South Africa’s political diagnosis | News24

South Africa’s political diagnosis | News24

So, recently I decided to do an investigation into some of the troubles ailing South Africa. This diagnosis is far from an all-encompassing and professional one, but the issues that will be highlighted are serious issues worth addressing.

Broadly speaking, the problems facing South Africa can be placed into three categories: political, economic and social problems, and there are some overlap between them. It is clearly the case that one problem can have a knock-on effect to cause a second problem, and thus these problems shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. This essay will focus on the sphere in which South Africa faces its largest problems, namely the political sphere. The economic and social sphere will be discussed in follow-up essays.

Politically, South Africa currently faces the largest amount of problems, all of which are well-reported, and well-documented. South Africa faces the fear of another ratings downgrade, which has an adverse effect on investment, which will be discussed in a future essay. The reasons, cited by ratings companies, often focus on South Africa’s political instability and fiscally irresponsible behaviour. Political insecurity is manifested in the form of regular political shocks, such as surprise cabinet reshuffles and the ensuing votes of no confidence.

Another factor causing political instability is that the normal democratic checks and balances on power, in the form of Parliament and the judiciary, have been unable to hold a blatantly corrupt president to account. The removal of Zuma through Parliament had been attempted, and failed. There also seems to be a reluctance by the NPA to bring charges against Zuma and prosecute him. This undermines trust in South Africa’s democracy, with negative blowback on economic stability and investment outlooks.

Being fiscally irresponsible means that the state is living well beyond its means. The state’s expenditures far exceeds its revenue, by as much as 4,3% of GDP in 2017. Furthermore, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has indicated that there will be a R50 billion shortfall in revenue in 2017. Thus, South Africa’s state debt continues to increase, forcing the state to undertake more loans, and increasing the cost of furnishing these loans. Large expenditure programs, such as the bailout of State Owned Enterprises, the proposed National Health Insurance, the nuclear deal and free tertiary education place great strain on the budget. This contributes to a growing budget deficit, placing South Africa’s credit rating at risk.

The most insipid strain on the budget, however, takes the form of corruption within the state. Reports this year have blown the story on South Africa’s State Capture wide open, showing how, among other things, the Gupta’s expensive Sun City wedding had been financed by the tax-payer. Further cases of corruption are funds being diverted from Eskom and a public dairy farm in the Free State to Gupta-owned companies, among other things.

The role of the political system is to create a stable atmosphere conducive to economic growth and investment. South Africa’s political sphere has failed in this goal. The state is being bankrupted by wasteful expenditure, while corrupt individuals poach state resources with apparent impunity. The recent scandals surrounding Zuma and the Guptas have illustrated how easy it is for individuals to poach public funds for private use, at great cost to the country. It has also been shown that these individuals can get away with this type of behaviour.

Trust in our political system needs to be restored, through cutting the budget deficit to manageable levels, and most importantly, holding corrupt officials to account. 

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