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Fri Oct 24 14:02:21 SAST 2014

THE BIG READ: Revolt, torture, tyranny face an unreformed SA

Schalk Mouton | 01 February, 2013 00:00
Clem Sunter once believed there was no chance of South Africa becoming a failed state. He has changed his mind
Image by: MARTIN RHODES

Inequality is dragging South Africa closer to its "tipping point" and becoming a failed state, says Clem Sunter.

Sunter is probably best known for the high-road/low-road scenarios he posited for South Africa in the mid-1980s and for predicting a "major attack on a Western city" in Mind of a Fox, a book he wrote with Chantell Ilbury in 2001.

A year ago, the former chairman and CEO of Anglo American's gold and uranium division, and until recently chairman of the Anglo American Chairman's Fund, believed that there was a "0%" chance that this country would become a failed state. He has since increased the odds to 25%.

"Once people get seriously upset, it takes only one event to cause the country to erupt," said Sunter, and "Marikana could have been it".

"There is a level of anarchy creeping into protests - both labour and service delivery - that hasn't been seen before, and that we've now seen in Sasolburg and Parys."

Six people were killed during the violent protests by residents opposing their area's incorporation into the Ngwathe municipality.

Zamdela township residents razed property, stoned cars and looted shops.

Police reacted with tear-gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse crowds.

Sunter believes that increasingly violent protests could become normal.

During the Arab Spring, Sunter talked to analysts researching the motives for the upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.

"There were three factors that contributed hugely - very high youth unemployment, highly active social networks and growing alienation from the state," he said.

"We have all three."

He believes the consequences of this country not getting its act together economically, socially and politically could be dire.

"After Marikana and Sasolburg, we might be close to an Arab Spring."

Sunter has predicted three scenarios for the future of South Africa.

The first is that it stays in what he terms the "Premier League" and keeps its place as one of the world's top 53 economies. It is currently in 50th spot. Sunter believes we should be in 32nd place because we have the 32nd-biggest economy but the many problems that remain unresolved continue to create uncertainty.

Whereas a year ago Sunter gave the country a 70% chance of staying in this league, he now gives it only a 50% chance.

The second scenario is that South Africa slides peacefully into what he calls the "Second Division". These are countries that Sunter describes as poor but peaceful.

He gives South Africa a 25% chance of becoming one of these nations, with Nigeria taking over as the most influential country in Africa.

The third scenario is that South Africa becomes a failed state, a place of anarchy, warfare, hunger and disorder - like Syria or Afghanistan.

Such a state generally has high unemployment, gross income inequality and appalling human rights abuses, including routine use of torture by the police and security forces.

The country is governed either by a dictator - living in a palace among the ruins of a country in which revolt is kept in check by intimidation - or by a shifting alliance of warlords, each with a private army or militia.

Sunter said there is a 25% chance - a "real threat" - of South Africa becoming such a country.

There are two ingredients that Sunter said we need to stay in the Premier League.

The first is an inclusive leader, such as former president Nelson Mandela.

"I'm afraid [Mandela's] successors [Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma] have not been inclusive leaders, and I hope that Cyril Ramaphosa might be the someone who could bring the nation together.

"I see the move to bring Cyril back as very positive.

"It looks like our leaders are getting the message that something has to be done."

Sunter believes that, if Ramaphosa had followed Mandela into politics in the 1990s, the value of Ramaphosa's leadership might have been lost.

"We didn't know all our weaknesses then," he said.

The other way in which South Africa can improve its chances of being a functioning democracy, he said, is by "using our pockets of excellence such as the good schools".

"We should try to replicate these pockets of excellence.

"The reason we have inequality is that we don't have jobs.

"For each worker in the formal sector there are three people who don't have a job ," he said.

"People don't have jobs because the education system hasn't delivered the skills to create jobs."

Sunter has been calling for an "economic Codesa" for this reason.

"We need a cooperative model [to deal with inequality].

"There is no way the ANC can do it by itself, and business and the unions can't do it by themselves either," he said.

"This is the tipping point."

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