SA : Failed state

Jan du Plessis says ANC govt has won 4 elections but it has squandered its human capital

The Run-up to a Strategic Shift

By 2013 many, if not most, people experience a discomfort with the political reality of the day. The political message about the "new South Africa" coming from parliament is still strong and the SABC excels in propagating the achievements of "our new nation". However, the various webpages and media outside the immediate reach of Government reflect a different atmosphere. There is uncertainty about the future and disillusionment with the present reality.

In retrospect the election of 1994 introduced a phase of democratic euphoria. The election brought the era of apartheid to an end. The ANC won the election overwhelmingly and introduced the ideas and newly designed policies of the liberation struggle into parliament. The country was prepared for the fundamental transformation of society, in order to get rid of the "last vestiges of apartheid". The new public service was to be designed according to the demographic profile of the population – 90% black and 10% white! This has become the numerical yardstick for the new society.

The exclusion of whites from the public service soon delivered unexpected results: the functional decay of Government, something that was never anticipated in 1994. By 2000 Mbeki was already complaining about the lack of capabilities in the public service, but he continued with the policy and by 2005 the public service was close to collapse. Zuma has been unable to rectify the problem, in a way, he has increased it.

By 2013 a situation has been reached where Government had enormous political capital (voting power) but very little governing capital. Government on all three levels of administration suffers from a severe lack of capabilities.

This implies that the crucial interaction between Government and population has tilted since 1994. Good governance implies and demands a positive interaction between government and population. Both are equal partners. In this regard a constitution plays an important role as it describes the responsibilities of both government and population – almost like a recipe book in the kitchen.

In 1994 the population voted en masse for the ANC government and Government accepts the responsibilities embedded in the constitution. It was a commitment to good governance and racial reconciliation. This caused basically the upswing of democratic euphoria.

By 2013 the population still votes en masse for the ANC government, but the prescriptions or responsibilities in the constitution have been largely ignored by Government. The ideal of good governance has silently been replaced over the past 19 years by bad governance – and in many sectors of society, no governance at all. Society has become governmentally empty!

The very sensitive agreement/understanding between Government and population is now in question. What has emerged over the past 19 years is a structural and functional imbalance between Government and population. As a result democratic euphoria turned into democratic scepticism – the start of the Strategic Shift.

The Strategic Shift implies a functional weakening of Government and a – under the surface – transfer of political power to the population. This is a process driven by powerful forces in society and by now, beyond the reach or control of parliament. What has evolved by 2013 is quite a unique situation. What used to start off in 1994 as a "normal" interaction between Government and population, as was to be expected, turned into an "abnormal" interaction by 2013.

Various factors were responsible for this Strategic Shift:


The ANC government has won 4 elections; it has the capability to scramble the opposition in parliament, but it has lost – perhaps squandered is a better word – its human capital. Without human capital no government can survive. This is by no means an insignificant issue as it can cause major disruptions in the functioning of society.

This has occurred on two levels:

· The ANC introduced a lack of human capital in Government, and

· The ANC instigated a breakdown of human capital in the population.

Human capital in Government

In terms of clarity, human capital comprises the following:

Human capital: "The set off skills which an employee acquires on the job, through training and experience, and which increase that employee’s value in the marketplace" (

Expertise and skills are the content of human capital as manifested in education and training, thereby increasing the value of the individual.

When the ANC assumed government in 1994, it excluded the whites – with their expertise and skills – from the public service. The ANC was left with very little human capital from day one. As a political counter move, the ANC appointed – or deployed – its own elite members to Government administration. Unfortunately cadre deployment involved a lot of political capital, but very little human capital. This explains to a large extent the present unfortunate state of affairs in Government administration.

As a result a strategic mistake was committed in 1994. There was an assumption that political capital (voting power) will automatically lead to governing capital – the capability to manage the state apparatus. The expectations did not materialise and serious commentators are increasingly talking about a failed state.

Human capital in society

The ANC government has been introducing the one experiment after the other with education and training.

By 2013 there is general agreement that education has failed the children completely: what has been delivered are people who can hardly read and write – and do not understand the learning material! The outcomes in subjects like mathematics and science have become a national embarrassment, although these subjects should provide the structural backbone for any modern and prosperous society. It seems that the whole educational system cannot provide the expertise and skills needed for a future society, because it does not have the human capital to generate human capital. Looking at this, the ANC has failed society at large.

As the ANC is in the run up of the next two elections, it seems highly unlikely that the ANC will be able to re-introduce human capital into government. A long and drawn-out process of governing decay and ultimately democratic failure seems the most likely outcome.

Failure of parliament

The ANC will not be able to meet the decay of society with increased levels of human capital – improving the quality of life. In self-defence the only viable option for the ANC will be a consolidation of its political capital to secure its position with the population, which already includes massive state support in terms of grants. The latest figures indicate that some 17 million people are already dependent on the state, and many more are expected to follow. From a population of 50 million, 17 million and climbing dependent people is already a frightening statistic.

This dependence of the population guarantees to the ANC the sanctity and control of parliament where its majority vote has been able to protect the party against a belligerent opposition and demanding media. Parliament has become the ultimate "hiding place" and an ANC interpretation of the constitution secures the key to the front door.

Whether parliament can come to the rescue of the population is another matter. Parliament has also become a victim of the need for human capital. If the opposition is to take over parliament tomorrow, they will be in the same situation the ANC is at present – a lack of human capital to administer the country. They feed on the same political substance as the ANC – they need numbers to gain power. However, numbers do not guarantee capabilities. It seems that the current political dispensation has run its time as it cannot deliver.

Dr Jan du Plessis: virtual editor and publisher – Intersearch. This is an extract from his Intersearch Management Briefing May/June 2013


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