SA wealth gap makes for uncertain future
South Africa might be on the same downward path as Colombia, said James Robinson, co-author of the bestseller Why Nations Fail, this week.
Robinson put 15 years of research into the economic history of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa before writing the book.
"I'm not informed enough to be either optimistic or pessimistic about South Africa,'' he said in Johannesburg.
But he said it was ''very plausible'' that this country would one day look a lot like Latin America's Colombia, with ''people living behind high fences, hiring private bodyguards'' and carrying on with their lives not really aware that anything was seriously wrong.
Colombia and South Africa have similar population sizes and a large gap between rich and poor.
It must be asked, he said, whether this country's political institutions are ''extractive'' or ''inclusive", and whether extractive economic institutions will develop. An extractive political economy would lead to wealth and control being concentrated in the hands of an elite that would be able to sustain its dominance. This is the case in Colombia and was the case in apartheid South Africa, he said.
In South Africa, most of the extractive institutions had disappeared but their legacy remained, Robinson said. He would not say whether black economic empowerment was effective in hastening change.