Is South Africa in“functional decay?”

Stanley Uys examines some startling research conducted by Dr Jan du Plessis.

South Africa is in a state of “functional decay,” according to Dr Jan du Plessis, author of the Pretoria-based Intersearch, a publication “aimed at the top echelon of a company or organisations.” Below are some extracts from the July-August issue of the journal. The extracts have been edited by me to give readers an indication of the nature of Intersearch, offer them thoughts to digest, and invite their responses. I have taken possibly unpardonable liberties in summing up chapters and omitting others. Also, where  statistics are quoted, I have omitted some of the references provided by Dr du Plessis. My apologies to him if my extracts do not convey the depth and meaning of his lengthier publication (it is accessible at

(1) The struggle ideology of 1994 that was supposed to set the scene for years – if not decades – to come, has failed to produce a coherent and functional mindset. The future is now collapsing on the past.

The miracle of the new democracy has continued and is still visible in the formal trappings of political power: the constitution, regular elections, the structure of parliament and all the various government departments. Alongside this formal process, an alternative process has evolved with its own internal dynamics: a steady functional decay of governing capabilities.

The real dynamics of the functional decay of government has been largely ignored by the media and others. It was not “news”. The constitution makes ample provision for the various formal institutions that embody political power. However, no provision has been made for a political system in a mode of functional decay: lack of good governance!

“Transformation” has led to a collapse of expertise and skills in the public service. What has happened very often borders on the unbelievable. Presented here is not a comprehensive list of what has gone wrong, says Dr Du Plessis, but rather an indication of the penetration of governing decay in the whole of society at large.

(2) For 2009-10, the number of security guards increased from 194,525 to 387,273 – 3 security guards for every police officer. Government even employs security companies for the protection of government itself. When the private sector and civil society engage security companies for street level protection, government has abandoned the single most important core function of a state as outlined in the constitution: protection of its citizens.

(3) The final account for the arms purchase will be R47.2bn. The initial cost in 1998 was R30bn. Some 20% of the accompanying logistical support for the three submarines is still missing. One of the subs has been in the dry dock since 2006 and may be there until 2013. The last support for the Agusta helicopters is still outstanding, as well as 11 Gripen fighters.  The military has troops, but cannot deploy them.

HIV/Aids has devastated the army and information about infection levels is a no-go area. In 2005 a cursory reference said 48%. The UN has determined that the level of infection in the armies of Southern Africa is basically four times the average of the national level. If this is true of South Africa, the country no longer possesses the capability of a fighting force – it has degenerated into a welfare society.

The single most important question has not yet been answered in parliament: where is and what is the nature of the enemy?  Has the time not come to return all these smart weapons to the original suppliers and tell them: thanks, but sorry, we cannot afford them?

(4) From 1997 to 2006, 11 400 GPs were trained. Doctors leave the public sector for the private sector, or leave the country.

(5) Government considers that R75bn over the next five years will be needed to turn around the countrywide deterioration in roads. Five to ten times more engineers, particularly in provincial governments, are needed. More than 30% of roads are in a “bad” or “very bad” condition.

(6) A major Transnet challenges is its ageing fleet of trains and locomotives. The average age of the locomotives is 35 years. This implies that no decision making or money allocation to rectify the situation has been made over the past 20 years.

(7) Government would like to make passenger trains the centre of the public transport system, but needs R400bn to replace the aging network. At least R93bn is needed to replace 33% of the fleet immediately, because it is old and unsafe.

(8) The auditor-general reports that up to June 2009 municipalities spent R5.6bn on irregular, unapproved and wasteful expenditures. For the period up to June 2010, this increased to R9.26bn.

(9) The estimated backlog in terms of network maintenance of electricity generation and transmission is close to R32bn, and climbing by R2.5bn per year.

(10) Officially, the country’s water purification works show that some 56% of the 821 plants are either in a critical situation or do not function properly. This implies that millions of litres of sewage waste – not treated or purified – are dumped in rivers and streams. In 2011, 284 water purification works were rated as high-risk.

(11) In Feb 2011, 6m learners were engaged in an annual national assessment. Gr. 3 and Gr. 6 learners respectively obtained an average of 35% and 28% for literacy skills and 28% and 30% for numeracy. The state of education is now approaching a catastrophic level. The black youth, in particular, have been let down by government.

Conclusion: To understand the essence of governing decay, says Dr Du Plessis, it is necessary to penetrate into the very heart of the ideological and political thinking of the ANC government. It conducted an anti-apartheid struggle. In terms of any criticism, this is basically a no-go area for it is politically incorrect, yet, of cardinal importance for an understanding of the future!

The appearance of dysfunctional governing systems in society can be linked directly to the decisions and policies adopted by the ANC government after 1994 in an attempt to destroy the “last vestiges of apartheid”. The core of the new thinking was contracted in the “comprehensive transformation of society”. The inherent racism of apartheid was to be replaced by a “non-racial democracy.”

Some 10% whites now have the moral obligation and constitutional responsibility to support and carry 90% of the historically disadvantaged. This obligation has eventually acquired, in policy terms, the qualification of a transfer of assets. At present the technical and popular concept for this transfer is nationalisation – particularly of mines and farms.

In ideological terms the transformation of society opened up the possibility for functional decay – system destruction and eventually the phenomenon of a failed state. Functional decay of governing services in society is no longer the exception – it has become a way of living!
[date:] 2011-09-16

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