Thabo Mbeki — Father of the failed state in SA?


The ANC’s political victory in 1994 was a result of the ideological “struggle against apartheid”. As a counter achievement the ANC was compelled to destroy the “legacy of apartheid” from society.
It started with a clearly formulated policy dedicated to the “fundamental transformation of society”. The context of this transformation process was formulated in terms of a specific “formula” that was also written into the constitution. This formula implied that the racial composition of society had to be represented in all structures of government and society. In practice it bore down to the following: a population count was needed (49 million people); subdivided by percentage of race: black 79,3percent and white 9,1 percent. This was to be introduced as mechanism for policy formulation and implementation.
In the first ten years of democracy this formula was vigorously applied and by 2005 it became clear that Government had lost most of its governing capabilities. The formula implied that whites – as part of the apartheid legacy – had to leave the public service and with them went the largest part of expertise and skills. A functional decay of Government – and some cases even collapse – was inevitable.
By 2010 the ANC government has achieved political power in terms of a voting capability, but with a loss of governing capabilities. The loss of governing capabilities is not confined to one or two sectors of the public service, but currently affects most government departments.
When a government discards its key functions of governing, the eventual outcome is a “failed state”. The outwards appearance resembles a state, but the internal mechanisms have failed. When the comprehensive decay and collapsed state functions are evaluated by 2010, Thabo Mbeki can, justifiably, be considered as the father of the failed state in South Africa.
President Jacob Zuma eventually took over the leadership of the ANC from Mbeki, but he also inherited the making of a failed state. This is a terrible legacy which eventually may tax Zuma beyond his power of office as Mbeki left him with very few governing “tools”. Zuma is politically paralysed to a large extent.
Between the ousting of whites from the public service and the “deployment of cadres” under the guidance of Luthuli House, ANC policy has created a political vacuum in society by 2010.
The profile of society by 2010 has become distorted. Because of HIV/AIDS the life expectancy of the middle sector of the population (15 – 49 years) has constantly decreased over the past twenty years. Five years ago, the average life expectancy was just below 50 years and now it is heading for 40 years.
The most visible feature here is the loss of life: parents are dying, leaving children without proper care; people who carry the burden of society as they build houses, buy motor cars and invest in retirement plans are dying.
The invisible feature is the loss of human capital. Society loses its capability to regenerate itself. The number of people who need services and support from Government becomes ever greater, and Government’s capability to meet those demands becomes smaller. It leads to a self-destructing process. A decrease in the average life expectancy directly leads to a decline of human capital in society – which implies a loss of expertise and skills. In the end, this will impact on the competitive advantage of the economy. The reaction to the distortion of the society is varied as Government and population are attempting to find a way out.
Government’s approach has been to emphasise “co-operation” and a “let’s talk” about the problems. “Turn-around strategies” have been announced and “action” promised.
Two major problems emerged in this regard. In most cases the expertise and skills needed to turn the process around have just not been available in Government as the erosion of expertise and skills is now beginning to show. The second factor is a lack of commitment: it is impossible “to talk” when ministers and senior officials do not turn up for meetings, postpone meetings without proper notification, are unprepared or do not reply to fax or email messages – the list of complaints in this regard is endless.
The reaction of the population to the lack of governing capabilities differs from sector to sector. There has been no unified approach.
The most visible reaction certainly comes from the black settlements and squatter communities. These are the very poor people in society with very little – if any – expertise and skills. They have nothing to sell and are completely dependent on Government for their daily survival.
They tend to opt for mass demonstrations in the streets and are not averse to some violence on the go – smashing windows, turning over trash cans and, in extreme cases, setting fire to the council building. These “poorest of the poor” provided the legitimacy for Cosatu’s policy formulations. Whether these demonstrators could eventually evolve into a political movement remains to be seen. However, their capacity for violence is real.-