Finance minister Godongwana on whether South Africa is a failed state

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana has given his view on the state of governance in South Africa and what metrics are used in deciding whether the country is now a failed state.

Godongwana was responding in a recent parliamentary Q&A after outgoing director-general Dondo Mogajane recently warned that a culture of self-enrichment among some South African politicians and public servants is putting the country’s democracy and post-apartheid promises of creating a better life for all at risk.

“We have to remind our leaders – and I’m speaking as a South African – who are in government, in public service and politicians to get off your high horse and do what we have to do to ensure we create access and a conducive environment for people’s lives to change,” Mogajane said in a March briefing.

“If that’s not going to be a motivating factor, we can start calling South Africa a failing state because the things that define a failing state are beginning to show, where we don’t care about the poor and improving their lives.”

Godongwana’s response 

In response, Godongwana noted that Mogajane was expressing his personal view on the corrosive impact that corruption has had on the state’s capacity to deliver basic services and warning of the consequences if the country’s leaders fail to take action.

“A failed state is widely understood to be one that has disintegrated to a point where a sovereign government no longer functions properly and therefore cannot execute its basic responsibilities and deliver a minimum standard of living.

“Whilst there is no formal framework that the government uses to test whether it is a failing state or not, the state’s ability to perform its basic functions and deliver the requisite level of services to its citizens is monitored, evaluated and regularly commented on, as is the case in many democracies.

“Examples include the Auditor-General’s annual reports as well as the recent reports from the Zondo Commission.”

What the reports show

While Godongwana did not give a definitive answer on whether he thinks South Africa is a failed state, both reports he pointed to do not paint a good picture of the state of the country.

The Auditor-General’s findings over the last year show that almost all forms of governance are failing in their duties. A December 2021 report detailed how state-owned companies continue to haemorrhage money, despite repeated attempts to turn financials around.

The AG’s municipal report – covering the 2019 financial year – also shows that the country’s local governance structures are effectively broken. In 2013, 86 out of the country’s 259 municipalities were in a financial crisis. In 2019, this figure rose to 175 – 68% of all municipalities – and this is expected to top 90% of all municipalities in 2022.

A repeated line from the Auditor General’s office is that financial problems persist despite repeated warnings and calls for intervention, and local governments especially are increasingly failing in their duties to manage their finances.

“The AG has expressed concern that after all the years of the AGSA reporting shortcomings and making recommendations, municipalities have still not mastered the basics of financial reporting, with only 28% being able to submit quality financial statements for audit purposes,” it said.

“This highlights prevailing weaknesses in the processes that underpin effective financial management, including those relating to the preparation of the in-year financial reports necessary to monitor a municipality’s budget and expenditure.”

The state capture commission, meanwhile, has implicated high-level figures in corruption, particularly when dealing with state-owned companies and government contracts.

Business leader and chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Bonang Mohale, said that South Africa’s current socio-economic realities, coupled with the findings of the Zondo Commission’s report on state capture, are telling characteristics of a ‘failed state’.

Several other experts, professionals, and academics have echoed this sentiment and have been blunter, saying that South Africa is definitely showing signs of being a failed state, and that certain parts of the country have already collapsed as a result.

Professor Eddy Maloka, adjunct professor at Wits University’s school of governance, public and development management, told the SABC this week that “government has collapsed in a number of areas across the country (and) we are seeing inner-cities collapse and degenerate.”

Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman is heavily critical of the current state of South Africa’s economy and government – citing a key lack of leadership. He said that it is his view that “we (South Africa) are practically a failed state,” pointing to the levels of poverty and inequality that persist.

The Institute of Risk Management South Africa said that a “lack of decisive, ethical, and courageous leadership” persists in the country, and if no action is taken to bolster economic growth and address high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality, the country will continue on the path of a failed state.

“If South Africa continues to experience a continued breakdown of ethical and legal principles, unmanageable societal unrest and breakdown of the rule of law, complete economic collapse becomes almost inevitable,” it said.


Read: Parts of South Africa have now collapsed: expert

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Finance minister Godongwana on whether South Africa is a failed state