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  • Writer's pictureThe Red Line

Episode 122. South Africa: Comeback or Collapse?

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As the dust settles on what has turned out to be South Africa's most crucial election since 1994, the nation finds itself standing on a knife's edge. Persistent issues have continued to escalate, leaving the country more politically divided than ever before. Now, with an unexpected and unlikely political alliance at the helm, South Africa faces a deep period of uncertainty. Given the current economic trends, the country has only a narrow window of five years to reverse its trajectory. With the clock ticking, can this coalition implement the necessary changes to steer South Africa back towards stability and prosperity, or will the erosion continue, paving the way for more extreme parties and policies? Will this new alliance rekindle a national renaissance and begin a new chapter for South Africa? We ask our panel of experts:




PART I: The Unequal Sequal - (02:59)

with Sisonke Msimang

- Activist Specialising in South African Social Movements

- Gender Advisor for the UN HIV AIDS Program

- Fellow at Yale University

  1. Enduring Inequality and Governance Decline: Despite the end of apartheid and political advancements, South Africa remains deeply unequal economically, with growing corruption and governance issues, leading to state capture by external interests. This undermines the effectiveness of democratic processes and fuels public discontent.

  2. Factionalism and Political Fragmentation: The African National Congress (ANC) dominance is challenged by internal divisions, resulting in splinter groups like Jacob Zuma's MK party and Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This fragmentation disrupts political stability and complicates governance, as seen in the coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA).

  3. Persistent Corruption: Corruption remains rampant, with both ANC leaders and private sector players implicated. This pervasive corruption exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and weakens public trust in government institutions, affecting overall national security and stability.

  4. Ethnic and Regional Tensions: Regionalism and ethnic nationalism are rising, particularly with the DA's dominance in the Western Cape. Differences in governance strategies across regions could lead to increased ethnic tensions and further political polarization, impacting national unity and security.

  5. Land Redistribution Controversy: Land ownership disparities between white and black South Africans continue to be a contentious issue. Radical land reform measures could destabilize the agricultural sector and economy, while failure to address these inequalities may perpetuate social unrest and violence.

PART II: Power Politics - (33:15)

with Martin Plaut

- Snr Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth studies - Fmr BBCs Africa editor

- Fmr British Labour Party Secretary on Africa and the Middle East

  1. Power-Sharing and Political Fragmentation: For the first time in South African history, the ANC cannot govern alone, necessitating a coalition with the DA. This shift marks a watershed moment, reflecting the ANC's loss of dominance and the rise of political fragmentation, with implications for stability and governance.

  2. Rise of Ethnic Politics: The emergence of Jacob Zuma's MK party, which garnered significant support in KwaZulu-Natal, highlights the growing influence of ethnic politics. This ethnic-based voting could deepen regional divisions and undermine national cohesion, posing a security risk if exploited by political actors.

  3. Entrenched Corruption and State Capture: Corruption and state capture remain pervasive, with ANC cadre deployment policies contributing to inefficiency and graft. The continuation of these practices undermines public trust and hampers economic development, exacerbating social and economic instability.

  4. Energy Crisis and Infrastructure Decay: The country's energy sector faces severe challenges, including outdated infrastructure, inefficient coal transport systems, and widespread corruption. The resulting power shortages and load shedding create economic and social disruptions, weakening national security and economic resilience.

  5. Coalition Government Instability: The uneasy alliance between the ANC and DA, driven by necessity rather than shared vision, faces significant internal and external pressures. The coalition's potential failure could lead to greater political instability, giving radical parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and MK party more influence, which could further polarize and destabilize the country.

PART III: Accountants and Anarchists - (58:52)

with Carien Du Plessis

- Reporter for The Africa Report - Author of Understanding South Africa - Frequent Commentator on African Affairs

  1. Coalition Government Tensions: The ANC's inability to govern alone and its coalition with the DA highlights deep political divisions. The coalition's differing policies, especially on economic issues like the minimum wage, risk instability and ineffective governance, which could exacerbate existing social tensions and impede policy implementation.

  2. Economic Decline and Social Welfare Dependency: South Africa faces severe economic challenges, including high unemployment, declining educational outcomes, and increasing poverty. With half the population on welfare, and a shrinking tax base largely dependent on a small percentage of taxpayers, the country risks economic collapse if key taxpayers emigrate. This economic fragility has significant security implications, potentially leading to increased social unrest and instability.

  3. Crime and Violence Escalation: Rising crime rates, including targeted killings and violence by taxi cartels, undermine public safety and economic stability. The inability to effectively address crime, partly due to differing approaches within the coalition, threatens social order and economic development, creating a cycle of insecurity and economic decline.

  4. Infrastructure and Energy Crisis: The ongoing energy crisis, characterized by frequent blackouts, reflects deeper issues in infrastructure and governance. While recent improvements in reducing blackouts are tied to a recession in the mining sector, this is not a sustainable solution. The energy crisis hampers economic growth, and addressing it requires significant investment and reform, which the coalition may struggle to achieve.

  5. Foreign Policy and Military Degradation: Divergent foreign policy stances within the coalition, particularly regarding relations with Russia, China, and Western countries, could lead to inconsistent international positions. Additionally, the decline of South Africa's military and defense manufacturing capabilities weakens its regional influence and ability to project power, impacting national security and its role on the African continent.

South Africa: Comeback or Collapse?

(Released July 8th)



I: Understanding South Africa

- By Martin Plaut and Carien Du Plessis

II: Diamonds, Gold and War: The British, the Boers and the Making of South Africa

- By Martin Meredith

III: Why Nations Fail

- By Daron Acemoglu


For episode transcripts, monthly geopolitics Q&A’s, member-only videos and to support the show, check out our Patreon here:


This episode is dedicated to our Patreon members: Jacob Taylor, Timothe Timo, Carl Söyseth and David Madelano



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