/ 14 November 2022

Government more focused on internal power struggles than fixing the nation

Switch on: President Cyril Ramaphosa must act to end blackouts so the government can concentrate on growing the economy and creating jobs. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

With continued slow economic growth, rising unemployment and corruption, the once promising African economic giant has been dwarfed by its own inability to govern effectively.

We are at a point, where it is not about pushing a political football around or attempting to discredit a political party. We are in crisis mode and, without urgent action, South Africa will become a failed state.

It is critical to acknowledge that our inability to have sustained economic growth over long periods of time, highlights the lack of growth in key economic sectors. Furthermore, archaic policies have stagnated the small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME) sector and made South Africa a less favourable country for investment. This has contributed to our high unemployment, and a skills drain of some of our best and brightest.

Eskom poses the single greatest threat to our economy. Continued load-shedding has wiped billions from our economy. Mothunye Mothiba, chief executive of Productivity SA, said SMMEs in the informal sector employ more than 50% of the country’s workforce across all sectors. They are most affected by external economic shocks, because most do not have the resources to combat them. In the context of load-shedding, they cannot afford generators or the like, to ensure the business keeps functioning during blackouts. This means that every time there is load-shedding, most of these businesses come to a standstill. For the employees, it means no work, and no pay. 

Pretoria’s response to this has simply been to throw billions of taxpayers money at the problem. Most of this money has financed Eskom’s debt, rather than building more infrastructure. The past 10 years have taught us that throwing money at Eskom, which we have done in almost every budget in recent years, does not solve the problem. These resources directed at Eskom could have been used to help address the myriad challenges facing our country. 

We have witnessed in recent months the collapsing infrastructure, specifically roads, with fatal accidents taking place across the country. With the festive season approaching, this problem is likely to worsen as the roads become more populated.

Our education system is also failing dismally, with 40% of learners who start grade one not completing grade 12. Often isolated as a fringe issue, which only garners attention at the start of the academic year, school dropouts affect our society as a whole. There is a direct correlation between high levels of unemployment and the skills mismatch as a result of learners not finishing secondary education. Yet the department of basic education has failed to implement a constructive strategy to monitor the factors that push and pull children out of school.

Furthermore, our education system is characterised by crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and poor educational outcomes, which perpetuates inequality.

Some might argue that we have over-dramatised the notion that we are on the brink of collapse. But, if we look at the crumbling healthcare system, escalating crime and lack of police capacity to deal with it, failing state-owned enterprises, collapsing infrastructure, high drop-out rates in schools and tertiary institutions and  corruption, it is unequivocal that unless there is urgent intervention, South Africa will become the next failed African state.

Our government has made excessive promises of a turn-around. We have been hearing these promises since 2018, when Cyril Ramaphosa became president. The only thing that has changed, is that things have become worse. 

  • The treasury has reported that of the 278 municipalities in South Africa, 151 are teetering on the brink of collapse — that is more than 50%; 
  • There is possibly an impending fuel shortage crisis, which will grind our economy to a halt; 
  • State-owned enterprises are requiring more and more bailouts from government;
  • High unemployment, increasing inequality, and widespread poverty;
  • National debt has increased to R4.7-trillion in the current financial year;
  • Wide-scale corruption at all levels of government; and
  • No political will has been shown to address the loopholes that exist in tender and procurement processes, the gateways to corruption.

As South Africa teeters on the brink of failure, the ruling party seems more concerned with its internal jostling for power than addressing the real and urgent crisis of a state about to collapse. Without a turnaround strategy that looks holistically at South Africa’s challenges, the rot will become entrenched, and it will become harder to undo in the future.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.