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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

David Welsh Explains What Constitutes a Failed State and How South Africa Compares

The Rise and Fall of ApartheidDavid Welsh, author of The Rise and Fall of Apartheid: From Racial Domination to Majority Rule, and Paul Hoffman have written an article on the concept of a failed state and where South Africa lies in terms of their definition.

They say that “a state fails when it implodes, leaving only a shell” and then discuss how there are cases which differ from this definition. “South Africa,” they say, “is far from such extreme situations”. However, the article then looks at the “disquieting signs” that have led some people to predict that South Africa is on it’s way to failing:

When scenario planner Clem Sunter declared that after the Marikana massacre the chances of South Africa becoming a failed state had increased from one in 10 to one in four, a collective intake of nervous breath followed. Recent events in Daveyton and De Doorns have not served to settle those nerves.

What, then, is a failed state? In its terminal form, a state fails when it implodes, leaving only a shell. Max Weber defined the state as the entity that possesses “a monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. This is a vital part of any definition of the state, but modern usage stretches the definition to incorporate the idea of sovereignty over a territory.

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