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Zuma’s South Africa resembled a feudal kingdom with the monarch at its head. Beneath Zuma served the great bosses of the cabinet and the nationalised industries, each of whom controlled lucrative patronage networks. Political control was assured by what was known as “the Premier league”, the Premiers of KwaZulu-Natal, the North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State. Exactly like a feudal monarch, Zuma would maintain each of them in office in return for tribute and their solid support at party conferences. The Premiers would then be free to loot their province and to exercise patronage networks of their own, running down to the mayors of all their province’s towns, who in turn would be free to loot their towns provided they repaid the Premier with tribute and solid political support. Naturally, the Premier league was in bed with the Guptas as well.

One could see the results of this system not only in large cities like Johannesburg or Pretoria, where hundreds of ANC activists would be on the municipal payrolls but never came in to work and where contracts, tenders, pension funds and appointments would all lie within the patronage system, but even in the smallest country towns and districts. In the bone-poor towns of the Eastern Cape, for example, one finds over and over again that almost the whole of the municipal budget is spent on the salaries and perks of the mayor and councillors, comfortable men driving around in Mercedes, while nothing is left for capital expenditure or even for maintenance. The result is that these towns are visibly falling to pieces.

This blight now affects large parts of rural and small town South Africa: one finds potholed roads, water and electricity shortages as infrastructure is allowed to decay, and polluted rivers and lagoons because corrective measures are no longer applied. Everywhere the money for infrastructure and maintenance has simply been stolen.

A friend who owns a hotel business on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast told me how he had approached his bank to secure a loan to expand his thriving business. The bank refused, quoting their own confidential intelligence that the entire infrastructure of the lower south coast would collapse in around five years. My friend responded by tarring his own road, installing huge generators and building his own fresh water reservoir — just in time, as power cuts, water cut-offs and potholed roads have since become endemic in the area. Rival hotels in the area have been badly hit, but he continues to thrive only because he has become almost completely self-sufficient. The same situation now applies in much of rural South Africa, but few can afford such self-sufficiency.

The black bourgeoisie has been so caught up in this frenzy of enrichissez-vous that for all its notional ideological commitment to the ideas of the Left, the interests of the mass of the population have simply been ignored. In large areas of life things have gone backwards. Even former anti-apartheid activists agree that the state schools were better under apartheid, as were the hospitals, that law and order was much better maintained and there was a lot less corruption. Perhaps most striking of all, when the ANC came to power in 1994, their posters proclaiming “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, there were 3.7 million unemployed. Today there are 9.4 million.
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August 27th, 2018
2:08 PM
What's up with these comments only wanting to hear about 'good news'. If there was anything of import that could bring significant change to an evermore dire situation, Mr. Johnson would have mentioned as much. Stop looking for the silver lining everywhere; this may have been a South African strength in the past but given the winds of change currently taking place in the country, it's only serving to blind and incapacitate you. Watch & accept the signs and act realistically.

Gary : From a Distance
July 18th, 2018
1:07 PM
RWJ is the most incisive and insightful commentator I have read on the SA situation. Why, then, is he ignored and ostracised by the mainstream media in South Africa? Is it because he speaks uncomfortable truths that South Africans wish to ignore while indulging in political correctness and enjoying their braaivleis and shopping mall trips? I was born in SA but left after university for England and for the past the past twenty years have been living in a country that has been constantly on the rise and has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, while South Africa is declining with poverty increasing, as I saw in visits in 2013, and 2017.

June 30th, 2018
10:06 AM
Please list the positive things happening?

June 26th, 2018
2:06 PM
Sadly, I think Johnson is being generous is his analysis. The lack of skills, education and intent by the ruling party.

Richard Stephens
June 7th, 2018
12:06 PM
I've never heard such doom and gloom! What about all the positive things that are happening in South Africa - things that we could only dream about with Zuma at the helm!

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