My sister travels quite a bit around the world for her job. She recently remarked, when we were all together for a family gathering in Mthatha, that the Eastern Cape feels like a smaller version of Lagos. She bristled at the dirt, the reckless drivers, the people peeing on the side of the road and even on the walls of buildings, and the overflowing sewage and broken streets. 

For all of us, who have spent our formative years in a clean, safe and functional (as functioning as a limited and authoritarian place can be) Eastern Cape (former Transkei), with neighbours who were professionals and businesspeople, who were married with sane and calm family lives, this regression and decay, and indeed lawlessness, has been heartbreaking and infuriating.

This was more the case for me, I think, because I spent the first eight years of my life exclusively around black people, and the next eight, almost exclusively amongst white people in KZN’s private schools. In my head I formed the notion that skin colour (race) was irrelevant. Everyone is capable so long as they apply themselves. That’s why I think the ANC’s tenure as the ruling party hurts so much for me. The government makes black people look really bad; hugely incompetent, corrupt and lawless. Its  behaviour has seeped into much of the public consciousness. It has affected the way the rest of the world looks at South Africa in general, but black South Africans in particular.

Even as an avowed classical liberal who believes in freedom, I sometimes quietly ask myself if huge swathes of this country would not be better off with a competent and relatively corruption-free authoritarian regime, in the mould of the Asian tigers: the sort of authoritarians who would severely clamp down on lawlessness and disorder, and the crime and public indecency which result from this lawlessness and disorder. Then again, I am not sure where those authoritarians are to be found in South Africa.

It is a thought I have quietly entertained, alongside my bedrock belief in a federalised and devolved South Africa in a similar model to the Swiss canton system. What is clear to me, though, is that devolving as much power as possible to local and provincial levels is essential for those of us who want to be able to escape the tyranny of a centralised and rapacious government, hellbent on extracting every bit of patronage while doing absolutely nothing.

I’ve also thought it was a mistake to make talk about devolution so exclusively about the Western Cape, when a place like KZN could also benefit from it. This is especially in the context of a multi-party charter and a strong IFP that can fend off the ANC and MK effectively in a way perhaps the DA and ActionSA cannot. This almost exclusive Western Cape-centric way of talking about devolution almost certainly guarantees it will be racialised, and inevitably put off a lot of people despite the profound validity and necessity of this country federalising.

Also, why couldn’t opposition parties, as an election strategy, invoke the memory of how things were under Mangope and a functioning (as functional as authoritarian places can be) North West? Surely older (black) voters, who vote in greater numbers than younger ones, would feel an affinity with not only a functional North West but one that was rid of the limitations and dehumanisation of Apartheid? 

A huge part of the racial disharmony and animus in this country is due to the feelings of ill-will around not only a shrinking economic pie but also the decay of public infrastructure, services and governance. Not to mention the lawlessness and public disorder which have become so prevalent. 

While I do think that talk of South Africa becoming Zimbabwe is overdone and melodramatic, we are certainly in a perilous and undesirable place. If we are going to talk about future prosperity and even the notion of becoming a developed country somewhere down the line, we cannot avoid a real tackling of lawlessness and public disorder, and the resulting harmful socioeconomic and political effects. These will stunt our potential growth. 

We cannot become prosperous if our township businesses are at the mercy of gangs of extortioners, and if and ordinary people going to work and trying to make an honest living are at the mercy of gangster youths.

We cannot hope to have a thriving and job-creating tourism industry beyond the Western Cape when criminals roam free without fear of any consequences.  

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

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Sindile Vabaza is an avid writer and an aspiring economist.