South Africans are learning that they are not that exceptional at all


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A report by the country’s Human Science Research Council into the xenophobic violence against migrants from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe in 2008 concluded that, in addition to urban deprivation and intense competition for jobs and housing, a popular understanding of “exclusive citizenship” motivated anti-foreigner sentiment.

The xenophobic violence, and the economic conditions that gave rise to it, were a clue – for those who had their eyes open – that South Africa wasn’t really that exceptional after all.

On the one hand, a number of other countries such as Ghana and Mauritius were also doing well when it came to consolidating democracy.

It was just that these positive stories tended to be ignored.

On the other, some aspects of the South African “miracle” didn’t stand up to closer scrutiny.

After the transition to majority rule the country recorded impressive achievements in terms of its progressive constitution and growing welfare state.

But at the same time it soon became clear that many parts of the bureaucracy were prone to rent seeking behaviour.

Similarly, despite its proud history and impressive first four years in office, the ANC was already exhibiting patrimonial tendencies well before Zuma became president in 2009.

As political scientist Tom Lodge has argued, many of those who rose to prominence in the movement during the apartheid era had been born into privileged positions.

And the ANC was forced to develop ties to criminal networks to operate after it was banned by the National Party in 1960 and forced into exile.

During the liberation struggle, the imperative of fighting the apartheid regime kept these patrimonial tendencies and criminal connections in check.

But after the advent of democracy they started to become more pronounced.

Partly as a result, schemes such as Black Economic Empowerment were used not transform the underlying structure of the economy, but to generate opportunities for self-enrichment.

South African political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki has called this “legalised corruption”.

These tendencies were then exacerbated by Zuma’s rise to power, in large part because he’s a leader that understands politics through a patrimonial lens.

Lacking the intellect and management skill to lead by example, he has set about entrenching himself in power by promoting loyalists within the party and the state.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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