This post was inspired by a fellow GIBS alumni who sent me a link to an article talking about South Africa being a failed state, the writer of the article was referring to a presentation given by Founder and Executive Chairman of Sygnia, Magda Wierzycka, who was adamant that South Africa is already a failed state.

Article link:

Let me come out the blocks and say that South Africa is NOT a failed state. Since that is clear, we can breathe a sigh of relief and calm our panic and hopefully we can now engage with a more open mind and less emotions.

To be considered a state you must have authority over a territory and its people, that authority is obtained either through a divine right where kings and kingdoms are concerned, democratic vote or usurped in the case of military coups (an unfortunate reality for many African states). But this alone does not make you an independent state, you must now show that you have the power to enforce your authority over the territory and the people within it. According to Deutsch, K. W. (1986) in State Functions and the Future of the State, there are three levels of enforcement by a state, first is the enforcement machine; the armed forces and police, second is the decision-makers; legislators and ministers, and third are the middle-level civil managers who are charged with service delivery. What we can learn from this, is that service delivery is not done for your benefit, it is an enforcement tool to ensure that the state still has your vote granting it authority over the territory.

We are not a failed state simply because our government still has authority and control over its territory and its people, this is fundamental and key. All other definitions are a merely a derivative or extrapolation of the fundamental. That does not, however, mean that we are in the clear, the country is in crisis. Why does this matter to you as a business practitioner? Well, the buzzword these days is all about managing under uncertainty, and as challenging as decision making is during recessionary times, when you compound a failing state on top of that, it makes it near impossible to make predictions about the future. How has this played out in the maritime industry specifically? Back in 2017, the various Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Sector Codes were only in draft format and not yet aligned with the amended Codes of Good Practice, by December 2017 all other industries amended their sector codes and only the Transport Sector Codes remained in draft format and were not aligned with the amended codes of good practice. 2017, let that sink in, that is over 5 years ago now and the second tier of authority enforcement has failed our industry, legislators have failed to approve amendments to the Transport sector codes leaving the industry in limbo and open to the threat of foreign operators and non-compliant ownership. Our company continues to do the right thing, we continue to be proudly South African, we continue to be black-owned and operated, and we continue to employ South African seafarers. Where does that leave us? With a high cost-structure and unable to compete. That is what a failing state does, there are no checks and balances and the only way to survive is to be underhanded and break the rules.

Our vision was clear when we entered the industry way back in 2012, when we were young and naïve, we believed in the future of the South African maritime industry and sought to become shipowners who employ South Africans and play our part in alleviating poverty and unemployment. We are doing what we can, but at times it feels like we are boxing with one hand tied behind our backs. My belief in the vision of a South African owned maritime industry still exists, it has been battered and bruised, but it still stands. Business is not factored into the definition of authority enforcement by a state, but I think that as institutions, we must be the last bastions of “doing the right thing”, our country is in dire need of leadership, we can’t give up now.