Fragmentation of South Africa: Is the ANC succeeding where the NP failed?

Remember, South Africa as a unitary state is a recent experiment and the jury is still out to assess its success or failure…” These words by Lawrence Schlemmer, one of the foremost analytical minds in SA during the latter quarter of the 20thC are today far more relevant than when he uttered them in 1996 when we were enjoying a drink whilst waiting at the late Jan Smuts Airport on delayed flights. Having just read Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers I was starkly reminded of Lawrie’s words.

Lawrie Schlemmer

South Africa is unravelling…

I had the privilege of meeting Lawrie when he was a strategy advisor to the Urban Foundation in the years 1987 onwards. His sharp intellect and wit made him an impressive debater. He was totally independent – apart from his utter dependence on nicotine.

That day at Jan Smuts I bumped into Lawrie after hearing my flight was delayed and deciding to enjoy a glass of wine. Laurie’s flight was also delayed. He asked me how I was interpreting the situation after De Klerk took the NP out of the Government of National Unity. I was however more interested in Lawrie’s insights.

On asking him about how he envisaged the next 50 years for the country, he made his stunning observation about SA being a very young and still untested experiment as a unitary state. Remember, at that stage the Mandela magic and the relief that a bloody racial war was avoided, together with the warm feelings generated by winning the Rugby World Cup, the vast majority of South Africans wore spectacles that just saw rainbow outcomes. Ideas of separation belonged to outlandish groups such as the handful of Orania-dwellers in the barren Northern Cape.

Lawrie categorised the provinces as such:

  • There were three winning provinces: Gauteng, KZN and the Western Cape. They were economically diverse and engine rooms for the country’s economy. They had world class universities (UCT and Stellenbosch in the WC, Wits and Tuks in Gauteng, UKZN in KZN). There were balances in political power with the NP in power in the WC, Inkatha stronger than the ANC in KZN, and the ANC with 57% of the vote in Gauteng.
  • There were three provinces that were lost and in all likelihood with little chance on addressing the lack of growth, jobs and inequality. Lawrie put the Northern Province, Northwest and the Eastern Cape into this category.
  • The three provinces that could migrate to either the winning or losing category, were Mpumalanga (strong diversified economy with mining, manufacturing and tourism, but lacking intellectual leadership and a strong opposition), the Free State Province, and the Northern Cape. (Lawrie considered the Northern Cape’s forte its remoteness and sparsely populated regions: “No matter how dismal a provincial government in Kimberley is, in Calvinia and Springbok local dynamics would be of more importance.“)

Lawrie said the future of South Africa would depend on whether the success provinces (generating economic growth and diversity, keeping pace with the international standards of research and tertiary tuition and therefore the building of export oriented human capital) would be enabled to operate as engines for growth and modernity, or whether they would to such an extent be tied down by the centralising statist tendency of the ANC and therefore used as milking cows for the rest without any perspective that milking cows require very good pastures and care…

The 2017 downgrades of SA by the rating agencies, the slippage of SA on six international indices since 2007, all testify to the fact that the ANC did not utilise the dynamism of the three winning provinces to improve the overall situation. Even worse, Pauw’s book demonstrate how the riches generated by predominantly the three winning provinces were not applied to improve the economic infrastructure of the middle or lost provinces, but were mismanaged (even by SARS) and pilfered for the benefit of a few. Now South Africa is at the brink…

That day, waiting for late flights at the late Jan Smuts, Lawrie also asked me to repeat my perspective on how an ideology achieves eventually exactly the opposite from what it originally sets out to pursue (At one of the strategic planning sessions of the UF I had voiced my opinion and Lawrie wanted a recap).

In brief, Hitler pursuing through atrocities and war his ideology of a race pure German Reich, achieved exactly the opposite. In order to get its economy growing after the devastation of WWII, Germany had to procure hundreds of thousands Turkish Gastarbeiters who, today with their families, form an integral part of a multi-cultural German society.

The SA as a unitary state experiment was originally moulded together by the ideals of a British Empire where the sun never sets to ensure an uncontested British loyalty… by stifling out Afrikaner independence, having the mainly farming community impoverished and greatly dented in a war in which 27% of the Afrikaner population met their death.

That death toll wasn’t the result of victories on the battlefields, but in concentration camps where women and children of the two republics died in camps under control of the British. It sowed the seeds of Afrikaner nationalism: the ideology achieved the opposite of what it set out to achieve…

When Afrikaner nationalism gained the upper hand a policy of apartheid was pursued, aimed at securing the bulk of the country for the white population. To enforce that ideology discriminatory and dehumanising policies of influx control, job reservation, segregated suburbs and amenities were enforced. Apartheid achieved the exact opposite that it set out to attain: rather than white security, the position of whites (and Afrikaans speaking whites in particular) was undermined.

The next phase was the ideology that central state control would empower the African people through government control and manipulation. It would however not succeed in that.

Lawrie commented that such a situation could lead to growing autocracy and repression as was the case then already in Zimbabwe. The key question was whether business leaders who just had regained full participation with the demise of sanctions and university leaders with a strong liberal tradition would make a stand against governmental social engineering. If not, the slide to become a really mediocre Third World entity would be quick. If a stand was made, it could either keep SA together or it could introduce a phase of fragmentation: “As I say, the jury is still out…

How far we have come since that day in 1996 is evident: the jury has delivered their verdict.

  • SAIRR’s Frans Cronje’s most likely scenario in his Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030 is called The Break-up. In a stalling economy, an incapacitated government riddled by conflict and corruption, those South Africans (white and black) with the means to pay for high walls, neighbourhood security patrols, private health care and private schools, will become more and more self-reliant ensuring water and energy supply to their neighbourhoods (which could be golf estates, or large tracts of suburbia in some of the metros, several neighbouring local municipal areas, or even some smaller towns). Outside those enclaves, urban gangsters and autocratic tribal authorities will dictate the lives of the poor with corrupt state institutions working in cahoots with them.Frans Cronje
  • OUTA’s call for boycotting the e-toll fees was the first indication…  The glue that held SA together under British imperialism, Afrikaner nationalism and the 1994 democratic phase, were respect for the authority of the state and a willingness to pay taxes. The ANC administration fundamentally undermined trust and respect in Government and public service delivery (as the wave of service protests indicate). What is worse: through corruption and inefficient (often plain nonsensical) policies and strategies there is a simmering reluctance to pay taxes that so easily lare applied by Government for in illegal procurement practices or bailing out the SAA for the umpteenth time.


If the shortfall in the fiscus is going to be joined by either delay of tax payments or by corporates paying VAT into an independent trust fund only to be released to SARS once Government implements Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations on an independently appointed commission on State Capture, the Break-up scenario could accelerate.

Could it just be that the ANC that utterly rejected the fragmentation of South Africa into numerous homelands, will through its mal-governance trigger the fragmentation that Lawrie had considered a possibility? It would be an ironic about-turn of what it set out to achieve… and another dismal failure of ideology driven manipulation.

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