Home / Events / ISS Seminar Report: The `State of the State` in South Africa
ISS Seminar Report: The `State of the State` in South Africa
Date: 20 November 2012
Venue: , Institute for Security Studies, Cape Town, 2nd Floor, The Armoury Building, Buchanan Square, 160 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, Cape Town

In April 2012, South Africans celebrated 18 years of democracy. The country has strong democratic institutions and an apparent semblance of law and order. Though it has not transformed much, the economy has until recently experienced a period of sustained growth. The future prospects of the economy look promising if national priorities are addressed. However, it is the country`s political landscape that is causing deep concern, and it may well have been the fundamental reason for the downgrading of South Africa`s credit rating by two agencies recently.

Worrying developments impacting on the country`s political landscape have been attributed to factors such as the growing social distance between the political elite and the citizenry (as demonstrated by the extravagant use of public money on the President`s personal residence), coupled with rampant corruption among politically connected and elected public officials. The consequences have been a large-scale failure of service delivery and growing mistrust in the ruling elite, as the wildcat strikes in the mining sector demonstrate. Former President Thabo Mbeki has gone so far as to express his concerns about the ‘directionless and unguided drift` of the country under the current leadership.

These events are at odds with the vision for the future as propounded in the officially adopted National Development Plan: Vision for 2030.  The Minister of Finance attempted to reassure the populace and investors by focusing on the economic fundamentals of South Africa. However, this could easily be torn asunder if strong and ethical leadership is not forthcoming in the near future.

Informed by the above background, with funding and support from Hanns Siedel Foundation, on Tuesday, 20th November 2012 the African Futures Project at the ISS organized a seminar on ‘the State of the State`. The seminar was aimed at creating a platform for an analysis of unfolding developments in the country`s political economy. It was also aimed at bringing together leading South African opinion makers to share their perspectives on some of these issues and consider suggestions as to what to expect in the future.

Chaired by Mr. Charles Goredema (ISS Senior Research Fellow), with Dr. Mzukisi Qobo, Senior (Lecture, Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria) and Mr. Keith Gottschalk (University of the Western Cape, Department of Political Studies) as panelists, the seminar was well attended and generated substantial interest.

In his presentation, Mr. Gottschalk provided an excellent comparative perspective of South African political institutions and behavior of elected public officials. He compared and contrasted the South African political dynamics against those of developed countries. To him, what is happening to the country`s governance institutions at this current conjuncture is not something that is fundamental new and different from what is happening elsewhere in other parts of the world.

Dr. Qobo`s presentation on the other hand was focused more on the country`s body politic. To him, South Africa`s body politic is marred by dysfunctional leadership. The South African society is characterized by low trust levels- there are no healthy relations between the state- the rulers and the society-the ruled.  Its defining feature is a trust deficit that goes beyond the personal level. As shown by recent incidents in Marikana and elsewhere in the country, the ‘reputational capital` of the corporate sector is also in tatters. According to Dr. Qobo, what compounds the problem is that, the ruling party, the African National Congress is in denial of what is happening. Instead it resorts to accusing those who are critical of the status quo as being part of a ‘liberal-offensive` against its government. The party is convinced that President Zuma is doing just fine. Dr Qobo also informed the seminar that, although South Africa`s liberal constitution is the source of Nation pride- it does not do much to help disgruntled citizens.

The seminar was told that South Africa is not a failed or dysfunctional state yet but that the country is not far from where Zimbabwe was when it started to disintegrate. According to Dr. Qobo South Africans couldn`t afford to be complacent and that corruption and social inequalities have the potential to bring the country down if something is not done about them.

So what needs to be done? According to Dr. Qobo, there is a need for citizen participation to be enhanced- a participatory civic culture needs to be entrenched. South Africans from all walks of life need to be active agents of change. There is also a need for high vigilance about the country`s state of politics.

During the discussion, a number of questions were raised. Some participants wanted to find out whether, since both speakers encouraged enhanced civic participation, the time has come for South Africans to vote for alternative opposition parties. Other questions centred around leadership an separation of power; how the party and the state can be separated and how the leadership can be changed and power can be reclaimed from the ANC.

A message that came strongly from the discussions was that, there is no other way to change leadership than voting for a preferred leader or party in office through ballot box.  Beyond democratic institutions, there is a need to encourage a strong democratic participatory civic culture..

ISS Rule: Participants are free to use the information presented, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participants, may be revealed without his/her express permission.

This event is made possible through funding from the Hanns Seidel Foundation



Institute for Security Studies, Cape Town
2nd Floor, The Armoury Building
Buchanan Square
160 Sir Lowry Road
Woodstock, Cape Town

Mr Thembani Mbadlanyana
Tel: +27 21 461 7211
Your comments
comments powered by Disqus