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A gallop into the unknown on the high horse of state failure

Ideas

A gallop into the unknown on the high horse of state failure

Anyone who has had any dealings with the state will not be surprised SA is headed for ‘failed’ status

Columnist

Shouldn’t we be quite alarmed at Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane warning us that SA is heading towards becoming a failed state? Not that many years ago, but how long ago it seems, the bearer of such pernicious heresy would have been disinvited from every cocktail party north of the concrete highway. Now? We take it in our stride, it seems, not unduly unhappy that we’ve reached our comfort zone, and normal service has been restored. Take a bow SA, we’re a failure, a flop, useless.

But perhaps not so fast. Note that Mogajane said we’re heading for a failing state, so one takes it we’re not quite there yet. We’ve made impressive progress, though. Hardly a forgotten corner of our public space has emerged unscathed and not demoralised from a brush with the ANC. To add insult, we have a public service wage bill that could keep a small country going for a few fiscal years, and a civil service that is too often neither civil nor of much service either. Our public service is the human equivalent of Eskom: very expensive and not that enlightening.

Between load-shedding and fretting about the terrible prospect of nuclear war breaking out in Europe, I did a bit of research about the state and failed states in particular. Predictably perhaps, the term “failed state’’ was doomed from the outset as the realisation set in that all states are to some degree or other failed states, so it was a headline written before the story had been. Besides, no state with a working email address likes to be called failed so they objected, and now we have the much less descriptive, but arguably less offensive, term “fragile’’. Some busybody organisation in the US compiles a league of these fragile states, about 200 or so of us, and I’m happy to be able to report that in the most recent league table we came in halfway. That’s not as bad as it might have been had the compilers of the table ever come here and stood in a home affairs queue for a week or two. Or tried to book a driver’s licence test...

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