How Fragile Is South Africa?

In a recent piece for Foreign Affairs, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (risk expert and author of ‘The Black Swan’ and ‘Antifragile’) and Gregory F. Treverton wrote an article in which they set out some criteria for broadly measuring the fragility of any state.

There is in our country, for the first time in many years, a sense that the future will not be brighter than the present. Taleb’s fragility test is very applicable to the South African situation, as it gives an adequate framework for a summarised political and economic analysis.

An excerpt from the article:

Thus, instead of trying in vain to predict such “Black Swan” events, it’s much more fruitful to focus on how systems can handle disorder—in other words, to study how fragile they are. Although one cannot predict what events will befall a country, one can predict how events will affect a country. Some political systems can sustain an extraordinary amount of stress, while others fall apart at the onset of the slightest trouble. The good news is that it’s possible to tell which are which by relying on the theory of fragility. 


Simply put, fragility is aversion to disorder. Things that are fragile do not like variability, volatility, stress, chaos, and random events, which cause them to either gain little or suffer. A teacup, for example, will not benefit from any form of shock. It wants peace and predictability, something that is not possible in the long run, which is why time is an enemy to the fragile. What’s more, things that are fragile respond to shock in a nonlinear fashion. With humans, for example, the harm from a ten-foot fall in no way equals ten times as much harm as from a one-foot fall. In political and economic terms, a $30 drop in the price of a barrel of oil is much more than twice as harmful to Saudi Arabia as a $15 drop.

For countries, fragility has five principal sources: a centralized governing system, an undiversified economy, excessive debt and leverage, a lack of political variability, and no history of surviving past shocks. Applying these criteria, the world map looks a lot different. Disorderly regimes come out as safer bets than commonly thought—and seemingly placid states turn out to be ticking time bombs. 


  1. A centralised decision making system

We live in a country, where sadly many South Africans have a natural affinity for socialism, and favour the notion that it is the role of the government to solve problems and address inequalities. In this case, the basic ideologies of those in government, and that of the majority of voters conveniently align. Virtually all major national policies are decided by the top 6 in the National Executive Committee, the effective politburo made up of the ANC elite. The number one criterion when appointing ministers and other senior officials are loyalty, unbending loyalty to the president, and to the party.

Government is a very complex system. When its size doubles (measured by staff, budget etc.), the inherent complexity of the system doesn’t double, it far more than doubles. In this case, the relation between size and complexity is non-linear. To paraphrase the analogy Taleb uses in his book Antifragile, that of a car crashing, he asks: “what causes more carnage, a car crashing into a wall once at 100 km/h, or a car crashing into a wall 100 times at 1 km/h?” A larger government is more prone to be negatively affected by shocks precisely because it is more complex. There is a larger risk of contagion within the system, the dominoes are in effect placed closer together. When there is a shock, the falling dominoes trigger the rest to fall.

The majority of provincial funding comes from national government, as do most of the provincial appointees. Provincial governments have fairly little autonomy (apart from the opposition run Western Cape). There is no mass involvement in the political process for the average person apart from placing a ballot marked with an X in a box once every five years. In South Africa, we have no congressmen, senators or local constituency MPs to contact in the case of grievances. Hence, the whole government is more centralised, the dominos are stacked closer together.

“Democracy is the road to socialism” – Karl Marx

  1. A diversified economy

South Africa has never had a truly diversified economy. During the apartheid years, South Africa had thriving mining and agriculture sectors, with the economy largely resource driven. Today, mining has largely been decimated by government policies. Firstly due to the over wielding bargaining power of unions, and the reluctance of government to take them on, and secondly due to complex new mineral rights legislation (effective partial nationalisation of minerals) and BEE ownership quotas which have made it near impossible for mining operations to function effectively, especially in a depressed commodities market. This has also caused South Africa to largely miss out on the China fuelled commodities boom of the early to mid 2000s. Politicians seem to be more concerned about doing things in order to be seen doing something (fighting perceived western imperialism in order to ‘share the wealth’ with the people) without considering the implications, which often affect the populace the most in an adverse way. The same could be said for agriculture. South Africa is now, embarrassingly, a net importer of food, despite having millions of hectares of arable land, and having been on of the breadbaskets of the world not so long ago. This decline is due to 3 reasons, all to do with government. Firstly, farm murders are unquestionably an epidemic in South Africa (while perhaps not being genocide quite yet). The disgraceful murders (often preceded by torture) have taken its toll on South African agriculture; there can be no farms without farmers. Secondly, government is too intimidated to confront unions about violent strikes and ludicrous wage demands. Bizarrely, in 2013, members of the ruling party in government openly supported the violent strikes and did nothing to discourage damage of property caused by striking farmers in the Western Cape (as part a ‘make the Western Cape ungovernable’ campaign – which failed). Thirdly, land reform and uncertainty around property rights. Many farmers have immigrated to the US, Australia or Zambia because they want to be sure that the government would protect their property rights. In South Africa, there is no certainty surrounding this issue. The vast majority of land reform thus far has been disastrous due to the lack of skills and training of new farmers who are simply given land. There are talks of ‘expropriation without compensation’. This does nothing for South Africa’s food security.

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4 Ways In Which Government Is Destroying South Africa

By Christiaan van Huyssteen (@cvh23)

The 4 things that will lead to the downfall South Africa (if not stopped in its tracks):

1. Disregard for private property rights

Farmers and mine owners around the country cringe every time they hear someone like Gwede Mantashe or Julius Malema speak, because they almost invariably talk about things like ‘state expropriation of land’, or other things they are clueless about. Since Malema and Mantashe are both old school communists turned champagne socialists, they lack the insight to see the crucial necessity of property rights to any civilised economy. They do however know that they have to make the right noises to keep their supporters happy, and what’s easier than scapegoating some white farmer stereotype.

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Irrational Emotions Get The Better Of UCT

30 Years ago, UCT was the shining light of Liberalism in Africa, and the spearhead of the anti-apartheid movement. Today it has become home to a small group of weak, emotional and shallow people who can’t deal with the one thing you can’t change – history. What kind of weak, and pathetic person gets angry and offended over history, and a statue?

The only creatures known to throw feces are chimpanzees. And now we see university students behaving like this and boasting about it. These protesters are showing a complete lack of understanding about how civilised people sort out grievances. They seem to have no sense of decency, or concept of what constitutes appropriate behaviour. In most other countries, this behaviour would be unimaginable, and have serious consequences.

These ‘activists‘ (vandals?) claim to stand for something. But actually, they only really seek to boost their insecure egos and become more popular in their small circle of equally deluded and immature ‘supporters’.

They believe they have the self righteous moral authority to unilaterally decide what historical monuments should exist, and what parts of history should be revered/discarded based on the narrative they wish to advance.

Are their feelings that fragile?

One of the ‘side effects’ of freedom of speech is that you may at times be offended. In fact, you have no right not to be offended.

But this has very little to do with the statue, in fact, I suspect the majority of South African youths would not have known who Rhodes was if you had asked them 3 weeks ago. This is about transformation.

They catch-phrase of this so-called movement is the fight against what they call ‘institutional racism’. Ask them what they mean by this, or for any examples, and you are likely to be met with an irrational and hostile response for questioning their half baked assumptions. In fact, you will be shouted down and silenced by being told “you don’t know what it feels like, you are still benefitting from the legacy of apartheid” if you are white, or “you have been brainwashed by the oppressor” if you are black. Every time they shut down debate, they are showing their own arrogance and intolerance.

They may, at first be successful at getting things done, but the negativity that flows into what they say and do, and their unconscious need for enemies and conflict ultimately just create more opposition to their cause.

It is likely that in this case however, their sheer closed-mindedness and aggression will get them what they want (the removal of an inanimate object). They see themselves as being at the forefront of some brave new struggle, and they are so utterly certain their actions are righteous and justified. They are completely unwilling to broaden their horizons, or engage with new ideas (what education is actually supposed to be about). But this only serves to make them oblivious to the realities of how the world works. But the satisfaction they get won’t last long. Their deep seated resentment and sense of entitlement will soon compel them to take up another cause, however trivial.

The SRC is caving in, and showing themselves to be spineless when it comes to standing up for anything based on principle. But this is to be expected, since the only requirement for SRC membership is being popular. And the Ivory Tower of (pseudo?)-Intellectuals known as UCT management are exhibiting cowardly behaviour by facilitating these odious and odorous acts.

The really sad thing about all of this however, is that the majority of other good, level headed UCT students don’t seem to have the balls to stand up to these lot for the fear of being called names. This Campus is supposed to be the intellectual breeding ground of tomorrow’s enlightened leaders. Instead, they bring shame on the institution.

Has UCT become nothing more than a righteous bubble of progressive intolerance?

Disagree with this view? No problem.

*I write what I like

James Blunt Responds To Attention Seeking Politician In Stunning Fashion

By Christiaan van Huyssteen (@cvh23)

James Blunt said people laughed at the idea of him going into the music business

Photograph: Ken McKay/REX

Last week, a British MP launched a tirade against what he perceived to be too much privileged people in the arts.

Chris Bryant – British Labour MP and shadow minister for the arts:

“We can’t just have a culture dominated by Eddie Redmayne and James Blunt and their ilk,”

The ‘You’re Beautiful’ singer James Blunt responded by setting the facts straight. In an open letter:

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Obama Proposes To Make Community College Free

By Christiaan van Huyssteen (@cvh23)

A few things:

1. “Reform”

‘Tax reform’, ‘healthcare reform’, ‘eduction reform’. If these policies are always so good, so why the constant need to ‘reform’ them?

2. “FREE!!!”

In between occupying multiple foreign countries, killing children living in $10 tents with $16m predator drones, bailing out banks and paying for Obama’s multiple golf vacations, it is uncertain how this ‘reform’ will be funded. Maybe they will just print the money.

UPDATE:

From Zerohedge:

Yesterday, to much shock and dismay, Obama revealed his latest “noble” grand vision: provide a free community college education to millions of folks. Apparently now, far too late, even the community organizer-in-chief realized that with $1.2 trillion in student loans the Millennials will never be able to take their rightful place as the dynamo of US economic growth. What is Obama’s solution? Another free lunch. Socialist unicorns and Marxist rainbows aside, what will Obama’s “free” plan cost taxpayers? The answer: $60 billion over 10 years, according to a White House official.

3. “Community college!”

With students who go to real colleges not being able to find jobs, and having over a $1t in student debt already, how would subsidising students who go to inferior community colleges benefit America?

everything free

If you are against this, be prepared to be labelled ‘anti education’ by the loud and obnoxious left.

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