Is South Africa a failed country?

Economists have dismissed claims by a US lawyer, that South Africa is a "failed country".

March 7, 2014 56 Comments
Is South Africa a failed country?

Economists have dismissed claims by a US lawyer, that South Africa is a “failed country”.

Alan Dershowitz, who is a US attorney, jurist, and political commentator, was speaking to Piers Morgan on CNN to discuss the Oscar Pistorius trial.

“I’ve spent some time in South Africa recently, and people don’t want to hear this, but South Africa is a failed country,” he said.

“It is a lawless country, it’s a country with extraordinarily high rate of violent crime, and it’s a country with deep, deep racial divisions and problems that we wish had disappeared because we all love Mandela, but that’s not the reality.

Morgan contested Dershowitz’ view noting that he too, had visited South Africa.

“I thought it was an absolutely wonderful country, I have to say, although there is clearly a lot of crime there, gun related crime,” Morgan said.

“I remember walking through the township of Soweto and thinking it was one of the single most inspiring places I had ever been in my life. So I would take issue with Alan saying it’s a failed country.”

Legal analyst, Kelly Phelps said that, while South Africa was beset by deep seated social problems, in many respects the country is a fundamentally functional country, including its legal system.

Dawie Roodt, chief economist at Efficient Group said: “He’s wrong; depending on your definition of a failed state of course.”

In Roodt’s opinion, a failed state does not have:

  • Protection for private property rights;
  • An independent judiciary;
  • An independent central bank;
  • A free press;
  • A democracy.

“Granted, many of these institutions are under attack by politicians. Also, the state is hugely inefficient and corrupt. But calling SA a failed state is just untrue,” Roodt said.

Stanlib economist, Kevin Lings said that in order to characterize South Africa as a failed state, one would have to take in to account significant factors including:

  • Widespread civil unrest;
  • The rule of law has broken down;
  • Civil society is no longer functional;
  • Access to basic services.

“I don’t see any of that. Obviously there are concerns…it’s a very dangerous categorization,” he said.

Lings pointed to record tourism numbers in the country in recent months, adding that South Africa also successfully hosted a football World Cup, in 2010.

“Yes there are infrastructure and social issues to deal with…[but] we are far away from being a failed state, that view is too simplistic.”

Lings noted that South Africa has recorded only one negative GDP number in 20 years, and that was during a time of a global financial crisis.

More on South Africa

South Africa’s most violent city

South Africa in 2030

South Africa’s critical skills shortage

Sexting and cyber-bullying in South Africa

Where South Africa’s corruption takes place


Gareth is the editor at MyBroadband BusinessTech. Gareth was previously the ICT Editor at BusinessLive/I-Net Bridge. Gareth holds a degree in Journalism from Rhodes University....
Tags: Alan Dershowitz, Dawie Roodt, Headline, Kevin Lings, Piers Morgan, Stanlib

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Join the Conversation ( 56 comments)
  • koeksght

    Yep we are a Zuma dictatorship now!

  • PhlyBoy OhSoMazinG

    It’s sad that these unions allow strikes to hurt the country

    • Cautious Observer

      If you are truly that sad, then spread the word against the ANC vote. (Not saying you _do_ vote ANC, mind you.)

  • Time_to_Stand

    Given the criteria listed by Roodt and Ling, the anc (and Zuma) is rapidly driving South Africa to the precipice of being a failed state. Look at our incompetent legal system, our rapes, our murders and all our other social issues. Look at our degenerating resources…. water being just one. We are in serious trouble!

    Ask South Africans, and look at how we compare on measures, internationally, and I think most will concede that Alan Dershowitz has a valid point.

  • Craig Dennis

    As long as we have failing president we are a failing state. What disappoints me greatly is the western powers were so critical of the way the national party ran this country under apartheid and imposed sanctions etc. Yet we now have the most corrupt leader in the highest office in the land, yet now the silence is deafening. Seriously I think country is a failed state.

  • Yogis

    Yes we are a failed country! Its been bloody years since the ANC took over everything and this country just went downhill. You must be blind or very ignorant if you cannot see this. Crime, the weak economy (in die ou dae was n dollar onder R1 gewees vir jare en jare mar toe gebeur daar n ding en nu kos $1 amper R20, sê oom kallie ook). Just look at some of the buildings in JHB that went to sh*t, tourist attractions that are now non existing or have been taken over by gangsters, drug dealers etc.
    As long as we have the ANC SA will be a sh*thole.

    • Senior

      ANC will rule forever… Africans don’t know any better… If they aren’t suffering, they dont feel complete, or something, who knows….

  • Wyzak

    Yes it is.

    • Guest

      Shame, why don’t you leave if it’s so awful?

      • Wyzak

        Afraid to post that with your name – JacquiP?

        • Gareth

          Don’t need to comment on his silly reply if you have 15 other people that agree with you and none that agree with him.

  • Dewald Nel

    It is, if you take where the country was say 20 years ago.

  • Aaron Anderson

    To be fair, we’re not a failed country… yet. But we’re sure as eggs on the right path towards one.

  • Senior

    whats the argument? SA is a failed country. fits into africa perfectly.

  • Munchkin

    As long as the cANCer is in power, we are a failed country, we need to vote the anc out because the longer they are in power, the more likely this place will become a communist dictatorship. We need to all stand together and vote them out, just don’t make matters worse by voting eff.

  • Nico Van Der Merwe

    LOL Butthurt. Yes we are. Moving on.

  • Xonix

    we have a FAILED president, probably the worst in the history of presidency…It has been 20 years of freedom and democracy but it will take another 20 years for a new generation of educated men and woman, whose parents never went to school, to take charge. uneducated people are easily misguided and manipulated because they dont know better… The ANC have brought justice and equality to this country but someone like zuma has the power do as he pleases, he is just another uneducated person who was given power by the people of this country and its by their own hand that they are suffering.. Its a pity that the Anc will be voted back into power simply because apartheid is too fresh in their minds and the ANC had set them free all those years back, and say what you want but the black people of this country are the most united.

    • Jason

      The ANC voter who says “I have no house, food, water, electricity, job. I know the ANC is corrupt, but I have always voted for them and its not like they are stealing directly from _me_. So I will vote for them again. What difference does it make.”

  • butler1

    It is just a matter of time now.

  • Jason

    The country is a failed state and sadly, I’ve begun my immigration process as a result. I cannot live in a country where reliable data connectivity is a constant issue, potholes a constant threat and arriving to a home with no electricity.

    And then there is the exceptionally high crime _rate_ and violent crime at that. I’ve been added to the burglary statistic 4 times in my 32 year life. The most recent claimed my mother lifes.

    I’m leaving SAfrica as a refugee.

    • Warchylde

      Safe travels. Think of those that cannot leave…..

  • Red_Baron1234

    Well if we not yet we are getting very close. But this is now like the school if you fail they promote you anyway. Dropping the standards make everyone pass. The president’s pass rate for the country is 10% where the rest of the world is on 80%, What do you expect from someone that does not finish even primary school.

  • Warchylde

    With almost daily civil unrest, massive crime states, constant plundering of state resources and the corruption and collusion of the SAPS with criminals you bet your backside we are a failed state. Those that claim it isn’t so is either in denial, untouched by it due to massive income or profiting from it directly or indirectly.

    Many investment brokers actually make money from investments in places like ours. Regardless of the failure of government (that actually contributes to the profits)

  • Lungelo

    Don’t think it’s completely failed yet but if we continue with our current Government it definately will be, very soon…

  • CanAmSteve

    Most of Europe would use those words to describe the USA… “It is a lawless country, it’s a country with extraordinarily high rate
    of violent crime, and it’s a country with deep, deep racial divisions
    and problems that we wish had disappeared…”

    Note SA has abolished the death penalty, promotes LBGT rights and has brought in gun control – all areas where the USA fails miserably. And the USA has had 200 years to mature. Thanks to it and many EU countries, SA was a a dictatorship until 1994. So I think SA has done pretty well in the mere 20 years it has had to undo centuries of meddling.

    • Gareth

      Well said and If all is Factual I agree.

    • Fanandala

      We have abolished the death penalty, so now we necklace even petty criminals.
      We have rampant gun related crime, and even the police “loses” thousands of guns every year.
      We have promoted LBGT rights, so we fix them with corrective rape.
      We have had as much time to develop as any other people.

  • Lumina SS

    Most of us have three digit minus figures in our bank accounts, so how can that be a failure?

  • Jeffery Stokes

    as if the US is doing any better. HUGE debt, no control over the banks that have stole billions if not trillions of dollars and the federal gov was shut down. Me thinks Mr Dershowitz should focus on his own countries problems.

    • Warchylde

      So because they are in the same boat his argument is wrong?

      • Jeffery Stokes

        south Africa isn’t bankrupt and the government is up and running, how are we in the same boat.

        • Warchylde

          LOL we beg to differ, and by we I mean most of us in South Africa, we do NOT have a functional government, we have parasites leeching big bucks and doing NOTHING. The latest rate hike, that was because we are broke and are struggling with our debt payments. I suggest you read more.

          • Jeffery Stokes

            so then share the knowledge.

          • Warchylde

            Wasn’t given the document was just shown, can’t give you that one. What I can tell you is that there was a report on Business day about repayment of our foreign debts that is causing issues. Will try and look for it later and post here if I can.

          • Jeffery Stokes

            Shot bud

          • Warchylde

            Tried to look but can’t find it anymore. Seems to be archived or something. Will continue to look.

          • http://www.anc.org.za/ Azania

            You feed in too much from the media. Actually i think you believe everything you hear from the news.

          • Warchylde

            Like the media would show me sensitive documents. Your party you so proudly display as your avatar and username has decimated this country, the economy and the people. There is a special place in hell for you. I look forward to the day when Karma catches up with you.

    • jandr0

      [as if the US is doing any better. HUGE debt, no control over the banks that have stole billions if not trillions of dollars and the federal gov was shut down.]

      That money was stolen in collusion with government. Hint: See WHICH of the bankers get rescued and HOW they are connected to people in government.

      And that has been allowed to happen by the combination of parasitic and dumb (repeat, dumb) voters in the USA. Which is much the same as in South Africa.

      [Me thinks Mr Dershowitz should focus on his own countries problems.]

      Me thinks that is up to Mr Dershowitz to decide, whatever you may “think.”

      [Since when has it been a good idea for a privately owned company (reserve bank) to be in charge of printing your currency.]

      It is a much better idea than letting politicians control the printing of money. I suggest you start with rational choice theory, and bring in some behavioural economics.

      Jeffery, it is not that difficult to understand how the world really works. All you need to do is not take for granted every neat meme being fed to you.

      • Jeffery Stokes

        [That money was stolen in collusion with government. Hint: See WHICH of the bankers get rescued and HOW they are connected to people in government.]
        OMW I did not even see that. that wasn’t obvious at all. seen that the banking special interest groups spend billions on campaign contributions aka legal bribes. thanks for stating the obvious.

        [ It is a much better idea than letting politicians control the printing of money. I suggest you start with rational choice theory, and bring in some behavioural economics.]

        where did I say that it would be better to have politicians in control of printing money?????

        when guys start talking about behavioural economics and then go on to say that a bank (who’s sole purpose is to make a profit) is a better choice to control the printing of money seriously makes me doubt their understanding of the principals they are talking about. i.e. they don’t actually know how to apply what they read on Wikipedia.

        • jandr0

          [OMW I did not even see that. that wasn't obvious at all. seen that the
          banking special interest groups spend billions on campaign contributions
          aka legal bribes. thanks for stating the obvious.]

          OMW, my comment was not on whether you “see” anything, but whether you accurately state what is happening. There are two (or more) parties to a bribe. You initially enumerated only the “banking” side, and not government actors (primarily politicians). I simply made it clear that your original enumeration is incomplete and therefore a false representation of the situation.

          [where did I say that it would be better to have politicians in control of printing money?????]

          It is tacitly implied by your choice of words and how those words are generally interpreted. You inferred that a “privately owned” reserve bank is NOT a good idea. The general vernacular opposite of privately owned (the “not good idea” according to you) is publicly owned (as in state-owned enterprises and institutions) – which, as the generally accepted alternate approach, must therefore implicitly be “better.”

          If you meant anything else (like NO reserve bank at all), it is not unambiguously obvious from your statement.

          [when guys start talking about behavioural economics, and then go on to
          say that a bank, (who's sole purpose is to make a profit) is a better
          choice to control the printing of money, it seriously makes me doubt
          their understanding of the principals they are talking about. i.e. they
          don't actually know how to apply what they read on Wikipedia.]

          Wow, let me repeat: combine public choice theory with behavioural economics (and, please, way more than just reading Wikipedia). Maybe then you will understand.

          • Jeffery Stokes

            OMMSP. once again you are replying without any understanding. stick to Wikipedia, I’m sure you have an apatite for knowledge, unfortunately the practical application of that knowledge does not seem to be your strength. Don’t feel bad about it, most academics have this problem. e.g. computer science professors help produce thousands of computer science graduates every year. But unfortunately when these kids get into the work environment most of them have no idea of how to apply their theory. they cant even solve the fizz buzz problem. but anyway, this is getting boring. peace out homie.

          • jandr0

            [OMMSP. once again you are replying without any understanding.]

            Speak for yourself.

            [stick to Wikipedia]

            You have not engaged your mind AT ALL. I have pointed out insightful models which can illuminate your thinking, but sadly even Wikipedia seems to be above you..

            Your comments, however, have remained at the level of assertions and personal slights (e.g. “unfortunately the practical application of that knowledge does not seem to be your strength”).

            As per Elliot Jaques’ cognitive maturity model, such behaviour (debating by assertions) rates you at the lowest cognitive maturity levels (I suggest you look up Jaques’ work and see how the cognitive assessment is made).

            [But unfortunately when these kids get into the work environment most of them have no idea of how to apply their theory.]

            Yeah, right. Another crappy, unsubstantiated assertion. That’s not reasoning, that’s pure subjective opinion.

            [but anyway, this is getting boring]

            Yes, it is extremely boring for me to try and debate issues with someone whose “reasoning” is at the level of assertions and personal slights.

            [peace out homie]

            Ditto. And to repeat the earlier response of Warchylde (with whom I have had excellent, well-constructed, reasoned debates in the past) to you: “I suggest you read more.”

          • Jeffery Stokes

            The irony.

            [Your comments, however, have remained at the level of assertions and personal slights (e.g. "unfortunately the practical application of that knowledge does not seem to be your strength")]

            My friend your first post was condescending. And you continue down the path, that I don’t understand or have not read the models you are trying to “teach” me about.

            Why would I need to read something that I already understand?

            You see your assumption is, because I don’t spew someone else’s theories in every post, I do not know anything or that my argument is now an assertion, that you can now blow out of the water. Which gives you the opportunity to use yet another persons theory of why your “argument” is superior. All the while being condescending. But because you are quoting the theory of someone with greater intellect than yourself, that makes your personal slight somehow different, maybe better.

            [Yeah, right. Another crappy, unsubstantiated assertion. That's not reasoning, that's pure subjective opinion.]

            I thought you don’t argue in assertions?

            I can make that assertion since I have been working in IT for the last 10 years and have trained many gradate devs. I also know other senior devs and team leads that have the same problem. I also know that this is an issue internationally. But of course that’s all assertion with no facts, because there is no academic that I can reference. You know what I mean right, the guy that wrote a paper on the short comings of the curriculum he is teaching.
            but hey I’m sure you know better.

          • jandr0

            Indeed, the irony.

            [My friend your first post was condescending.]

            My friend, your first post was both condescending and absolutist in its simplistic assertions of prevalent memes (“its the evil banks,” “its the greedy privately owned companies”).

            Firstly you took it on yourself to suggest what somebody else (Mr Dershowitz) should focus on, secondly you made an absolute (and highly debatable) assertion regarding “no control over the banks,” and then rhetorically queried (with implied assertion, as explained earlier) “since when has it been a good idea for a privately owned company,(reserve bank) to be in charge of printing your currency.”

            [I thought you don't argue in assertions?]

            I never said that. However, I did highlight that yours was no more than an unsubstantiated assertion.

            By the way, your “argument” regarding graduate devs treads on fallacies (such as susceptibility to confirmation bias and, from behavioural economics, tending to place too much worth on judgements derived from small samples of data or from single sources).

            (PS. Semi-retired after more than thirty years in IT. Including co-ownership of IT support and development companies – with both graduate and non-graduate developers and support technicians.)

            [Why would I need to read something that I already understand?]

            Because your assertions clearly indicate that you don’t fully understand..

            Firstly (and once again), there are multiple role-players in the USA financial mess: the banks (and financial institutions in general), business, the government (in particular, politicians subject to pubic choice), etc. Your original assertion oversimplifies the situation so much that it is essentially incorrect (and a simple perpetuation of an reductionist meme).

            Secondly, from earlier: [when guys start talking about behavioural economics, and then go on to say that a bank, (who's sole purpose is to make a profit) is a better choice to control the printing of money, it seriously makes me doubt their understanding of the principals they are talking about. i.e. they don't actually know how to apply what they read on Wikipedia.]

            Oh, come on. You make no argument.

            Personally, I am against all government fiat money and government-mandated monopoly money-printing rights for crony banks / bankers. A large reason is because of the moral hazard associated with the power of “printing money” and having taxpayer funded insurance / bailouts to cover (both) bankers’ and politicians’ asses while they feather their own nests (and weep crocodile tears about how much they “care” about ordinary people).

            However, if I’m left no choice and there is going to be some kind of reserve bank, I would rather it be owned privately than controlled by government. One argument for this is the checks and balances the separation of control builds in – if politicians (in the guise of government) have control over the money printing and the interest rate setting (monetary policy) and the government budgets (fiscal policy), then we have a great opportunity to watch moral hazard (and the principal-agent problem) at work from the front row seats (as ordinary citizens being screwed).

          • Jeffery Stokes

            jandr0 in the big scheme of things your opinions mean nothing. and that is all your posts will ever be, Opinions. with someone else’s insights, not even your own. So sad.

    • http://www.anc.org.za/ Azania

      You are clearly on point. Let me agree that we have problems ranging from corruption to maldministration – BUT A FAILED STATE? I do not think we are.

      If South Africa, which is the largest economy in Africa is a failed state,then the whole of Africa is a failed continent.

      • Fanandala

        “If South Africa, which is the largest economy in Africa”
        as of today WAS.
        If there was a percentage of failure, like the 30 % matric pass mark, Africa could probably only muster 25%.

  • OldRedNed

    Alan Dershowitz, a US attorney, jurist, and political commentator, says; “[South Africa] is a lawless country, it’s a country with extraordinarily high rate of violent crime, [True] and it’s a country with deep, deep racial divisions and problems [True, the ANC constantly remind us about our 'racism'.] that we wish had disappeared because we all love Mandela, but that’s not the reality. [Amen to that.]

    Piers Morgan counters with; “I remember walking through the township of Soweto and thinking it was one of the single most inspiring places I had ever been in my life.” Well, that’s like saying ‘I heard a White man using racist language – therefore is follows that all White men are racists’. Which of course is rubbish.

    Legal analyst, Kelly Phelps says nothing meaningful.

    Dawie Roodt, of the Efficient Group is of the opinion that a failed state does not have:

    Protection for private property rights; [Really! Read the EFF Manifesto]

    An independent judiciary; [Diluted by the day with Zuma appointments]

    An independent central bank; [Is any 'Central Bank' truly independent?]

    A free press; [Read the 'Secrecy Bill?]

    A democracy. [For some, the wealthy and the well connected.]

    No, on the balance of probability, South Africa has become a ‘Failed State’.

  • MdT

    An independent judiciary – So exactly how did Zuma get off on a kazillion charges?
    A free press; – Secrecy bill around the corner? Illegal to even mention “classified” info…

    Looks like we’re well on our way (under the ANC government) to prove that this yanky was right.

  • ConnerDavies

    “In Roodt’s opinion, a failed state does not have:
    Protection for private property rights;
    An independent judiciary;
    An independent central bank;
    A free press;
    A democracy.”
    well well well

    Property rights soon to go— willing buyer -willing seller being written away with Policy. Government will decide the price and pay you and take your land. If that price they set is R1 …then really you have no property rights … and this is equivalent to theft

    Independent Judiciary??? really? Zuma appoints the key judges?? And the heads in different judicial bodies are his supporters….really?? The way eTolls etc have passed through courts one would beg to differ with you – the courts are not independent!

    Central Bank act like they are independent… but truly who appoints the people to these positions? The bank drives policy that is set at Luthuli house

    The press are being systematically bought up by pro ANC backers…people who have no experience in newspapers are using money they receive elsewhere from government tenders to buy up the independent press (see what’s happened with IOL and Sunday Times !!!)..then they fired all the independent editors that are not ANC friendly

    finally….when you stuff ballot boxes, and buy votes with food, and the “independent elections” body are all headed by ANC sympathisers….do we really have true democracy? A single party state- that is headed by people who back JZ only, and where any voice against him is silent or kicked out – IS NOT A DEMOCRACY EITHER !!

  • Gareth

    When our Exchange rate to the USD (United States Dollar) went from 1 to 1 Conversion rate to 11 to 1 you know you have done something wrong (ANC).

    But really the only thing wrong with South Africa for me right now is the Rand, it will never get stronger mainly because of the idiots running the show spending billions on projects like the Russian Satellite they bought “spy satellite” and then what? it went missing and no heads rolled for it.

    Don’t forget every time a well known South African face dies our Rand gets weaker, every time these stupid Trade Unions Strike our Rand gets weaker..its just not profitable for oversea’s companies to invest in our country at this point in time..when Strikes are outlaw’ed we will see progres.

    I am all for giving workers some sort of power but NOT to strike..Even Taxi Strikes should be banned since its the main transport in this country for workers (our train System is a joke and very dangerous to use)

    I wonder what would happen if we Scrapped the Rand and Took the Euro in with Open arms?

    • Fanandala

      It has been a fact since 0om Krueger’s days, that the value of the Rand or whatever it was then was dependent on the price of minerals (gold mainly in the past), and the productivity of the miners. The days of Rand Dollar parity were long gone in 1994. Of course it has not got any better since. I think strikes would be OK, as long as the authorities would be able to enforce the law and stop the widespread intimidation, because without it, 95 % of the Platinum strikers would be back at work, and at most other strikes a considerable number of employees would return to work after a week of two.
      Having said that: we are not a failed state quite yet, but definitely teetering on the precipice.

      • Gareth

        interesting way to look at it, thank you for replying.

  • Random Hero

    I just read the title… The answer is yes! compared to 20+ years ago when things actually worked!

  • KillAllLiars

    It’s not a ‘country with racial division’ – it’s a natural humans difference! All of us are people, but we are NOT EQUAL, like white and brown bears – white ones can live in snow, brown bears live in a forest. Some guys can do physically hard work, while some are strong in engineering. And it’s not a surprise that color(race) also an estimate sign of capabilities.

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