SA: On Our Way to a Banana Republic

Hussein Solomon

As the festive season approaches, I am desperately trying to escape the feeling of gloom that pervades me as we approach the end of the year – and for once it has nothing to do with the imminent fulfilment of the Mayan prophecy.

No, the sense of gloom stems directly from my sense that South Africa is well on its way to a Banana Republic and that 2013 may be much worse than 2012.

At the economic level, the country’s growth slowed to a paltry 1.2 percent in the third quarter. Economic contraction will continue in the next year as a result of a combination of external factors such as the danger that the European Union, our largest trading partner, will enter into a double dip recession as a result of the austerity measures being imposed.

This will see an ever great trade deficit.

Internal factors such as the recent labour unrest have also served to undermine our economic prospects. Strikes have not merely undermined investor confidence (seen in the recent credit downgrades) but have also resulted in greater people joining the ranks of the unemployed. As the gap between haves and have-nots widen in South Africa expect greater social alienation and political agitation. In these circumstances expect more Marikanas’ and more De Doorns’.

On the political front, it is clear that our democratic order is coming under severe threat from the ANC. The imminent passage of The Protection of State Information Bill into law which imposes such draconian measures as a five-year jail term for possessing or disclosing classified state information marks just one threat. It should be noted that this bill should also be seen in the context of sustained attacks on our judiciary by the ruling party as well as the harassment of journalists and the ongoing politicization of our intelligence services.

The clearest sign that our country is on the path towards a Banana Republic however is seen in the ANC’s internal power struggles. Two events this week highlight an ominous trend – the use of violence to decide who sits in office. The Limpopo provincial general council meeting convened to choose who they would be voting for in Mangaung had to be called off when the meeting was attacked by hordes wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Jacob Zuma’s face on it.

Limpopo was expected to follow Gauteng in support of the Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe come Mangaung. To make matters worse, the local police seemed to have taken their time in responding to the aggression by Zuma supporters.

In the North-West province, meanwhile, there was an assassination attempt at senior ANC provincial leader Kabelo Mataboge – a key supporter of Motlanthe. If violence is the instrument of choice for the ANC in settling political succession, what prevents the ruling party from deploying this destructive force against the political opposition, journalists or members of civil society who threaten their political hegemony in future?

Maybe the ancient Mayans were onto something – maybe Zuma’s second term in Mangaung this December signifies something catastrophic. Maybe I need some Prozac to get into the festive spirit!

Hussein Solomon

Hussein Solomon holds a D.Litt et Phil (Political Science) from the University of South Africa. Currently he is Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Free State. His previous appointments include being Professor in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria; Executive Director of the International Institute of Islamic Studies (2009-2010); Director of the Centre for International Political Studies, University of Pretoria, Research Manager at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (1998-2000), Senior Researcher: Institute for Security Studies (1996-1998) and Research Fellow: Centre for Southern African Studies, University of the Western Cape (1993-1995).

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