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December 2017

November 22, 2017

As I write this, the full horror of the gangster government South Africa is labouring under is slowly unfolding.

Many years ago, as a national serviceman, I was a photo-journalist with Jacques Pauw, and so feel an almost comradely pride in his courageous expose of the extent of corruption in the Zuma administration.

The damage caused by corruption on the overall economy, and specifically on sectors like general aviation, is often not appreciated. As noted by Mike Gough in his column, people are just not spending money – and private flying requires lots of it, particularly as the Rand weakens in response to looming further junk status downgrades and the flight of capital.

The consequence of corrupt leaders is akin to a few cells in your body growing unchecked and metastasising into a cancer that kills the whole being.

The sad reality is that this cancer has become endemic, not just to South Africa, but to Africa, and is at the root of the continent’s problems. As part of a thesis, I studied corruption and unearthed a book by Jean-Francois Bayart on ‘The State in Africa’.

Bayart talks about the ‘Politics of the Belly’ and argues that African politics is largely determined by the struggle to accumulate riches, rather than perform a public service and develop the country. He coined the term ‘criminalisation of the state’ to describe the extent to which political power in Africa is used to gain control of resources for personal gain.

The most typical example of the politics of the belly can be found in the notion of the African ‘Big Man’. Bayart argues that a man who is able to use power, not only to accumulate wealth, but to redistribute it to his cronies, becomes a man of honour. Thus economic affluence in the form of conspicuous consumption represents an important political virtue.

Bayart argues that as African politics largely revolves around the struggle for access to, and control over, economic resources, the underlying economic activity is largely subject to the state’s political pressures.

Bayart offers some almost funny illustrations of this phenomenon in Kenya, Cameroon and elsewhere. Particularly notable is Cote d’Ivoire’s President Félix Houphouët-Boigny who lavished extravagant development efforts and scarce funds on his home town of Yamoussoukro, including the construction of a cathedral even greater than St Peter’s in Rome. The same goes for Zairian President Mobutu’s decision to build an airport in his home town with a runway big enough to accommodate the Concorde he used for his travels abroad. South African President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead looks amateurish in comparison.

This sort of hubris, if left unchecked, destroys state-owned organisations and indeed, the entire economy, as evidenced by Zimbabwe and other failed states.

The damage wreaked on SAA and the perennially failing African airline industry is a case in point. African airlines must look inwards to clean up corruption, rather than continually pressuring their owner states for more protection against foreign carriers.

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