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  • Ivor Chipkin

Shadow State of the Nation

Updated: Aug 27, 2019


It is not just that Jacob Zuma and his supporters cast a long shadow over the Ramaphosa administration.

They represent for the first time since the end of the Bantustans and near civil-war of the 1990s the resurgence of regional and local elites. This is the genie that Zuma let out of the bottle. For the last ten years, municipal officials and politicians, regional ANC office-bearers, provincial bureaucrats and various business people have successfully resisted and undermined national institutions. The National Treasury’s authority in Premier League provinces was pushed back. Local crooks escaped arrest and prosecution. Regional and local elites ignored the findings of the Auditor-General and National Treasury regulations. Municipalities refused to invest in infrastructure and activities according to COGTA’s Integrated Urban Development Framework.

If elite contestation has been unruly for government, it has been equally destabilisng of South Africa’s politics. During the years of Thabo Mbeki a loose coalition of politicians, civil-servants and corporate heads was beginning to congeal into a governing elite. It brought stability to political affairs, at least in the State and in parts of the economy. The ANC’s Polokwane conference put paid to this development. Rather than substitute a ‘neoliberal’ coalition with a more ‘radical’ alternative, Polowane opened the door to non-stop jostling for power. The Zuma government was not so much the rule of a ’big man’ as the contestation between ‘big men and women’ througout the state. This contestation is what has made South Africa feel so unstable and prone to crisis for a decade.

So the challenge for a Ramaphosa government is not simply to deal with corruption and implement sound policies. Both of these actions will depend on stabilising a deteriorating situation of elite conflict.

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