‘Excessive ambitions and vested interests have led to treason.’

Those words were spoken by Russian President Vladimir Putin to describe his feelings of betrayal toward Yevgeny Prigozhin. Putin’s cadre deployment system is central to his hold on power and he had personally groomed Prigozhin to become his country’s top warlord. 

While Putin’s feeling of betrayal toward Prigozhin may be warranted, it is Putin who is guilty of treason. The ANC’s senior leadership is similarly culpable. The primary responsibility of government leaders is to protect the lives of their citizens. 

Prigozhin’s insurrection was pleasantly peaceful compared to the over 350 killed during South Africa’s 2021 July riots. The body count from Putin’s war against Ukraine is, of course, vastly higher.

The Covid pandemic showed that ‘protecting lives’ is an objective that can be broadly interpreted and abused. How many grandparents must be saved through lockdowns and school closures to justify a nation retarding its child development for, say, a year?

Putin has displayed such an extraordinary disregard for the lives, and life prospects, of young Russians that now, for the first time, his rule seems vulnerable. Polls suggest that the ANC will garner sufficient support in next year’s elections to maintain its residence in the Union Building. Conversely, it seems quite unlikely that the party’s grip on power could survive legitimate elections in 2029. Prospects for repairing the economy remain grim while the harsh damage to people’s lives compounds.

Youth unemployment crisis

South Africa has the world’s most severe youth unemployment crisis and, as economic forecasts indicate that our economic growth rate will struggle to keep up with population growth, the situation will almost certainly be worse in the run-up to the 2029 elections. Other countries go to great lengths to avoid high and sustained youth unemployment because it erodes political stability through crime compounding as employment aspirations wither.

Enthusiasm for the ANC’s black industrialist programme seems to have long benefited from its most senior executives’ routine visits to Moscow. Yet shaping a patronage network around an oligarch-styled structure is a recipe for inciting warlords. These risks have been manageable for Russia whereas our ultra-elevated youth unemployment makes South Africa far more vulnerable.

The central problem with making democracy work in resource-endowed nations, like South Africa and Russia, is that the interests of the citizens and the ruling elites are not aligned. The interests of the ruling elites and the general populace are tightly aligned when a country’s economy prioritises value-added exporting. The opposite is true when the ruling class can rely on commodity exporting.

Russia isn’t going to have a massive youth unemployment problem, as so many of its young adults have emigrated or are dying in Ukraine. The country’s political and economic wobbles will be exaggerated by warlord-aggressions but a substantial middle class should partially offset such influences. 

Bad actors

We have tended to use ‘mafia’ or ‘warlord’ somewhat interchangeably when describing bad actors in the taxi, construction, and private security sectors as well as in the drug and prostitution trade. But if ANC leaders decide after next year’s elections that the party dare not risk legitimate elections in 2029, then those using violence to pursue material gains will be much more inclined to violently seek political influence as well.

It is not just that the ANC is consumed by patronage and corruption, the party is very ineffective at creating or maintaining institutional capacity. A private army probably would not suddenly travel in a parade-style convoy toward Pretoria – guerrilla tactics would be more likely. But, as in Russia at the weekend, the ANC would likely be quick to make concessions.

To limit the risks of such a grim fate, we need to create jobs on a grand scale. The only way this can happen is by adopting the value-added export model common to the dozens of countries which have surged employment in recent decades.

Unfortunately, the countries we would need to export to aren’t members of BRICS nor are they authoritarian. Rather, they are Western democracies.

It has become increasingly clear in recent months that the ANC’s leadership has greatly overestimated its ability to maintain credibility among successful governments given its horrific economic stewardship. They seem even less aware of the consequences of combining massive youth unemployment with institutional incapacity.

[Image: 41330 from Pixabay]

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

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For 20 years, Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development. For over two years, he wrote a biweekly column titled “Myths and Misunderstandings” without ever lacking subject material. Visit shawn-hagedorn.com/, and follow him on Twitter @shawnhagedorn