Over the weekend President Cyril Ramaphosa had to hastily leave a stadium in North West when mine workers turned angry while listening to the President address them. After Ramaphosa began his speech, many in the crowd at the Workers’ Day rally could be heard chanting “He must go”, according to News24.

Ramaphosa was a founder and former General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. This hostile reception shows how much the country’s politics have changed. His being told to “go” by members of one leg of the “tripartite alliance” (made up of the ANC, Communist Party, and labour unions) is a low point for the party.

“We cannot allow President Ramaphosa to come here and to speak to us as if we are happy and if we love him. We must show him that we are not happy,” said a trade unionist at the rally, according to News24.


A major source of unhappiness of the gold miners who were at the rally was that Sibanye-Stillwater had not granted them a R1000 monthly raise.

If the country was growing and jobs were being created, it is doubtful that Ramaphosa would have had such a hostile reception last Sunday. There might well have been an element of rivalry between the Radical Economic Transformation and the Ramaphosa factions playing out behind the incident. But even if this was the case, it was a display of greatly diminished presidential authority and disrespect for a former trade union leader. 

Back in 2017, before he became President, Ramaphosa was cheered at a workers’ rally. At another rally on the same day, then President Jacob Zuma was booed as allegations mounted against him.

On Sunday the shouts of “go” were probably mostly about the wage demands of the miners at the rally, but without lack of faith in ANC leadership, poor service delivery, and a general deep dissatisfaction about unemployment and quality of life and diminished hopes, it is doubtful they would have driven the President out of the stadium. The incident also showed the lack of authority of union leaders.

Dipping into chaos

This and much else reflects a general and widespread feeling that the country is in crisis and dipping into chaos. It is a combination of factors largely around ANC misrule that has brought this on. It is also the unease about the rise of groups that could play an increasing role as vigilantes in the absence of a well-managed state.

Continued and worsening load-shedding is a major factor behind the growing sense of unease and crisis. As Eskom is state-owned and run, whenever the lights go out, it is a reminder that the government and party are unable to do their job.

Last week former President Kgalema Motlanthe, who has managed to maintain respect by being above the political fray, warned in an interview with the Financial Mail of “an environment characterised by anarchy”. And former DA leader Mmusi Maimane wrote in City Press on Sunday about “Why we are Gatvol”. Motlanthe said much of what we already know about rising unrest, the breakdown in the rule of law, poor capacity in the civil service, and lack of delivery.

But why is there this mounting feeling of crisis now?

Record unemployment

One reason might be that after our long Covid-19 lockdown, unemployment is continuing its rise to new record levels every quarter, the economy is not growing nearly fast enough, load shedding is worsening, and the government remains adrift.

Government cannot deliver at the most basic level. It struggles to provide security, decent education and healthcare, deliver documents like drivers’ licenses and passports in a timely manner, or provide rapid help to those affected by the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal. Rail lines have been ripped up and stolen across Gauteng.

Citizens are having to endlessly make up for state failure. They have provided their own security for many years and are increasingly having to provide their own power to make up for Eskom’s failure. The rich and even the lower middle class send their kids to private schools. And some areas are even having to provide their own fire-fighting services due to collapsing fire services.

All this feeds on itself to reinforce the idea that the country is seriously adrift.

And things could get more chaotic. If we do enter a period of stagflation – rising prices combined with slow growth  ̶  and if unemployment increases, much could be at risk. 

Declining support

The declining support for the dominant party has to translate into a decline in the overall political authority of government and the party. The ANC only received 46 percent of the vote in last year’s local government elections. Although the voter turnout was only 30 percent, if the direction of travel is maintained it could point to an ANC defeat and a coalition government at the national elections in 2024.

The decline of the ANC is giving political entrepreneurs a big opening. In the absence of an overwhelmingly dominant party, a system of proportional representation can mean a multitude of smaller parties emerge and along with that, coalition governments. In 2024 it is not entirely impossible that we may find ourselves ruled by a coalition either with or without the ANC. This era of coalitions has to make for more unruly and unstable politics.

A weakened ANC stimulates new movements and parties, helping create a potentially more volatile political environment. It is doubtful that Operation Dudula (meaning ‘push back’ in Zulu), the anti-immigration group, would operate in such a militant and brazen manner if the ANC had greater authority. The leader of Operation Dudula, Nhlanhla “Lux” Mohlauli, achieved his high public profile last year when he led an armed group to defend a Soweto mall against looters during the riots.

Mohlauli, who is well spoken and charismatic, could easily launch a political party, should he wish to do so at some stage. He is the most prominent person to have emerged from the present chaos, but others with narrow and not necessarily democratic concerns could also be given an impetus in the current climate. 

Gold vein

Operation Dudula and parties with strong anti-immigration stands have struck a gold vein, precisely because of the strong feeling that the government does not have immigration under control, because it has little else under control.

Having groups such as these demanding that people show their papers can only take place where there is no other credible authority. The Economic Freedom Fighters have also climbed aboard the anti-immigrant bandwagon and demanded that restaurants provide lists of employees and their citizenship. It is not clear where this ends. 

Against this growing instability, the private sector manages to operate efficiently and helps prevent the country from falling into paralysis. But government is doing much to handicap the one source of growth and efficiency in the country, with its ambitions for a National Health Insurance scheme which would drive away doctors, greater protectionism which would drive up prices, more stringent empowerment regulations, restrictions on the trading of foreigners, threats of expropriation without compensation, and prescribed assets.

Should the ANC achieve its ambitions, we will really know what crisis means – shortages, queues, greater joblessness, and a real breakdown of government.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance financial journalist. His articles have appeared on DefenceWeb, Politicsweb, as well as in a number of overseas publications. Jonathan has also worked on Business Day and as a TV and radio reporter and newsreader.