/ 26 January 2022

Bonang Mohale: South Africa has all the markings of a failed state

23rd World Energy Congress
Professor Bonang Mohale, chancellor of the University of the Free State. (Photo by Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Inequality is widening, black graduates are roaming the streets, public education has collapsed, public hospitals continue to fail the poor and the vulnerable, lawlessness has become an epidemic. Professor Bonang Mohale, chancellor of the University of the Free State, says these issues are symptoms of a failing or failed state. 

The state’s failure to provide basic human rights to its citizens is a keystone in identifying a failed state, the former Business Leadership SA chief executive said at a PSG webinar on Tuesday.

“The reason our Constitution is considered the best in the world is actually contained in the preamble where it talks about three things: democratic principles, social justice and fundamental human rights. Jobs are a fundamental human right, freedom from hunger is a fundamental human right.” 

Mohale spoke about issues that underpin economic reform and highlighted unemployment as the biggest, calling it a “risk”. 

“When you have young people of military age sitting around and doing nothing, not only are you asking for trouble, you are actively inviting it.”

South Africa’s unemployment rate is 34.9% of the labour force, according to data from Statistics South Africa for the third quarter of 2021 — the highest since the start of StatsSA’s quarterly labour force survey in 2008.

In a quarter marked by July’s civil unrest — which swept through parts of the country’s two economic hubs, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, dealing a R50-billion knock to the economy — the uptick in unemployment was no surprise, the Mail & Guardian previously reported.  

Mohale said the two weeks of rampant looting in July 2021 was a time when the world was seeking regulatory certainty and political stability from South Africa but the people who were constitutionally mandated to protect the country stood by and did nothing. 

“And now we have the burning of parliament, a national keypoint. This must concern us.”

Mohale said another economic reform would be to implement the recommendations of Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in his first report on the judicial commission inquiry into state capture

“We need to close the loop of state capture by charging and ensuring that every single one of those named finds themselves in orange overalls. Remember, these thieves stole R1.5-trillion in five years, that’s two thirds of what [South African Revenue Service commissioner] Edward Kieswetter collects in a year.”

Mohale added that the government and the private sector had to dedicate themselves to economic growth because the economic crisis has become a social crisis. 

“We need to address those things that keep us up at night, like corruption. This organised corruption has now fermented itself into organised crime,” he said. 

Mohale listed other issues that underpin economic reform such as infrastructure investment in the hands of the private sector and the end of cadre deployment “because, if you were giving us your best candidate we would leave you alone, but you are giving us absolutely the worst”. 

He said the fundamental matter that must be urgently addressed is the energy problem. “The link between an accessible, reliable and predictable energy supplier as the fourth means of production and its role in growing economies is truly irrefutable.” 

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.