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Fox Guarding Henhouse in South Africa

South Africa’s battle with graft is beginning to unravel. An estimated 20% (R30bn) of the country’s procurement budget is siphoned off by corruption, cronyism and incompetence. President Jacob Zuma’s latest response is reminiscent of something from Silvio Berlusconi’s old playbook. From the FT:

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, on Tuesday removed a high-profile anti-corruption official, replacing him with Willem Heath, a former judge who helped him fight graft allegations before he became head of state. […]

The appointment of Mr Heath raised concerns among anti-corruption activists, who see him as part of the president’s camp and fear the move could weaken the battle against graft. […]

Zuma’s recent efforts to fight corruption have come grudgingly, and now, perhaps, not at all. Mr. Heath’s appointment could protect Zuma & Co. from the political trouble of high profile corruption scandals, but it may not be necessary. Thanks to new secrecy laws, the national assembly is cracking down on those horrible people who tell reporters about official misdoing and the irresponsible newspapers who publish the truth.

We can all wring our hands over South Africa, but it’s easier to worry about it than govern it. South Africa suffers from near 25% unemployment and gloomy global growth prospects worsen the forecasts. The poor have received surprisingly few benefits from either the end of apartheid or the economic growth of the 90s. At the same time, a 20-year brain drain and intolerably high crime rate have undermined the country’s foundations.

The world needs for South Africa to succeed.  For that to happen, South Africa’s political leaders need to raise their game.  From the standpoint of the poor, from the standpoint of investment, from the standpoint of liberty, what is happening now is not good enough.

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  • Luke Lea

    @ “The world needs for South Africa to succeed.”

    Indeed. It is a test case.

  • Rollory

    “The world needs for South Africa to succeed”

    because … because why?

    Because if it doesn’t, it might disprove antiracism, that’s why.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @rollery: both ugly and wrong. A successful South Africa can help build solid and prosperous democracies throughout its region, improving the lives of tens of millions of people made in God’s image.

  • Anthony

    “South Africa’s political leaders need to raise their game” and the world should accept nothing less – cronyism, incompetence, ethocentrism, corruption, etc. have no ethnic tolerance (Democracy is hard); President Zuma avoided constraining charges before his election and indicators signaled to South Africans who they were electing as their representative to world. Nevertheless, South Afica’s geo-position is strategically important to modern commerce and she can ill afford brain drain as well gloomy global prospects. I hope she rights herself and addresses corrosive corruption inter alia.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    African Culture in the most backward on Earth. Despite the example provided by Western colonies, African Culture has advanced very little, and I’m sure many Africans wish they were still colonies.
    This just proves what I say that “Cultures evolve with glacial speed” and they generally need to learn the hard way, in that “the burnt hand teaches best”.
    Egypt is a case in point, having just overwhelmingly elected Islamic representatives; Egyptians will now learn why separation of Mosque and State is so important. It is a lesson they, like all Islamic nations must learn, and I am hopeful they can learn it in 20 or 30 years. I think the Iranian Culture has now learned the lesson, and is now gathering itself for the next step. While the Turkish Culture which had separation of Mosque and State imposed on it by Ataturk, and therefore didn’t learn the lesson the hard way, is taking a step backward.
    From my view point, political leadership can’t accelerate cultural evolution by very much, and it is leadership failures/mistakes that teach the culture the most. Like people, it’s our mistakes which we learn the most from, while those things we are doing right, require no corrections.

  • Xmas

    On the plus side, the ANC finally pushed Malema out. He was being groomed as a successor to Zuma, but he went way too far.

  • Xmas


    Durban is the busiest port in Africa, and almost all the other major African ports are in South Afric:

    Johannesburg’s suburb of Sandton is the richest square mile the Southern Hemisphere.

    If South Africa collapses, it will pull most of sub-Saharan Africa down with it (it that area is already pretty down).

  • ErisGuy

    “An estimated 20% (R30bn) of the country’s procurement budget is siphoned off by corruption, cronyism and incompetence.”

    I’ll make the snark: we should wish for a government so efficient here. I’ll bet at least 20% of our federal budget is lost to the same causes, which are labelled bailouts and grants (cronyism), fannie and freddie et. al. (corruption), and grants to the UN, NGOs, foreign governments (incompetence).

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