Is South Africa a failed country?

 ·7 Mar 2014
South Africa map

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.

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