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State capacity undermined by crime, corruption

It can be argued that the cable-theft syndicates form part of the legacy of dark leadership behaviour that has taken residence in the minds of people, says the writer. Picture: SAPS

It can be argued that the cable-theft syndicates form part of the legacy of dark leadership behaviour that has taken residence in the minds of people, says the writer. Picture: SAPS

Published May 14, 2022

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By Monde Ndlovu

On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected black president of South Africa. The moment stood out for many in the world as a miracle, and the expected descent into a civil war was never to be seen.

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The country beamed with hope, of a new day, a new moment in which the aspirations of the black majority would be realised in shaping a new country. The day marked the end of 350 years of colonialism and apartheid.

The moment heightened expectations that the day of freedom had ushered in a wave of better opportunities and that poverty, unemployment, and inequality experienced by black people had come to an end.

The new environment was characterised by a democratic system that was founded on the Constitution, free press, an independent civil society and the rule of law.

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A future, where we ask: Does the country truly have a future under the current political and economic climate? The question about the future must be asked and agitated for continuously. It is in this context of thinking about it that we give ourselves the opportunity to create it, and to recreate it.

The debate about the future gives hope and establishes purpose among the people, coupled with a love for the development of the country. The future is as bright as the thoughts and expectations we hold dear, whether they are plainly manifested is another debate all together.

The threats to our country are many, and yet particular. The World Economic Forum had warned South Africa that there were mainly five threats to the country’s progress, and that the issues needed speedy attention.

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State collapse, as the first threat and probably the greatest threat to democracy. State capacity has been undermined by rampant corruption, many policy positions and conversations that lead to little progress, and a leadership that lacks boldness in being decisive when it matters most.

The culture of cutting corners which is present in the public and private sectors, has taken root even in society at large. It can be argued that the cable-theft syndicates form part of the legacy of dark leadership behaviour that has taken residence in the minds of people.

We should not take lightly the impact of suppression on the behaviour of people, both the suppressor and the suppressed, especially those who have become blindsided by power.

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Whether it is price-fixing, competition issues, tender corruption, floating transformational laws, criminal activity, organised crime, these are part of the harvest of dark leadership behaviour.

The second threat is prolonged economic stagnation, which has been the case in the country for many years.

The continuous appearance of economic recovery, yet the lack of economic growth, with an increase in unemployment, poverty and inequality, has also led to some people considering criminal activity as a vocation.

The sharp contrasts of complete opulence and abject poverty are glaring for all to see. Where an economy produces wealthy people yet widens inequality. The third threat is failure of public infrastructure, which has been on the rise in the recent past.

The organised crimes of cable theft cripple the economy and cost the State billions of rand in repairing infrastructure. According to Rens Bindeman, who is a technical adviser at the Southern African Revenue Protection Association, argues that criminal syndicates have organised schools where they teach one another other how to navigate theft.

The State needs to tighten the legislative framework to deal the with criminal elements. Scrapyards form part of this highly sophisticated network of crime, and curbing the demand for scrap metal will need action to be taken.

The fourth threat is employment and livelihood crisis. The threat plays itself out in organised crime, the alternative ways of funding livelihoods become attractive when the economic system lacks the ability to provide opportunities for its people.

Even when the government promulgates a law against scrap metal dealers, if the economic system remains the same, criminal elements will find expression in other areas of the economy because without fundamental transformation in society, the environment remains vulnerable to degeneration of any kind.

The last threat is the proliferation of illicit economic activity. The shadow economy, which is fast becoming the alternative way of living, will take root in the heart of the county if the people remain outside the formal economy and out of economic opportunities.

It must be clearly stated that the legacy of dark leadership has opened the door all forms of illicit activity. The downright disregard for the livelihoods of the people, the blatant public display of opulence in the presence of poverty, in one of the most unequal societies in the world calls for leaders to restore the dignity of the rule of law.

Everything begins and ends with leadership. The future beckons, it speaks, but are we listening and learning from it?

* Ndlovu is Black Management Forum Head of Advocacy and Thought Leadership

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