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Global politics

South Africa is becoming a failed state

A vigilante trying to disperse looters in Johannesburg last year. James Oatway/Getty

For a man held up at gunpoint the night before, South African opposition politician Mmusi Maimane “was on surprisingly good form” when I met him recently in Cape Town, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. Maimane had been in a suburban restaurant when armed bandits forced all the diners to lie on the floor and robbed them. But the political troublemaker may count himself lucky. As he says: “On an average day 67 South Africans are murdered and the conviction rate is below 15%.” Rampant crime is no surprise in a country where unemployment is at 34.5%, youth unemployment is over 60%, and rolling power cuts are “a part of everyday life”.

Asked if South Africa is a failed state, Maimane’s reply is devastating: “It’s an incompetent government leading a state that is about to fail.” He’s right. President Cyril Ramaphosa took over in 2018 to clean up the epic corruption of his predecessor Jacob Zuma, but after millions of US dollars were allegedly found “stuffed into sofa cushions” at Ramaphosa’s ranch, the mood has turned “grim”. Even those who don’t believe the president is personally bent frequently accuse him of laziness and failing to get the job done. Whatever his flaws, Ramaphosa is hamstrung by the “corrupt and dysfunctional” political party he leads. The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, is now openly described as a “criminal organisation” by some South African elites. The ANC has done great things in the past. The best thing it could do for the country’s future would be to “lose the next election and leave power”.