How successful a state is modern South Africa, with what kind of staying power? What are the requisites for her success?
In a recent book ("Civilisation — The West and the Rest"), Niall Ferguson identified what he termed six "killer apps" that made Western society successful in overcoming global competition during earlier centuries, not a little helped by the fact that most, if not all, of these apps were crucially missing from such competing civilisations.
These killer apps (as defined by Ferguson) are "competition", "science", "property rights", "medicine", "consumer society" and "work ethic".
Arguably, a country endowed with these "killer apps" should continue to do well.
South Africa continues to score high on (nearly) all these counts, partly because of its Western heritage shaping its modern development, in particular the past 150 years.
Even so, some of that heritage may be in the process of being (heavily) eroded, if not being lost, something that needs attention, for are we steadily undermining our long-term societal viability?
In an even more recent book about why some countries are rich and others poor ("Why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty"), Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that "just two things are crucial to success: firstly, a central state necessary to maintain law and order and, secondly, a participatory political system which helps forge economic organisations in which all members of society can participate" (Book Review, Stephen Timm, Business Day 5 June 2010).
This is a slightly different take on what matters, but there is clear overlap with the Ferguson’s killer apps. The Acemoglu/Robinson reasoning, though, seems to offer an even simpler watershed between success and failure.
Apparently, no amount of economic planning or theorising will help address poorly performing states or prevent a slide into such a condition if two crucial conditions aren’t met: the presence of a unified state and the maintenance of participatory political representation.
On hearing this, some South Africans may feel reason to be satisfied that they have the makings of a great country capable of steadily enriching itself, on a par when measuring themselves against Ferguson’s killer apps.
For haven’t we got a first-class Constitution, a wonderful parliament, geographical integrity in which the rule of law presides? And aren’t we since 1994 the Rainbow Nation, finally united in a fully inclusive Democracy?
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