Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The ‘Thief-in-Chief’: Searching for the Roots

Grand Theft Corruption

The narrative is clear. The president of South Africa sits at the centre of a ring of operators – clandestine, criminal and official – that are abusing their power and ruining vital state institutions so that they can enrich themselves without facing any consequences. Circumstantially, it is only logical to conclude that this unsavoury network is linked to the president in one way or another. The overlaps and points of connection are too many and too precise to merely qualify as coincidence. The same characters appear in multiple scandals, and the overlap between them – i.e. being in business together, or being related or connected to each other in one way or another – is undeniable. The network that converges around the president is just too densely interconnected and interdependent to be regarded as coincidentally linked to him.

But this does not mean that direct proof of the President’s guilt (of criminal activities) beyond reasonable doubt has been provided. Perhaps it will in the future, but as yet no clear, undeniable proof of the president’s misdeeds has been made public. Perhaps there is someone, or a few people out there, who could provide damning, incontrovertible evidence of the president’s guilt; evidence of direct involvement beyond any reasonable doubt – a video or audio recording, a full money laundering trail from source to sink, a hidden treasure trove, or any other clear, undeniable offence – but until now all we have are the whistleblowing of good people to rely on.

Those who are party to corruption and really know how deep the rabbit hole goes are keeping mum, making active efforts to thwart attempts to hold the corrupt to account. It appears that numerous active cover-ups have been undertaken to ensure that no such “smoking gun” ever emerges to see the light of day.

In a functional democracy such clear, indisputable proof (i.e. a “smoking gun”) would be unnecessary. The mere suggestion of guilt of corruption of a sitting president would be enough to warrant stepping down in order to protect the integrity of high office. The fact that the constitutional court found that he had violated his oath of office should have been enough. But we live in fraught and conflicted times. Crass, unethical and polarizing (even unconstitutional) leadership is fast becoming normalised, not only within South Africa but in other parts of the world as well.

Yet, as the drip-drip of allegations has turned to a flood of corruption expose’s and scandals, hope that the guilty will be held accountable for their actions has ebbed. South Africans are inundated with bad news. Each event settles only briefly in the collective consciousness of the nation before another wave crashes, pushing each previous event to the peripheries where it dwindles, eventually dissipating into the great ocean of misdeeds. It is no longer a question of whether South Africans believe that corruption on a grand scale is unfolding within its leadership and state institutions. The real question is, “so what?”

The majority of South Africans know very well what it feels like to be stolen from. They have endured wholesale theft for many centuries; a theft that consolidated and entrenched itself under the Apartheid regime. Corrupt government and local officials, abuse of power and institutions, unfair practices, exclusivity and clandestine networks, and myriad other ills have long been resident in South African society. South Africans know full well how the powerful can act with impunity and escape accountability. Elites have run South Africa for a long time, and they are above the law. Whether through the power of being connected or the power of wealth, by being able to out-endure and strangle official processes, they float above the laws and regulations that bind the average citizen.

Corruption at the highest levels in South African society is nothing new. Unholy alliances between government, business and organised crime are a recurring feature of the South African political landscape. It wasn’t long ago that Brett Kebble, the youth league and organised crime figures dealt shock blows to the nation. Members of the ANC youth league acquired shares in gold while Kebble got on with racking up billions of Rands in unpaid taxes, organising hits on foes and non-compliant officials and creating a labyrinth of front companies and other financial mechanisms through which money could be laundered, hidden and channelled to exert power. This has happened before. What has changed in recent times is that; (1) these destructive arrangements have now moved up to occupy the highest levels of power, and (2) a powerful network has escalated the program of extraction from the state.

Exposes, Analyses and Opinions: Big on Narrative, Short on Analysis!

So when the author of the recently released “The President’s Keepers”, Jacques Pauw – a widely renowned and respected long-term political and investigative journalist – states that “South Africans are gatvol ... South Africans have had enough!” one has to ask the question; who exactly is he referring to? If it is truly the case that the majority of South Africans are so fed up with corruption that they have reached their collective limit, then where is the mass public outcry? Where is the broad-based mass action that should follow from having reached such a limit?

The answer to this question is that while South Africans may be fed up with corruption in the halls of power, the reality is that the situation is way more complicated than the reductive narrative of the ‘thief-in-chief’ can adequately portray. Thus far, South Africans have been inundated with highly detailed exposes and scandals, yet there is precious little detailed analysis to accompany it. As a result, there is no clear understanding of why such corruption on a grand scale could so easily become entrenched, and why it was able to escalate so quickly during President Zuma’s second term. Rather, the focus of most investigative journalism accounts and intellectual opinions and analyses has been squarely on how we have arrived at this point.

Post 1994, South Africa was upheld as a symbol of good governance and robust democratic institutions. So what went wrong? What went wrong is that the myth that was central to the construction of South Africa’s new democratic dispensation imploded in dramatic fashion. The latent but ever-resident vulnerabilities of the South African state and society were successfully activated by those who understood the difference between the mythical construction of the new, democratic South Africa and the reality of how it has historically functioned for the majority of those who live within it. Ones propensity to believe this myth depends, in large part, on where one sits in South African society and how deeply one understands the daily, lived experiences of the marginal majority.

There is also no clear understanding of how to reform the institutions of the state, business and politics – and perhaps even our political system – in order put in the checks and balances that will prevent such breakdown from occurring again. The assumption that we already have all the right checks and balances, and all that is needed are good, trustworthy leaders, is a deeply flawed one. It should be self-evident that these checks and balances have failed us and are hence likely to again. All it would require is a similar network of unscrupulous power-mongers and greedy feeders to establish and entrench themselves with power and there would be a quick return to an unsavoury ‘business-as-usual’.

There is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that the likelihood of such networks re-establishing or reproducing themselves again over time is high. South Africa has some deep historical flaws; systemic vulnerabilities that were created and maintained over the many hundreds of years over which South Africa was constituted as a nation. These flaws are so entrenched that they are woven into the nation’s DNA, so to speak. They cannot easily be overcome; they will adapt and find ways to make a return.

Historically, we live in a fundamentally corrupt society. When Jacques Pauw states that “the South Africa that Zuma has created has rendered sleazebags blameless, guiltless and even righteous” in the concluding paragraphs of his book he is engaging in a spectacular act of selective amnesia. We have whitewashed evil-doers and exonerated them before in our history, as recently as during the transition to the new dispensation.

This is not to detract from the value of the book Jacques Pauw has written. He does a remarkable job of identifying the parallel intelligence networks that facilitate “state capture” and scripting understandable narratives that put into perspective how different actors and events are linked. However, it is misguided to diagnose our current crisis as a nation purely in terms of the two terms that Zuma has served. The South Africa we are now faced with has not been “created” by Jacob Zuma. It has always been there; his leadership merely brought it to the surface.

It is hence folly to think of our current situation as merely the product of the wayward activities of the ‘thief-in-chief’ and his merry band of plunderers. No matter how attractive, sensationalist and absorbing the myriad exposes of corruption are, we should keep do our best to remain focused on the systemic weaknesses that allow for such a dangerous network to rise to power. To become too easily blinded by the ‘thief-in-chief’ narrative, would be not to see the woods for the trees.

I am arguing that it is not useful or strictly speaking correct to think of the current situation as purely a product of recent history; that it is in fact a product of deeper historical forces that have entrenched themselves and become systemic in South African society and its political realm over a longer period of time. The corruption that we are witnessing today has deep historical roots, roots that reside in the deep state, as well as in broader South African society. To make any analysis of the current situation without acknowledging this history is farcical. There are no quick fixes for the problems we are currently experiencing. Removing the president and all his ‘men’ would only give the nation temporary reprieve; it will not prevent the rot from sinking in again.

As a nation, we cannot out-legislate or out-run this reality. We have to undergo a serious self-analysis. We have to be willing to dig deep into our historical and current realities and identify what systemic traits undermine our best efforts to rise above our history.
Machiavellian Survivalism: A Response to Oppression

I have already dealt with the role of the deep state in a previous piece. The question I am concerned with in this piece is why corruption is – in many ways – regarded as normal in broader South African society? The propensity for Machiavellianism is high in South African society. The capacity for clandestine, illegal and unethical practices is a direct product of oppressive practises and unfair social arrangements that have historically prevailed in South Africa. When the law is illegal or unfair, and when those in power act unjustly, society finds ways around formal systems and establish parallel mechanisms for satisfying – even mundane, daily – needs and desires. Dual realities have hence always prevailed in this nation.

When I was growing up, our first recourse over theft or conflict was not to report it to the police; it was to work through informal networks – which included criminal elements, friends, family, etc. – to attempt to find resolution to the matter. We all knew who the thieves were in our neighbourhood, and there was a tacit agreement that their activities were to be conducted outside of it. When thefts did occur we consulted with them first about who the likely perpetrator was, and often requested them to attempt to reclaim our property for us as they knew who the likely fences for particular things were (e.g. for jewellery, car radios, televisions, etc.).

It was also well-known and understood that school principals sometimes accepted bribes in order to give a child with wealthy parents a place in their school (in my school these were known as “donations to the library”). Parents paid bribes to get their children into universities. We also knew that obtaining a car license was far easier if you had a driving instructor who was sufficiently connected and could ensure that a bribe was received by the examining officer. You could get a docket to disappear if you were up on charges. You could also find people who were willing to perpetrate ill-deeds on your behalf, or provide you with protection, if you were willing to pay for their ‘services’.

Bribery and corruption at local levels is nothing new in South Africa. It is also nothing new at the highest levels of power. A familiar South African refrain goes something like, “don’t you know how things really work around here?” It is only within a society as fundamentally schizophrenic as ours, where one’s ‘reality’ can prove so fundamentally different from others –  where altruistic naivety can coexist alongside shrewd Machiavellianism – that enlightened values and virtues can be espoused as normative while devious operators play puppet-master behind the scenes.

That our country has historically suffered a profound schizophrenia of parallel lived realities is indisputable. Is it any wonder that this dual reality has now manifested at the highest levels of power? Indeed, has it not done so before?

To speak of a ‘shadow government’ without acknowledging that we live in an inherently corrupt, dual society to begin with; replete with parallel systems of justice, trade, employment, service provision and so forth – is disingenuous. What we are currently experiencing is a product of our central condition as a nation. We are a country of parallel realities, and what we are now witnessing is that our demons are surfacing. What has long been resident within South African society, always just beneath the surface, is now rearing its ugly head in dramatic fashion. If we are brave enough to confront this central truth, then perhaps our current “state of capture” may yet be turned into an opportunity for an exorcism.  

There is a particularly privileged class – mostly middle class and suburban – in South Africa who, it would seem, live under the impression that their experience of South Africa[1] is shared by all South Africans. This misconception is a product of living within a reserved and inward bubble, of having very little contact with the majority of South Africans who endure a completely different reality. Spatial and economic segregation reinforces this effect, yet because of their relative privilege and power the middle classes are able to assert their views as though they are normative.

This is not to suggest that the suburban middle classes have no role in repairing our broken politics and society. To the contrary, they have a critical role to play. They can only play a useful and effective role, however, if they are able to stop speaking for the majority of South Africans and start listening to them instead. Instead of going in to poor and low income communities solely with the purpose of mobilising them behind a middle class agenda, it would be truly transformative if they invested the time and patient listening that is required to orient them to the daily struggles of their less privileged fellow South Africans.

The marginal majority endure daily realities of living with poverty, extreme vulnerability to violence and crime, exploitation by corrupt officials, police and councillors, lack of access to services and low social mobility. Violence against women and children is at an all time high in some areas. It is clear that old community structures and regulatory networks and institutions have broken down. We have more civil society organisations than ever before, but they are seldom rooted in communities playing valuable roles in ensuring that every-day grassroots struggles of ordinary people are adequately mitigated.

A Crisis of Representation

There is a crisis of representation in South African society that mirrors the polarisation in power at the highest levels of South Africa. This crisis of representation is a product of social ignorance; a complete misunderstanding of the vastly different realities that South Africans from different backgrounds experience. The middle classes have the majority voice in South Africa, that is, through the media, institutions, organisations and business. Yet they are hopelessly out of touch with the daily lived realities of the majority of poor, low-income communities. Hence their protestations against the ‘thief-in-chief’, while legitimate, comes across as mainly driven by their own self-interest, and not out of genuine concern for the broader citizenry and the welfare of the country. They want things to go back to ‘normal’. The problem is that, that ‘normal’ is not working out so well for everyone.

The middle class also tend to suppress or ignore racial tensions that have emerged within the middle class itself. They talk past each other and not to each other. They are themselves divided and trust across racial boundaries is deficient. There are no quick and easy fixes for the deep dislocations that lie at the heart of South African society. It will require time and effort to build a coherent broad-based coalition that can represent the broader majority of society. When recently asked about the dearth of broad-based civic action in South Africa, trade unionist and struggle stalwart Jay Naidoo replied that it was because, “it is hard work”. This is the central truth that South Africans need to wake up to; that there are no quick fixes for the problems we are currently enduring.

We need a new national dialogue, consensus and vision that all South Africans can get behind in the main. We will never have complete agreement over everything, but there are definitely fundamental objectives that we can agree on and work towards. Our success as a nation – or national project – will depend heavily on how hard we work to build and sustain democratic governance in South Africa; governance that is regulated from the bottom-up. We need to go beyond the ‘winner takes all’ politics that has dominated the post-1994 democratic dispensation and build the cross-race and class linkages from which broader consensus can emerge. Only then can we act coherently as a broader public or polis.

While it is no doubt critical and necessary to expose the wrongdoings of those in power, it should by now be self-evident that ramping up the expose count is unlikely to provide the impetus to provide the sustained momentum that is necessary to stop the rot in South African politics and build towards a better future. A parallel process needs to take root; one that is clearly non-partisan, one that brings people together and can facilitate sincere and beneficial interaction between South Africans from all walks of life. We need to begin building the base for sustained, democratic action within society itself now. Yes, it will require hard work, but it is only through this that the long-term benefits of an active citizenry and a healthy democracy can be achieved, and the ghosts of our past left behind.

[1] That is; of well policed and well run neighbourhoods, good living conditions and privileged access to justice, services, finance and so forth.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

The Politics of Patronage: Rents, Power and Transformation

What is Developmental Neopatrimonialism?

The African political condition has a label. Neopatrimonialism, as it is termed, refers to a system of rule by an individual and/or political party that where loyalty is predicated on the distribution of economic rents to ‘clients’. These are individuals, groups, networks and organisations that are linked in some way or another, that is; through kinship, common purpose or agendas, social networks, and so forth. 

Those in power and those within the patronage networks are informally linked, even though the distribution of rents may occur through the formal bureaucratic systems of the state. Hence, states where neopatrimonialism is prevalent are considered hybrid systems, where formal and informal networks operate to secure power and access to rents and resources. While neopatrimonialism has taken root in many different parts of the world, postcolonial African states are – by and large – regarded as typified by neopatrimonialism.

In classical economics and politics, neopatrimonialism is frowned upon. It is regarded as symptomatic of bad governance, misallocation of resources, maladministration, corruption and other ills that plague dysfunctional states. This is especially the case where Africa is concerned. Debates rage, however, on everything from the developmental utility of neopatrimonialism, to the precise definitions and typologies that the deployment of the term should be restricted to (based on empirical evidence).

As recently as 2011, Tim Kelsall argued[1] that under certain conditions neo-patrimonialism can yield positive economic growth and commensurate developmental outcomes, stating that, “crucial to making neopatrimonialism work for development in Africa has been a system for centralising economic rents and gearing their management to the long term”. Kelsall, cautions, however, that “developmental patrimonialism has a limited shelf life and will not be appropriate everywhere” and stresses that it is not a “’one-size fits all’ solution”.

He list three reasons why. First, that neopatrimonialism seems to work best in the least developed countries where “relatively simple economic structures are more responsive to relationship-based governance”. Second, that it is unlikely to work in all political systems, and that in countries with regular democratic change rent administration will likely be oriented towards short-term outcomes and that centralisation of rents in these cases “would be likely to prove very controversial and damaging”. Third, that the centralisation of rents in countries where a few large “ethnic groups” compete for power would likely prove “exceedingly difficult”.

The view that neopatrimonial developmentalism may yield positive developmental outcomes is regarded as a heterodox economics view (i.e. opposed to classical economics). It is important to acknowledge that developmental neopatrimonialism is, in reality, a diagnosis and not an approach. It is a phenomenon that economists are in the process of understanding, and not a theoretical prescription for how states should function. That is, it is not normative in its orientation. That is the reason why Kelsall cautions so strongly against its use as a prescription beyond strictly bounded conditions.

Neopatrimonialsim: A Prescription for South Africa?

Where South Africa is concerned the deployment of developmental neopatrimonialism as both a diagnostic framework, as well as a prescriptive framework, should be undertaken with great caution. There are many reasons why South Africa cannot be understood or classified in terms of developmental patrimonialism.

It should be self-evident that in the case of South Africa does not meet the criteria for neopatrimonial developmentalism even though traces of neopatrimonialism do inhabit the political and business realms. South Africa is; (1) is relatively highly developed in relation to the rest of Africa (indeed, it is regarded as a transitional economy alongside countries such as Brazil), (2) has strong democratic processes and independent state institutions, and (3) is ethnically, racially diverse and relatively class diverse, and cosmopolitan. These attributes place it outside of the neopatrimonial state that Tim Kelsall writes about.

Yet, there is an emerging current that seeks to justify neopatrimonial developmentalism as a legitimate framework for the transformative agenda that the ANC seeks to achieve. This relies on the assumption that the ANC, with its electoral dominance, may serve as a centralised administrator of rents in service of a transformative agenda, led by a strong, uncompromising leader or leadership.

It is true that the electoral dominance of the African National Congress, which has ruled since the advent of democracy in 1994, may offer some hope of centralised administration of rents into the long term as a developmental strategy for the future. However, given the fragmented and fractured internal politics of the ANC it is a vain hope to imagine that the ANC would continue ruling unchallenged and without significant internal splitting in the medium to long terms. Indeed, open dissent and threats of imminent split from the ANC tripartite alliance are now common, everyday occurrences, with both the Council of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) expressing daily outrage at the status quo of the ANC’s current leadership. The ANC may have ruled for twenty-two years, but it will not likely rule for as long moving forward.

Moreover, the developmental utility of neopatrimonialism is largely gauged and assessed in economic terms.  The limitations of adopting an economic worldview on what is a profoundly social and political matter must be made clear and reconciled if any kind of neopatrimonial developmental state is to be socially and politically transformative in the true sense i.e. enabling the destabilisation and reconfiguration of inherited hierarchies, power imbalances and structural inequalities that prevail in South Africa.

Should the neopatrimonial developmental state merely reinforce and/or recreate similar hierarchical disparities (i.e. in terms of power, wealth, inequality, access, mobility, etc.) then it remains largely a political ruse that in reality masks a program that reproduces the status quo. And it is clear in South Africa right now that the status quo is untenable. Twenty-two years into the ‘new’ democratic dispensation, social and political fragmentation and national disunity prevail alongside deep political turmoil and uncertainty. The state and polis have become stuck. Concerned politicians are looking outward to society for the solution to the political crisis. They want a revival of 1980’s style rolling mass action to place pressure on the ANC leadership. Thus far, nothing has yielded significant results. The long road, it is evident, has become the priority. Clearing up the mess, however, will likely take a long time.

The ever present danger of a shape-shifting state is an important and critical factor to account for in any conception of South Africa as a neopatrimonial developmental state. South Africa is historically characterised by high levels of structural inequality that delineates along unmistakeably racial lines today. South Africa today still displays its apartheid inheritance in patterns of wealth, poverty, spatial segregation, land and housing ownership, access, mobility and drastic socio-economic inequality.

Indeed, the postcolonial Apartheid state relied on the administration of rents to maintain minority rule, and to maintain economic dominance of the white settler minority. Rents were administered in service of lifting poor whites out of poverty and into stable, relatively middle class livelihoods and incomes. Rents were also administered to create and maintain the Afrikaans private sector. Race-based laws and ideologies were instrumental in ensuring that both the state and the private sector reinforced and reproduced this program of white power. This entrenched structural race-based inequality in South Africa both socially and economically.

While the Apartheid state did not strictly fit the mould of developmental neopatrimonialism, it did administer rents as a transformative socio-political and developmental agenda. It appears as though, the same logic is being applied to actualise the transformative agenda that the ANC seeks to bring about today i.e. ‘radical economic transformation’. Radical economic transformation seeks to create a new black industrial class (i.e. “100 black industrialists”) through administering the R500Bn state procurement budget preferentially to black business. This agenda seeks to take black economic empowerment beyond mere ownership in the financial economy, to full participation in the productive economy of South Africa. 

The agenda to increase black ownership of the productive economy of South Africa is not, in itself, problematic. What is problematic is the notion that this will automatically alleviate the suffering of the majority of poor black people in South Africa; that their lives will be transformed through this agenda. Moreover, it is also problematic to embrace a neopatrimonial model, in which rents are administered through a small power-elite, led by a ‘strongman’ styled ruler. In my view, this perspective is disastrous and anti-democratic. Real radical transformation would strengthen both the political and economic processes through which South African democracy is administered and not treat them as trade-offs.

That is, we would not seek to weaken the political realm in order to strengthen black economic participation. We are being presented with a false binary here. We should be seeking to strengthen both bottom-up, grassroots participation in political decision-making and governance, and boost economic inclusion at the same time. That is what would constitute a truly transformative agenda.

Developmental patrimonialism is a poor diagnostic and prescriptive framework for South Africa. It is a diagnosed phenomenon. It is not visionary, and is not – in any sense – new. It is merely newly diagnosed and appraised. It is, in many ways, a 20th Century framework, one that is an extremely poor normative framework for where we should be headed in the 21st Century. The danger in adopting it as a prescriptive framework – in any measure – is that it may reproduce more of the same while promising a different result.

To get something new, you have to think and act anew. Developmental neopatrimonialism, as a prescriptive framework, is an idea that is hopelessly out of touch with the 21st Century; its movements (i.e. political, technological, social, cultural, etc.) and its potentials. The neglected direction is simply asking; what kind of democracy is desirable and possible in South Africa that can ensure a better future for all who live within it given the potentials afforded by 21st Century developments? It is asking how democracy can evolve to hold power to account, and ensure that power and wealth is more fairly and evenly distributed throughout society.

The means to hold power to account, being active in the space of power, and thereby revitalising the polis are emerging in the 21st Century. Liquid democracy, radical municipalism and other visions for enhanced local power, and inclusive participatory-based developmentalism and governance are some examples. In these new forms of democracy, power is increasingly decentralised and distributed. Developmental and political visions are to be informed and regulated by new forms of grassroots power and not merely acquiescent to the state and elected government. They are attempts at finding the means to overcome the failures of representative democracy and the difficulties of direct democracy. They are attempts to move democracy beyond the status of the “best-worst system” as it is regularly referred to as these days.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. In this spirit, it is time to take up a new challenge; that of evolving our democracy into a system that is truly progressive in how it allocates and administers power and decision-making. Democracy in South Africa needs to be closer to the people, and in order for this to become a reality that goes beyond merely holding local Indaba’s and conducting formulating Integrated Development Plans. 21st Century ideas, technologies and systems need to be embraced.

We are increasingly living in a world where new possibilities are emerging and will inevitably impact the norms that prevailed in the 20th Century. True leadership, that is in touch with and acutely aware of the changes that are unfolding in this century and their vast implications, would recognise that need to begin testing and building the mechanisms that will enable democracy to evolve and meet the needs of the 21st Century. While the benefits of neopatrimonial developmentalism are acknowledged as actualisable only under very specific – and limited – conditions, the possibilities that the 21st Century offers to improve democratic processes and practises are many and varied. Surely this warrants closer attention, scrutiny and consideration? We cannot merely consider old prescriptions when facing a fundamentally new future. Surely our innovative and creative capacity should be put to work in service of what the future offers rather than the past.

[1] Kelsall, T. (2011). Developmental Patrimonialism? Rethinking Business and Politics in Africa, Africa Power and Politics, Policy Brief 02, June 2011.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

South Africa: Learning from Failure, Building a New Future!

The recent parliamentary vote of no confidence in the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, failed – albeit narrowly – to yield enough votes to remove him from office. Even though 35 ANC members voted for his removal – in a hotly debated secret ballot – in the end it was not enough to shake the proverbial tree. There have been many attempts to remove the President from power, both within Parliament and the ruling party itself, but all have failed. The ANC, in its current form, closes ranks around President Zuma, for better or for worse.

It is perhaps understandable that such a vote would be hotly contested and debated in parliament, and would prove difficult to pass. Parliamentarians number 400 in the South African parliament, and their world is a small but powerful microcosm in the greater scheme of things. It is primarily in the interests of both the ruling party and the opposition for the President to remain in place.  Parliamentarians whose jobs and networked capabilities depend on the President’s patronage, as well as those who depend on the ruling party remaining in power, have all the incentive to fend off efforts to remove him (even though this will likely have deleterious effects on the ANC as a whole). Opposition parties know full well that the President is their greatest asset in their quest to eventually win national power from the ANC.

Yet what has proved more puzzling, especially to the middle class citizenry, is why the public have still not as yet come out in staggering numbers to protest the very many transgressions and failings of President Zuma, his leadership and their extended elite network of power. When the public come out in protest they do not do so in the numbers that can be said to represent an overwhelming majority. So what is it that is preventing the broader citizenry from pushing for much needed change in South Africa? Is it apathy; some combination of discontent and disengagement? Is it race or class difference? Is it that people are too busy with the affairs of everyday life? Is it that they are confused, with no clear signals upon which to act?

Until now, the prevailing assumption has been that when South Africans are presented with clear evidence of wrongdoing, they will be spurred to action. Yet wave after wave of leaked evidence and information of wrongdoing has broken upon the shores of the national conscience only to dissipate into its steep gradient and disappear beneath the sand. What has become clear is that the notion that providing the public with the information and knowledge that they require to be spurred into action is itself flawed. No amount of information, whistleblowers, leaks, expert reports and the like is likely to propel the South African public into action.

To the middle and upper middle classes in particular, there is a deep frustration with the lack of unified protest to what they have come to view as the central challenge facing South Africa right now, that is; a crisis of governance characterised by corruption, maladministration, nepotism and cronyism that all centres on the leadership of the president and his network(s). Yet what they fail to appreciate is that this perspective – even if valid – remains a partial perspective. It does not accurately reflect the concerns of the diverse South African populace as a whole.

If one takes the time to speak to the different groups that constitute South African society it quickly becomes evident that there are deep divisions over what the central South African condition is thought to be, and what remedies the nation should adopt. This, in my view, lies at the heart of the deadlock over the fate of President Zuma. It is a matter of agreement over what the central concerns of the nation are and how to deal with them.

Even though South Africa enjoys a progressive, enlightened constitutional framework, it remains a fraught society in many ways. A cursory mapping of the plethora of issues that dominate the South African political spectrum is – in this respect – instructive. While concerns over corruption, ‘state capture’, and lack of service delivery do cut across race and class in South Africa other issues rise to prominence depending on whom one listens to. Issues such as spatial, social and economic exclusion, deep and entrenched inequality, the slow pace of land reform, high levels of unemployment (especially among the youth), high levels of crime and violence (particularly violence against women, children and immigrants), institutional racism and the need for decolonisation, lack of transparency and accountability, healthcare, education, rising food insecurity, resource crises (e.g. food, water, energy), lack of access to infrastructure and commensurate service provisions,  national disunity and polarisation along race and class lines, and a stagnant economy in which youth face dim future prospects; all appear to feature somewhat differently in the hierarchy of concerns that South Africans construct in their personal spaces and groupings.

Moreover, the fact that each concern that is mentioned in this in-exhaustive list could realistically be regarded as a matter that is of crisis proportions, means that South Africans are not incorrect in their respective diagnoses. They are presumably merely selecting the issues that impact on them, and their immediate communities, the most. The fact that they exclude others in their priorities is simply because they may not feel that they are as immediately impacted by them.

In simpler terms, South Africa is in the midst of what can be characterised as a ‘polycrisis’. There is a relative smorgasbord of crises that proliferate in the different spaces, demographics and groups that constitute the nation. This polycrisis also enables another, more nefarious capacity, that is; it allows for the exploitation of one or more of a matrix of issues, which can be harnessed to spin counter-narratives. Raise one issue and there are simultaneously more than ten other issues that can be raised to counter it, or drown it out, deposing it from its supposed prominence in the hierarchy of critical issues facing the country.

For every allegation, every expose and every scandal there exists a set of potential pivots that can be harnessed to obfuscate, distract from, nullify and/or drown out the original issue. It allows for the proliferation of noise in response to any signal that attempts to propagate through the socio-political ether of the country. It explains why Bell-Pottinger was able to so easily find traction with its Gupta-funded divisive messaging.

This is not just a feature that has come to govern the South African polis and societal realm, but exists in other countries as well. In the post-2008 world, even developed nations are facing more challenges than they did in the post-war 20th Century. It explains how climate change denialism perpetuates in developed nations such as the USA and Australia, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary. It also explains how President Trump’s various cock-ups and scandals consistently fail to result in any meaningful corrections on his part or the Republican Party’s. The world, it seems, has entered a new phase – a ‘post-literate’, ‘post-truth’ phase – in which moral equivalence can be invoked with impunity to muddy the waters – so to speak – to make them appear deep.

And so the quest for emancipatory political moments, where tipping points are breached and leaders deposed by the will of the people, or where parliamentarians rise up in revolt against their elected leader, has proved difficult to bring about in South Africa. And this should, at this stage, come as no surprise to anybody. To expect anything else would be to be profoundly hopeful or naive, or perhaps both.

The reality is that South Africa has reached a much deeper tipping point than simply desiring the removal of the sitting president. The tipping point that South Africa is now at is that it is embroiled in a national crisis of identity. After twenty-two years of existing on the rainbow nation vision, one that prioritised constitutionality over radical material societal transformation and upheld ‘nation-building’ as its primary project, South Africa is ready for renewal. And it is no coincidence that the readiness for renewal has been accompanied by a profound breakdown within South African society, one that has seen deep polarisation and contestation emerge in the polis.

Such a crisis requires, first and foremost, that it be recognised as such. We cannot act thoughtfully upon our current condition without first acknowledging it in its entirety. Once we have accepted the new reality, the next commitment we require is to move beyond the desire for short-term change – however critical those changes may be in the short term – and to accept that a longer term view needs to be taken on how the next phase of national unity should be approached.

While it remains a political and moral imperative to challenge the leadership of President Zuma, and to seek his removal from office, this action alone will not bring any sense of comfort or relief to the majority of South Africans. Indeed, it may even give the middle classes in particular, a false sense of security and allow them to lapse into apathy once again.

The reality is that if we are to bring about a new unity amongst South Africans, it needs to be behind a shared vision of who we are and what we want to be as a society. Building this new vision requires an opening up of spaces in which broader, more diverse expression and exchange around what is important (and to whom) in our society, can occur.

In my estimation, two elements are key to this process, namely; (1) building a national consensus through a series of prolonged engagements that range from the grassroots all the way to the upper echelons of power, and (2) stimulating active citizenry at the community level so that grassroots engagement with political power enters a new heightened phase i.e. stimulating town hall styled politics and civic engagement across a variety of existing and new platforms.

This requires taking a medium to long-term view towards steering South Africa onto a new national developmental and socio-political trajectory. It requires an investment in communities, civic organisations, civil society and the varieties of interest groups that need to be boosted in order to ensure that their voices are heard through a process of continual bottom-up regulation of political and economic power, rather than simply expressing themselves every four years at the ballot box. That is, it requires building the complex social machinery within South African society that can produce a healthy democracy for all who live in it.

It also requires the kind of visionary, committed leadership that South Africa was fortunate to enjoy in its transition out of Apartheid and into the new democratic dispensation. It requires a complete revision of what it means to be a public servant, and how the public service and political power is viewed in society. It requires all sectors to commit to and embrace a new national transition – to engage with new ideas such as ‘radical economic transformation’ and help put flesh on the bones of the ideas that underpin it – and for the middle classes in particular to recognise and acknowledge that their lived reality is vastly different from that which the majority of South Africans endure on a day to day basis. It is lunacy to expect people who are unemployed or under-employed, and who are preoccupied with day-to-day matters of survival, to prioritise the deposal of the sitting president as the most important factor in their lives because it simply isn’t.

President Zuma is almost into the last year of his presidency, yet the calls for him to be removed, or to step down, continue unabated. This is understandable, but in reality it is too late in his presidency to make any substantive difference to the damage that the nation has endured under it. At this stage it is only a moral matter; one of setting an example so that others do not follow in his footsteps, one of demonstrating that democratic ‘checks and balances’ do function in the South African political spectrum. Removing him will not automatically set the nation upon a trajectory towards a better future; neither will it yield any substantive change where it is most needed in South African society.

At this stage, the inescapable reality is that a broader, more prolonged phase of engagement and building democratic power from the bottom-up is necessary. If those who are out marching in the streets (I was one of them) are committed to bringing about meaningful change in South Africa they need to embrace the reality that it will take more than protest actions – undertaken every few weeks or months – to convert the current mess that the nation is in by steering it into a positive period of reflection and growth. Simply put, we need to roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels, and commit to building the kind of democracy that can go the distance. It’s time to recognise that we are entering a new phase, and the crisis we are in runs deep. It will require dedicated social activism from the broader citizenry, and building bridges across the diverse South African socio-political and cultural landscape, to adequately address. We need to be in it for the long haul. There simply is no way around it!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The ‘Shadow State’: What does it mean in South Africa?


The recent “Betrayal of the Promise” report, to which I contributed, stated outright that a ‘shadow state’ was now in operation in South Africa, a product of a ‘silent coup’ (i.e. the most recent cabinet reshuffle). Although the report was a product of an eight week exercise, and as such merely presented a scoping of a more in-depth study that was yet to unfold, one would not have been amiss if one departed the launch of the report under the impression that the report was in fact the outcome of a full study.

The reality, however, is far from the truth. While the study was no doubt valuable, it merely represented heuristic ‘proof’ that the key models that were being used to assess the available information on “state capture” actually fitted the subject of the study. The key models were that of the neo-patrimonial developmental state (Tim Kelsall, 2013)[i] and the shadow state (William Reno, 1995)[ii]. These models were tested by fitting the periodised sequence of events that have occurred within the state, government, state-owned entities, and the main networks of actors that have been responsible for them (i.e. those constituting a loosely networked quasi-criminal ‘shadow state’).

By mapping the periodised sequence of events, fitting a narrative and interpretation to them, and then mapping the networks of actors to these narratives – as well as neo-patrimonial developmental state theory and the ‘controller-elite-broker’ models – heuristic, but circumstantial, proof was presented. This ‘proof’ however, was not conclusive proof of wrongdoing (even thought it may have come across to the public as such). It was merely heuristic proof that the subject – and commensurate models – was/were deserving of deeper study and inquiry.

The main value of the report to society was that it presented a whole systems framing and perspective on the various activities that have been conducted in what has come to be known as state capture in South Africa. Yet some serious questions lingered at the back of my mind after the report was released. It seemed to me that the narrative had been hastily cast and somewhat oversimplified the complexities of the subject.

As many others have pointed out, is it not true that state capture actually goes back far in South African history? Is it true that it has moved into a new phase – and escalated – under the Zuma presidency (as proposed by the report), or does that new phase reside further back in our recent history, as some have suggested? Moreover, are the models that have been applied to the subject – in particular the concept of a ‘shadow state’ (in William Reno’s conception of it as typical of failed ‘warlord’ run states) – readily applicable in the South African context?

These questions have preoccupied me since the release of the report, and in the interests of ensuring a more thorough public debate I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts on the matter. It would be irresponsible not to, as it is the prerogative of any decent academic or public intellectual to question their own work thoroughly. My central fear is that many of the suppositions of the report have been readily lapped up and propagated as fact by the media, social media, public intellectuals, academics and the like without adequate scrutiny. After all it is still an idea that has yet to be thoroughly investigated and researched. It is not yet the outcome of an in-depth study that has undergone thorough research, peer review and significant broader interrogation of its central premises.

The Shadow State, Deep State and Parallel State

The model that has bothered me the most in the report is that of the ‘shadow state’, as the model of the shadow state that was put forward in the report was initially formulated in a study of the war torn and fragile state of Sierra Leone by William Reno. Conceptually, transposing the model of shadow operations within such a context onto that of the South African state may be a leap too far. After all, the South African state – despite all its problems – is a far cry from a failing, war-torn postcolonial African state. In light of this, it is worth exploring other conceptualisations of shadow governments, in particular the “deep state”, which is compared to Reno’s shadow state in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Comparison of Reno's Shadow State with the Deep State
Reno’s Shadow State
Deep State
Colonial in nature
Bureaucratic in nature
Strong centralisation (i.e. around a leader/group)
Weak centralisation (i.e. self-organising)
Not necessarily conspiratorial (i.e. entrenched)
Unsophisticated (Sierra Leone, Angola)
Sophisticated (USA, Post-Soviet Russia, Turkey) 

The shadow state as referred to by William Reno is defined by several key features. First, it is a postcolonial state. Second, it is colonial in nature (i.e. it has undergone no radical or substantive change). Third, it is a state that is characterised by strong centralisation; typically around a patron or strongman. Fourth, it is conspiratorial in nature i.e. actions of those who act on behalf of the shadow state are conspired. Fifth, it is relatively unsophisticated (largely extractive in purpose) in relation to a functioning state (although its extractive activities may be sophisticated); Reno’s shadow state is typically invoked when discussing weak and/or fragile states.

Reno’s shadow state differs from that which is referred to as the “deep state” as characterised by Mike Lofgren (2016)[iii], a more recent characterisation of ‘shadow state’ activities. First, in contrast to the Reno’s postcolonial shadow state, the deep state is modern and refers to states such as post-Soviet Russia, Turkey and the USA. Second, the ‘shadow state’ of the deep state is bureaucratic in nature. Third, it is characterised by weak centralisation and is not tightly controlled from the top; rather, it is self-organising. Consequently and fourth, it is not necessarily conspiratorial in nature; it is entrenched within the systems of the government, state, private sector and intelligence communities. Fifth it is highly sophisticated in nature and its purpose goes beyond the extraction or acquisition of wealth; it is concerned with the exercise of power locally and/or regionally and globally.

The parallel state also warrants mention, as it has relevance for the South African context. The “parallel state”, was introduced by historian Robert Paxton. The parallel state refers to a group of institutions and organisations that emulate the state in their management structures and organisation, but are not official arms (or part of) the legitimate state and government. These organisations – such as parties, youth and recreation organisations, work/labour collectives, some religious groups, unions and militias – buttress and reinforce the ideological programme of the state and/or government.

Classifying State Capture in the South African State: Shadow State, Deep State or Parallel State?

William Reno’s shadow state, the deep state, and the parallel state all find a certain amount of traction when applied to the South African context. This is because of South Africa’s unique history, transition to democracy and particular national challenges that result from these. It is worth undertaking a closer inspection of the relevance of these conceptual frameworks in order to better articulate the complexity of the phenomenon of state capture that has so readily been taken up in the South African popular discourse.

The overlooked factor – one that is central to understanding how South Africa differs from William Reno’s shadow state – is it’s long intelligence history. In contrast to Reno’s shadow state, the current dispensation is not strictly a postcolonial one; it is a post-Apartheid one. The Apartheid state was postcolonial to a large degree, but more critically it was a post-WWII state; it was formulated in the cold war and sought legitimacy through cold war arrangements. The Apartheid state undoubtedly inherited colonial features (law, culture, race, class, economic inequality, dispossession, etc.) but is also a profoundly modern state that embedded itself within cold war arrangements and depended on them for its survival. That is why the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 heralded the end of Apartheid; it lost its leverage in the global arena.

Early on in post-war South Africa (i.e. 1949), Britain was directly involved helping set up Apartheid South Africa’s intelligence systems, ostensibly to fight off “indigenous communism” in the region. Britain helped South Africa transition from its colonial intelligence arrangements into that of a modern state intelligence designed for playing a strong role in the cold war. When South Africa escalated its Apartheid program (i.e. from the 1950’s onwards) – one which steadily made it more of a global pariah – eventually declaring itself a republic and withdrawing from the Commonwealth in 1961, its need to have a strong role in the cold war as a bulwark against the spread of Soviet influence intensified (James Sanders, 2006)[iv].

South Africa had to work behind the scenes and eventually around global sanctions. It had to develop a relatively sophisticated deep state ‘shadow’ capacity in order to do so. This had to be deeply embedded within the bureaucracies of the state, private sector, military, and within society itself[v]. Thus the deep state was deeply embedded and entrenched early on in South Africa’s history and deepened and intensified over time. Strong centralised control was not necessary; the capacity for shadow activities resided – in large part – within the state itself. Hence there was no need for conspiracy to spawn out activities, and it was quite believable when latter day Apartheid politicians completely denied having any knowledge of “third force activities” conducted under their watch.

Shadow activities relating to the movement of money, diamonds, gold, arms and oil – for example – were conducted for a long time under the Apartheid government and intensified towards its end when global sanctions were imposed on the isolated Apartheid state (Hennie Van Vuuren, 2006[vi]; 2017[vii]). Under sanctions (circa 1986 till the end of Apartheid), these and other shadow activities intensified (Van Vuuren, 2017)[viii] out of necessity, and it is entirely likely that this phase left the South African state more vulnerable to leaders and actors that sought to orientate it for similar purposes later on (as has proved to be the case in the present). This is an important observation, as the uptick in corrupt activities attributed to state capture under the Zuma administration may have deeper roots; it may well be that deep state activities conducted towards the end of Apartheid (Van Vuuren, 2017)[ix] were the actual uptick that rendered the South African state particularly vulnerable to being hijacked. Indeed, this may explain (and does in my view) why the arms deal was so easily corrupted under the new democratic dispensation (even near the end of Apartheid SA was still selling arms, for example, the G5 cannons that were sold to Saddam Hussein).

The deep state (in Lofgren’s conception) is characterised by closely intertwined networks between sections of the political class, the intelligence community, defence, the judiciary, national treasury and private sector actors (e.g. especially the defence industry in the case of the USA, but also Wall Street and Silicone Valley). Under Apartheid the deep state exerted control over precisely these functions and sectors in service of the Apartheid project and the accumulation of wealth in private (white) hands.

Figure 1: Comparison of Historical and Current South African Deep State

A comparison of the historical Apartheid era deep state and the current era deep state is illustrated in Figure 1 above. The parallels between the evolution of the Afrikaans Nationalist agenda under Apartheid and the Black Nationalist Agenda (i.e. radical economic transformation) under the Zuma administration are striking. The adage that history repeats itself may ring true, and would indicate that ignoring or miscasting the role of the deep state may lead to an incomplete diagnosis of what is transpiring in relation to state capture and how to go about tackling it.

Under Apartheid the deep state was – for a long time – closely aligned with the prevailing establishment (i.e. the political and business classes). It continued until the Apartheid deep state became untenable in the global arena and fell afoul of the establishment, resulting in the end of Apartheid. The new deep state agenda, by contrast, is in reaction to the prevailing establishment and seeks to depose it. The deep state is increasingly being aligned with the agenda of radical economic transformation (RET).

One key factor here – that relating to National Treasury – is important in this context, as the deep state – in Lofgren’s conception – also exerts control over some of the functions of the national Treasury (his conception is in relation to the USA). The efforts to gain control over National Treasury in South Africa has thus far been cast as simply the objective of a patronage network that is driven by self-interest and/or a political project to bring about radical economic transformation. However, viewed from the perspective of the deep state, efforts to gain control over National Treasury may indicate a deeper movement i.e. an effort to consolidate and strengthen the deep state so that it may drive a longer term agenda.

Note that while the stated outcome of this longer term agenda may be professed as a transformative, equity-driven agenda in reality, yielding control over this agenda to the deep state is more likely to further entrench the close relationship between the political and business classes and result in deepening inequality and enhanced oligopoly (i.e. if the USA model of the deep state is actualised in SA). Misdiagnosing the driving force behind state capture as mainly resulting from the Gupta-linked network is to focus on the symptoms of state capture rather than its root causes. In order to remedy the situation over the long term it is necessary to understand what historical arrangements and bureaucratic orientations hep reproduce the phenomenon that has been described as state capture.


It goes without saying that the South African state itself bears no comparison to the weak or fragile states of post-colonial war-torn African states. It is a state characterised by strong institutions and organisations and the separation of powers within the state still holds (despite attempts to subvert it). South Africa has strong societal institutions – private sector, academia and civil society – that remain outspoken, active and engaged in holding power to account.

It is true that significant polarisation currently characterises the South African polis. However, much of this can be attributed to the parallel state activities that have been undertaken by organisations and groups such as the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s league, the MKMVA (ANC military wing veterans association), parties such as Black First Land First, and the like, who – aided by propaganda machines such as Bell-Pottinger and the Gupta-owned newspaper the New Age and satellite television channel ANN7 – have contributed to spreading divisive ideological rhetoric in service of a political project designed to retain power within the ANC. It must be noted that these activities have split the ANC internally as well, and many dissenters have voiced their objections, some even calling for the current President, Jacob Zuma, to resign.

It would be ludicrous to suggest, however, that socio-political polarisation of this nature rendered the South African state a weak or failed state. It is still the strongest state in sub-Saharan Africa. It has inherited the institutional memory, organisational structures and modes of practise of the Apartheid state and has struggled to shake these characteristic features in the new dispensation. Moreover, it has inherited the legacy of strong intelligence capacity of the Apartheid government and has, in many ways, wielded this capacity similarly.

While it is reasonable to argue that William Reno’s shadow state model – dependent on strong controls, the prevalence of a patron-elite-broker model that fixes deals and facilitates illicit transnational financial flows – may apply to the Gupta-linked network (as proposed in the Betrayal of the Promise report), to tender this as an explanation for activities that underpin state capture as a phenomenon in the South African state may be too much of a stretch. Indeed, one of the areas in which this model falls flat is that – to date – no clear direct evidence linking the supposed patron (i.e. the President) to the activities of the shadow network has emerged despite many whistle-blowing efforts, including the latest massive tranche of insider information that has resulted from the leaked Gupta emails scandal.

That the president escapes direct and clear blame may have more to do with the activation of South Africa’s deep state potentials. This would explain the self-organisation within government and the state around the President’s agenda a whole lot better. It would explain why he does not necessarily have to act and instruct in the typical manner of a warlord or strongman; he would have no need to engage in direct messaging and top-down command and control in order to activate the cooperation of the deep state. 

Moreover, the President’s experience as an underground anti-Apartheid operative and intelligence boss (however exaggerated) may well explain that his learnt management style may actually gel well with the deep state itself. An intelligence boss manages cell groups that are distributed, and who have no contact with each other. In contrast to top-down military styled command and control and intelligence boss manages through indirect contacts, messaging and responds to signals that may appear benign to others.

In complexity language an intelligence boss manages through non-linear signals, often exerting indirect command and control across a distributed network of cell groups – while a conventional military command and control structure manages through top-down command and control where the ideal is if every unit has good situational awareness of each other’s activities and progress. They are fundamentally different models, and the activities of the deep state align more closely with the former, while the activities of Reno’s shadow state align more closely with the latter in terms of strong top-down command and control (i.e. even though distributed cell groups would still be in operation they would be strongly controlled by the strongman leader or controller).

What was not adequately appreciated in the Betrayal of the Promise report was that the president exerts strategic control over a system that is much broader than the Gupta-linked network. He enjoys the cooperation of many arms of the government, state and societal institutions (e.g. media, academia, private sector, etc.). President Zuma may not be university educated, but he is nonetheless a master strategist; indeed he is reputed to have been the chess champion amongst political prisoners held on Robben Island. The statement made at the launch of the Betrayal of the Promise report about the President’s intelligence – i.e. “he wants to be a Dos Santos but he doesn’t have the grey matter” – revealed a startling lack of insight into President Zuma’s strategic ability as a leader who has survived myriad efforts to displace him from power. Indeed, such a statement was not only academically irresponsible and grossly subjective (some interpreted it as racist); it revealed a lack of broader perspective within the project itself about what the capture of the state actually entails.

Indeed, a singular focus on the Gupta-linked network, to the exclusion of other elite groups who wield undue influence over government, the state and the economy is unlikely to reveal the full complexity of arrangements and mechanisms that facilitate capture of decision-making in government, the state, quasi-state and private sector organisations and institutions. Indeed, it is a bit like the puzzle of the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant while trying to figure out what it is; if all you took hold of was the elephant’s trunk you would reasonably assume it was a snake of some kind. Squeezing the analysis of an elephant by drawing exclusively on evidence of its trunk is bound to reveal only a partial perspective on the elephant.

Implications for Study of State Capture

Understanding a phenomenon as complex as state capture – given the complexity of the South African state and its history – is not a simple matter of transposing William Reno’s warlord model onto the President and the Gupta-linked network and marrying it with a theoretical understanding of neo-patrimonial developmentalism. While this approach yields a valuable analysis, and a starting point, it will not get to the root of state capture as a phenomenon.

While there may be a mix of models at work in explaining state capture in South Africa as a phenomenon, it is important to recognise that the platform for more recent shadow activities is the deep state itself. Any systemic view on the subject must acknowledge this. In particular, the uptick in activities in the latter day Apartheid era deep state – in response to global sanctions – may well explain why the now vilified arms deal was so effectively hijacked by corruption and intrigue.

It is important to distinguish between the importance of the deep state and Reno’s shadow state in diagnosing state capture as a phenomenon. The program to exert broader control and influence over the deep state is about harnessing broad-based support for the black nationalist agenda as a long term political project, whereas the shadow state network articulated by the Gupta-linked network is geared towards exerting control in service of a program of wealth and resource extraction. In simple terms, the deep state is where the war is being fought, while the Gupta-linked network is where a serious – perhaps decisive – battle is being fought i.e. the Gupta-linked network may be battling on the front lines, but it is not the war.

Acknowledging the role of the deep state as a platform for state capture in South Africa, and the role of a parallel state in generating and maintaining an ideological and political project, is hence critical for any honest academic analysis of state capture that seeks to delve into its complexities. Moreover, it is important because it has massive implications for how remedies are formulated to address the phenomenon of state capture. For one, it makes it plainly obvious that averting state capture is not simply a matter of removing the President, and neither is it simply a matter of breaking up the elite and patronage networks that have gathered around the President.

These measures may, in the end, only yield a temporary reprieve from the phenomenon of state capture. Indeed, if another network and leadership established itself it may well revive the same behavioural patterns. This is not to negate the symbolic value of the removal of the current leadership and compromised networks associated with it; it would no doubt send a signal to society and the political class that democratic institutions are robust and active citizenship is alive and well in South Africa.

Yet while symbolism is important, it is far more important – when probing a matter as serious as state capture – to avoid lapsing into popular discursive biases when conceptualising state capture as a phenomenon with a view to identifying the areas and mechanisms (i.e. the networks, controls, functions and processes) that would have to be addressed in order to bring it to an end. It is critical that any study of state capture undertake to understand it in its broader complexity and avoid reducing it to a point where the study is in fact grasping only the trunk of the elephant. Indeed, it is entirely unlikely that such an approach can reveal much of any use beyond temporary uptake as a convenient narrative that inserts itself in the spaces where political interventions are being hatched.

What is critical moving forward is to apply the different lenses through which shadow activities can be understood (i.e. Reno’s shadow state, the deep state and the parallel state) and provide an evidence-based account of how these interweave to produce the current circumstances the South African state finds itself in. This requires delving into both the long-term and short-term history of shadow, deep and parallel state activities conducted within the Apartheid state and the new dispensation. It also requires that the new political project – i.e. radical economic transformation – be contextualised in terms of its historical precedents in South African history (in particular, the efforts of the National Party government to establish an Afrikaans business class using the state).

Understanding what latencies and potentials reside within the South African state that support shadow, deep and parallel state activities, and which have developed and been inherited through its historical evolution, is critical, as breaking the cycle requires that these propensities are dealt with at their roots. In order to create a new history a breaking of cycles is necessary, but first we have to recognise that what we see and experience in the present has historical precedent and is not simply the emergence of something new. To scholars and enthusiasts of history there should be a strong sense of history repeating itself under the Zuma presidency, and in order to break with that history we need to acknowledge it and understand it deeply, lest we merely offer up superficial and symptomatic treatments for a disease that we carry deep within our veins and our bones; treatments that distract us from the reality of our condition and eventually brings about our end nonetheless.

Note - 08 February 2018:

Since writing this piece, two key readings lend support to the notions of; (1) a the predominance of "deep state activities" over "shadow state" activities in South Africa, and (2) the need to probe South Africa's fraught Apartheid history to understand how "state capture" can so easily take root in current day South Africa. They are:

[1] Book (2017): The President's Keepers, Author Jacques Pauw: This book details the role of the "deep state" (although the author does not use that term explicitly) - i.e. the state security and intelligence machinery -  in understanding exactly how "state capture" has unfolded in South Africa. It is a great read, and puts the phenomenon of state capture into perspective.

[2]The findings of the Peoples Tribunal on Economic Crime that was presented on 08 February 2018, which stated that "the panel believes evidence heard regarding contemporary state capture, too, was just the tip of the iceberg", and recommended an "immediate investigation into state capture in all its forms". The panel made heavy reference to Apartheid era economic crimes - both by local and international players - in helping create the environment for the normalisation of "state capture". The Tribunal is headed by former Constitutional Court Justice Zac Yacoob.

[i] Kelsall, T. (2013) Business, Politics and the State in Africa: Challenging the Orthodoxies on Growth and Transformation, Zed Books.
[ii] Reno, W. (1995). Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone, Cambridge University Press.
[iii] Lofgren, M. (2016). The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, Penguin Books.
[iv] Sanders, J. (2006). Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Service, John Murray Publishers (UK).
[v] Sanders, J. (2006). Apartheid’s Friends: The Rise and Fall of South Africa’s Secret Service, John Murray Publishers (UK).
[vi] Van Vuuren, H (2006). Apartheid Grand Corruption: Assessing the scale of crimes of profit from 1976 to 1994, A report prepared by civil society at the request of the Second National Anti-Corruption Summit, May 2006, Institute for Security Studies, Cape Town.
[vii] Van Vuuren, H. (2017) Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Jacana Media, South Africa.
[viii] Van Vuuren, H. (2017) Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Jacana Media, South Africa.
[ix] Van Vuuren, H. (2017) Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Jacana Media, South Africa.