The risk of a significant social, economic, and civil rights slide-away that could turn South Africa into the next Venezuela should be taken seriously.

In 2018, we were invited to address the Cato Institute in the United States on the subject of whether South Africa was set to become the world’s next Venezuela. It is a question that is regularly dismissed out of hand in South Africa as something that could never happen. Our answer in Washington was more guarded, however. We said that, should current policy trends continue – particularly threats to property rights, given their implications for civil rights and the rule of law – then the risk of a significant social, economic, and civil rights slide-away should be taken seriously.       

The subject arose again during a speaking tour this month that took us from East London through Grahamstown, to Port Alfred, Port Elizabeth, and Jeffreys Bay, where we told audiences that there is ‘nothing inherent in South Africa or its politicians or its history or its place in the world to say that it cannot be the next Venezuela’. Drawing on Zimbabwean writer and journalist Peter Godwin, we urged our guests to consider also ‘that no liberation government that came to power through armed struggle in southern Africa has ever lost power – the MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe’. And, third, that ‘there can be no doubt that there are political leaders in our country who despite the terror and the poverty, the food/medicine/fuel/currency shortages of Zimbabwe…see only one thing, that, almost four decades into power, Zanu-PF is still in charge, that this is a success and that maybe the ANC might be similarly successful here too’.

Too harsh an assessment?

Well, here is the ANC in 2019, in a statement issued in the name of the head of Mr Ramaphosa’s office in the party, responding to a perfectly reasonable observation from five of South Africa’s most significant trading partners that there are serious policy obstacles to investment:

‘The African National Congress (ANC) has noted with deep concern the interference by the Western imperialist forces like the USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland into the affairs of South Africa… The ANC condemns this dramatic holier than thou stance of these former colonisers and we would not like to relate to them on the history of master slave relations…. We do not appreciate a threatening and bullying tone…. They leaked their letters to the media, suggesting they had less than honourable intentions…. The ANC wants to be clearly understood that we will not be fooled into swapping one attempt of state capture and corruption for another! This is how we view the interference of these five countries, as just another form of state capture. The ANC shall not allow South Africa’s constitution and sovereignty to be undermined by these latter day colonialists.’

Consider further that the above was not an outlier set of remarks, utterly at odds with ANC foreign policy commentary, but very much in line with its recent track record. Take for example the chronology, below, sketched by my colleague Nicholas Lorimer:

February 2016: ‘As we mobilise our people, we must say be vigilant. You must see through anarchy and people who are out there in a programme of regime change. We are aware of the meetings taking place regularly at the American embassy…those meetings in the American embassy are about nothing else other than mobilisation for regime change. We’re aware of a programme that takes young people to the United States for six weeks, bring them back and plant them everywhere in the campuses and everywhere.’ – Gwede Mantashe, then Secretary General (and now chairman) of the ANC.

June 2016: ‘We have recently observed that there are efforts to undermine the democratically elected ANC government…they never stopped operating here…it is still happening now – the CIA is still collaborating with those who want regime change.’ –  Zizi Kodwa, ANC spokesperson and now head of Mr Ramaphosa’s office in the ANC.

June 2017: ‘We must be wary of countries in the North, particularly the United States (and its allies) as well as France in its former colonies, involving itself by military means on the continent.’ – internal ANC policy paper.

July 2018: ‘We are going to support them [the Venezuelan government], we are not going to let them die alone. If it is necessary that we bring our soldiers to fight against the Americans we will do it, we cannot allow ourselves to be dominated by the American administration.’ – South African ambassador to Venezuela at an embassy party to celebrate Nelson Mandela.

All of the above are in turn in line with the findings of a 2017 report noting that the ‘10 countries with the lowest voting coincidence [at the United Nations] with the United States were, in ascending order: Zimbabwe, Burundi, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Bolivia, and South Africa’.

In my report to the Council of the IRR, delivered last month, I wrote: ‘That these are and remain our foreign policy peers is in and of itself sufficient to raise very important questions about whether any ideological reform at all, let alone a “new dawn”, is underway within the ANC and the government. And that these are South Africa’s foreign policy peers is a warning of the type of regime that South Africa’s ruling party would have no principled objection to replicating here.’

The ANC does not come stealthily like a thief in the night. The threats many of its factions pose to our future as a free and open society are themselves all out in the open and freely expressed to any person or group who would care to look for them. And yet extraordinary levels of complacency, even outright denial, continue to define the mainstream commentariat and much of the media – from where we sit, a very odd phenomenon and one that leaves the complacent observer exposed to the implications of significant social and economic reversals.   

* Want us to come and tour in your part of the world? Get in touch with Nicholas Lorimer at or 011 482 7221 ext 2013 and we will make it happen.

Frans Cronje is the CEO of the IRR.

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Frans Cronje
Frans Cronje was educated at St John’s College in Houghton and holds a PHD in scenario planning. He has been at the IRR for 15 years and established its Centre for Risk Analysis as a scenario focused research unit servicing the strategic intelligence needs of corporate and government clients. It uses deep-dive data analysis and first hand political and policy information to advise groups with interests in South Africa on the likely long term economic, social, and political evolution of the country. He has advised several hundred South African corporations, foreign investors, and policy shapers. He is the author of two books on South Africa’s future and scenarios from those books have been presented to an estimated 30 000 people. He writes a weekly column for Rapport and teaches scenario based strategy at the business school of the University of the Free State.


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