South Africa has been a nation teetering on the edge for quite some time. Or, to use another apt description, South Africa is a powder keg requiring little more than a brief spark to ignite and dissolve the nation into fiery chaos. The violence and riots that followed the arrest of Former President Jacob Zuma appear to have emerged from nowhere in the view of many journalists outside of Africa. Nothing is farther from the truth. A complex mixture of unemployment, COVID-19 waves, high crime, a predominantly ethnic tribalism mentality among a significant portion of the populace and a one-party political system are the ingredients that have brought South Africa to this point. Experts have been predicting a South African collapse for years now as conditions have steadily declined. It remains to be seen if this latest round of violence, as well as the circumstances surrounding it will weaken the state immeasurably. Conceivably enough for South Africa lean perilously towards the Failed State category.
The danger is there, but for the present time I would personally regard South Africa as a vulnerable state at worst. One characteristic of almost every failed state is the state’s inability to project authority over its citizens and territory. Earlier in the week, we saw an example of this as the violence in South Africa overwhelmed local and national police authorities. An infusion of military forces has stabilized the situation for the moment. But the threat of more violence down the road might keep South African troops in the streets and guarding critical infrastructure long term. If a time comes when a sizeable portion of the population, perhaps carved out along ethnic and/or tribal lines, no longer regards this action as acceptable, things risk going from bad to worse.
It is simply not possible to discuss South Africa’s present woes and lay them out against the acceptable definition of a vulnerable or failed state in a short piece like this. Yet given the trajectory that nation appears to be on, it might be worth discussing in more detail down the line.