ANALYSIS | SA’s political risk profile has increased a few notches: but it is not yet a failed state

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As much as South Africa has changed for the better in some areas in the sense that it has, for example, become a more racially just society, several new red flags have started to appear over the past two decades, writes Théo Neethling.


In July, South Africa suffered the worst violence since the 1990s. Highways were blocked and businesses, warehouses and other property were looted and set on fire. More than 300 people died.

In mid-October, people were shocked again when a group of men, believed to be Somali nationals, openly large caliber weapons wielded during a fight between Somali traders and local taxi drivers in public view in Gqeberha, eastern Cape.

Shortly after 56 people, believed to be disgruntled military veterans, have been arrested after allegedly holding two government ministers and a deputy minister hostage in Pretoria. They would have claimed compensation for their role in the liberation struggle against minority white domination.

These violent incidents have raised the question: has South Africa become a Failed state? The problem has go up and warnings sounded before the events of this year.

I teach political risk analysis – basically the study of potential damage to a country’s stability and future. The job is to provide new comprehensive analyzes of South Africa’s current political risks each year. This should be based on a variety of variables, ranging from “government legitimacy” to “safety and security” to “socio-economic conditions” and many more.

The concept of a Failed state is disputed. But, in general, this applies to states where administrative, political and economic systems have become so weak that key government functions become inoperative or even disintegrate.

This, in turn, affects a government’s ability to support or improve the living conditions of most citizens.

Regarding South Africa, it can be said that some things in the country are still the same since 1994 in terms of broad macro-policy country risk profile. Yet serious political risks – such as war, revolution, coup, hostile neighbors, military involvement in politics – remain relatively low.

Even violent racial or ethnic conflicts do not seem to be a major concern as they have never substantially threatened the post-1994 democratic project.

Risk factors

The political risks linked to several variables in the socio-economic field are of increasing concern. For example, the government’s shortcomings in providing or facilitating sufficiently housing, water, electricity and works to millions of people is a huge source of frustration.

As much as South Africa has improved in some areas in that it has, for example, become a racially fairer society several new red flags have started to appear over the past two decades.

The country has experienced increasing levels of violence and / or dissatisfaction worker agitation. Violent protests have become a common phenomenon. In fact, the risk in the form of violent demonstrations of service delivery and other the unrest increased clearly.

Other forms of socio-economic frustration have also increased as well as xenophobia.

Especially the cost of violence economy is among the highest in the world. The 2021 Global Peace Index Recently placed, the national cost of violence in South Africa is 19% of the country’s GDP. This is the 16th highest rate in the world.

Overall, the country ranked 128th out of 161 countries in the most recent Global Peace Index, which is an index measuring the peace of countries on the basis of 23 quantitative and qualitative indicators.

A number of other factors also present high degrees of political risk. These correspond to a need for strong and visionary political leadership at all levels of government to deal with a range of governance challenges, high levels of Corruption,, especially at municipal level. Added to this is the need to address the endless institutional challenges faced by Eskom, the power company, which irregular power supply to the detriment of the economy.

Underlying protests and frustrations are several years of weak economic growth and bad governance.

Unemployment is extremely high, amid low levels of education and skills. Youth unemployment, in particular, remains one of South Africa’s most pressing challenges.

Another problem is incapacitated law enforcement institutions. Recently, parliamentarians expressed their concern that the country’s law enforcement agencies lacked the capacity to deal with situations such as civil unrest, though they were more prevalent than the recent unrest of July 2021. In fact, the Human Rights Commission has recently heard that the South African Police Department was not “”equal to the taskWhen riots and looting broke out in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July.

For the police commissioner to admit before a commission of inquiry that the police of a country have been exceeded, exceeded and exceeded when it is called upon to protect citizens, their property and public property against looters, is of most concern.

In view of the above, the general macro-political risk profile of the country has fundamentally changed and has worsened considerably from 2006 to 2021. In this context, the country’s political risk profile should be seen as a matter of serious concern.

So, is the country now a failed state or about to become so?

Where is South Africa

Directory Peace Fund Fragile States Index can be seen as an authoritative indicator of international state fragility and political risk. The index maps states around the world and ranks them in terms of 12 categories – from durable (shades of blue) to stable (shades of green) to warning (shades of yellow) to alert (shades of red).

Fragility in the world 2021.
Fragile States Index

South Africa’s position in the index is worrying. He went from stable in 2006 to warning in 2021. This clearly indicates a much higher level of political risk in the country. Interestingly, the opposite happened in Botswana, which moved from the warning category to the stable category.

In my opinion, South Africa is probably still in the medium risk category of political risk.

Countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan and South Sudan, which are either in a state of armed conflict , or in the process of recovering from armed conflict, are marked as being much more ‘fragile’ on the Fragile States Index, and fall into the alert category. These countries all display high levels of institutional and social protection fragility, based on publicly available indicators that measure the quality of policies and institutions and manifestations of fragility. South Africa, on the other hand, is also miles from the experiences of these countries.

This implies that state failure is much more relevant to these countries than South Africa.

Yet, evidence shows that political risk in the country has increased dramatically in some regions over the past two decades. It is clear that South Africa has gone from “medium risk” to “high-medium risk” or even “high risk” in recent years.

However, to call South Africa a failed state would be an exaggeration.The conversation

Theo Neethling, professor of political science, Department of political studies and governance, Free State University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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