South Africa has approximately seven years to avoid becoming a failed state, according to economist and academic Professor Daniel Meyer.
Speaking to the City Press, Meyer said that South Africa is currently a vulnerable state but could very easily become a failed state by 2030 – where crucial political and economic systems collapse to the point that the government loses all control.
As it currently stands, Meyer said that critical systems in the country, such as service delivery, economic growth and equal development, are hanging on by a thread.
Using his own methodologies, the professor determined that South Africa’s ‘failed state’ score is just under 5/10, pointing to a middling situation – but he stressed that the outlook is negative. In seven years, if the situation doesn’t improve, things could look a lot worse.
Meyer’s methodology is rooted in the Fragile State Index.
While there is no set definition of what makes a failed state, a broader analysis of countries that have failed defines it as a nation that has sovereignty but experiences a breakdown of political power, the rule of law and civil society, pointing towards anarchy.
The Fragile States Index by US think-tank Fund for Peace attempts to quantify the risk of a state failing by looking at indicators across social, political and economic segments.
These include demographic pressures, loss of skill through the brain drain, and civil unrest among social indicators; inequality and rising poverty in the economic sectors; and a breakdown in public services, human rights, the rule of law and a growing class of factionalised elites when looking at state legitimacy.
Many of these indicators have worsened for South Africa in recent years.
The latest index for 2022 ranks South Africa 79th out of 179 countries – where the higher the rank, the higher the risk of state failure. This position is worse than 89th in 2021, 115th in 2012, and 132nd in 2007 – South Africa’s best position on the list.
By comparison, Zimbabwe – which everyone fears sets the blueprint for South Africa’s direction – ranks 15th on the index.
The warning from Meyer of South Africa heading toward a failed state joins a growing list of commentary stating the same thing over the past two years.
Earlier this week, Lord Peter Hain – a member of the United Kindom House of Lords, an anti-apartheid activist, and a long-standing friend and ally of democratic South Africa – said that the country risks becoming a failed state due to power cuts, water cuts, and other service delivery failures that continue to plague to country.
Earlier this month, MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita said that South Africa faces becoming a failed state unless the government effectively tackles the load shedding crisis.
The Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA) also said that South Africa risks becoming a failed state if its “lack of decisive, ethical, and courageous leadership” continues and no action is taken to improve and boost economic growth.
“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,” IRMSA said.
Former Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane warned in 2022 that a culture of self-enrichment among some South African politicians and public servants was leading to a breakdown in trust in government and that signs of the country being a failing state were beginning to show.
This was echoed by business leader and chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Bonang Mohale, who previously said that South Africa’s current socio-economic realities, as well as the revelations of widespread corruption over the past few years, were markers of a failed state.
Sibanye-Stillwater Neal Froneman was also previously heavily critical of the government, saying that a lack of credible leadership meant that South Africa was already practically a failed state.
While all these warnings paint a dire picture for the country, they all come with the message to the South African government that it has time to change the trajectory and for the people of South Africa to make an impact by using their collective voice to ensure that the government does so.
Hain, in particular, said that South Africans need to vote for credible leadership and reject corruption – however small – en masse to switch direction.