Between Neoliberalism, 'corruption' and Social Crisis in South Africa

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
Karl VON HOLDT, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
This paper explores the politics of democratisation and transformation in post-apartheid South Africa. I argue that South Africa, 20-odd years after the negotiated transition, is characterised by the disjunction between two intertwined and contradictory political systems: a formal political system based on institutions of constitutional democracy, and an informal political system structured around the politics of patronage, factionalism and violence centred on the struggle to capture rents, resources and state institutions. This latter is usually – and I believe misleadingly – described as “corruption”, thus eliding the possibility of understanding its systemic qualities and the particular socio-political and economic roles it plays.

Underpinning the contradictory entanglement of these two political systems is a struggle over the nature of South African capitalism – that is, between a predominantly neoliberal corporate capitalism centred on Western models, and a more localised form of accumulation centred on a murky nexus of state institutions, patronage and capture of rents through which a rapacious new black elite is attempting to muscle into a field dominated by previously white corporations and Western multinationals. This latter form is not only local, but has powerful alliances with corporations from the Brics countries, and specifically those with similar relations between national corporations and the state, namely Russia, China and India.

The paper will also refer briefly to similar practices and themes in the other Brics countries .