Third-worldisation of South Africa has long been in the making

Reliance on candles for light has taken many South Africans back to days that they thought had been left behind. But the reality is that third-world conditions are back with us, says the writer. / Bafana Mahlangu
Reliance on candles for light has taken many South Africans back to days that they thought had been left behind. But the reality is that third-world conditions are back with us, says the writer. / Bafana Mahlangu

When I first heard the word "load-shedding" in Uganda in 2005, I thought such a thing could only happen in a third-world African country.

Today, we can confirm that SA is indeed a typical third-world African country.

Only in a third-world country, or a failed state, do citizens accept to live in darkness the way we do these days.

In 1987, Nobel Laureate Chinua Achebe published his book, The Trouble with Nigeria, where he points out that if you want water in a failed state, you sink your own borehole. If you are sick, you buy your own medicine.

In SA today, citizens advice each other on radio stations on how best to generate their own electricity. Nigerians have been living like this for very many years. They laugh when they hear South Africans complain about it.

The third-worldisation of SA has long been in the making. It had been concealed by developments in the private sector.

The private sector has been constructing glitzy skyscrapers in places like Sandton. It has been building excellent private hospitals.

Parallel to modern developments in the private sector, the South African state has been collapsing. Politicians have been busy erecting a typical third-world kleptocratic culture, where the looting of public resources is the norm.

While the private sector was busy modernising its infrastructure, the ANC government has been pulling the whole South African state down.

Wealthy citizens did not realise this due to cushions in the private sector, but poor citizens have long been trapped in a third world.

We have now reached a point where third-worldisation has caught up with all of us - rich and poor. A billionaire is frustrated by faulty traffic lights on his way to a board meeting, just as the poor use candles during load shedding.

In a third-world country, university students and academics accept that they must study and do everything while the sun shines, for the darkness of the night is as certain as the uselessness of Eskom.

In a third-world country, a government exists purely for politicians and bureaucrats to earn salaries.

The South African government is exactly such a government.

The truth is that nothing would happen if the bunch we call "politicians" were to disappear for five years. Chances are that they would find a better country on their unwelcome return. The irony is that they need our votes in order to destroy our country. It is not a democracy; it is a destroyacracy.

Due to the unevenness of developments in the private and public sectors, the South African third-world status has taken on a strikingly peculiar character.

It simultaneously exudes contradictory attributes of modernity and backwardness, very much like Leon Trotsky's "law of combined development".

In the law of combined development, elements of backwardness and those of progress exist side by side, thus rendering it hard to draw neat conclusions about the true character of a society's developmental trajectory.

Backwardness is so overwhelming a force that, in almost all the settings where it duels with progress, it is able to throw mud at its enemy.

The best example of the power of backwardness over progress is SA today. Even as the law of combined development confuses observers by displaying offshoots of modernity, the final collapse of Eskom has brought the whole country under the force of third-worldisation.

In the end, there are two questions to be answered: How did we get here? And, what next?

The answers are not complicated: the ANC and its government got us here. Going forward, citizens must rely on themselves, living and organising their own lives as if there is neither ANC nor government.

Remember Achebe: If you want water in a third world country, you sink your own borehole. If you want power in a failed state, you generate it for yourself.

Welcome to our third-world destroyacracy.

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