We Object, Your Honour: South Africa Is a Failing State - Not a Failed One Yet

Cape Times (South Africa), March 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

We Object, Your Honour: South Africa Is a Failing State - Not a Failed One Yet


BYLINE: Bryan Rostron

Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, forever more famous as successfully defending Jeremy Irons in the movie Reversal of Fortune, grabbed attention last week when he claimed - pontificating about the Oscar Pistorius trial - that South Africa was a "failed country".

As a combative TV "talking head" who thrives on polemic, we can discount Professor Dershowitz as an expert witness.

All the same, is he on to something? Last weekend, our former finance minister, Trevor Manuel, on retiring from politics having served in the cabinet since 1994, warned that democracy was being undermined by members of his own party when they regularly attacked state institutions like the Constitutional Court for making adverse findings against ANC.

Another former ANC cabinet minister, Ronnie Kasrils, is more scathing. He judges that the shooting of miners at Marikana in 2012 was worse than the massacre at Sharpeville - because it was premeditated murder.

Kasrils says that he can no longer urge people to vote ANC. Many struggle veterans are equally anguished. Sitting opposite one of the most illustrious ex-political prisoners at a social occasion recently, you could sense his intense discomfort when the talk turned to politics.

Many veterans are appalled at the sleaze and ostentation of a new cohort of ANC leaders. Most of all, they are stunned by how President Jacob Zuma has enriched himself and his family while promoting shady friends who appear to be able to break the law at will and have more access to him than cabinet ministers.

There are no consequences for Zuma's buddies. Mediocrity is promoted.

But does this make us a failed state? Just as I was dismissing Dershowitz's uninformed remarks, along comes a book by someone who does need to be listened to seriously: What's Gone Wrong: On the brink of a failed state, by Alex Boraine.

Among many other achievements, Boraine helped organise breakthrough meetings with exiled ANC leaders and later served as the deputy chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is also, I should declare, a recent friend.

The author embraced the advent of an ANC government with great hope. But in a lucid, judicious narrative he lays out the decline into venality and denial, tracing much of it to the paranoia and authoritarianism of exile - when a blind eye was also turned to the criminality of some leaders. …

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