talk in the media. It basically means that the Guptas are running the show. More magic available at jerm.co.za.

With the benefit of hindsight – and a trove of leaked emails – we now know that while the Dinokeng participants were coming together to exercise their minds, President Zuma was meeting regularly with his friends Tony, Rajesh and Atul Gupta, apparently perceiving in them the promise of perpetual power and prosperity, yet unable to perceive the archetypal characters of the three witches of Macbeth at play. He gave his son to their captivity, and his soul to their delusional ambition.

While the Dinokeng participants were dreaming dreams of “Walking Together” the Gupta brothers were plotting with President Zuma to create what has now become a nightmarish “Stumble and Fall” process of enervation and enfeeblement of the State.  

Nelson Mandela

To make matters worse, the internal organisation of the ANC, which under Nelson Mandela genuinely saw itself as a ‘serving party’, now sees itself as the ‘ruling party’, representing the “iron law of oligarchy”. This is the theory articulated in 1911 by Robert Nichols which states that “all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations.”

However improbable they thought Walk Ahead may have been, they described a 2020 scenario of Corrupt and ineffective government. Distrusting and self-protective citizenry (the “Walk Apart” scenario) alarmingly accurately.  

“This is a scenario of “musical chairs” or “reshuffled elites”. It is triggered by the failure of leaders across all sectors to deal with our critical challenges. This failure is the result of political factionalism and weak, unaccountable leadership, weak capacity in government departments, and tightening economic constraints that are not dealt with realistically or inclusively. Civil society increasingly disengages as public trust in public institutions diminishes. The state is increasingly bypassed by citizens, resulting in unaccountable groupings assuming power over parts of society. The gap between the leaders and the led widens. Citizens eventually lose patience and erupt into protest and unrest. The government, driven by its inability to meet citizens’ demands and expectations, responds brutally, and a spiral of resistance and repression is unleashed. Decay and disintegrations sets in.”

The question now is: how do we avoid this dreadful dystopian tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, so that the State’s and Civil Society may find each other again?

It is already happening.  

  • John Clarke is a Consultant Social Worker, Development Facilitator, Writer.