The securitisation of South African politics – a trend analysis

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The South African political environment is currently entering a phase that can be described as both politically dynamic and politically unstable. Since the ascension of Jacob Zuma in 2009 a clear and discernible process of securitisation has unfolded within the state. The so-called security cluster has provided the framework and means for the establishment of securocratic bases of political power in government and the presidency. By means of an analytical framework that will facilitate trend analysis, this article focuses on the South African Police Service and the various intelligence services as domains of securitisation in the context of the state. The concept of securitisation implies the overt, explicit and direct deployment of the security establishment to ensure security in general and law and order in particular.

Throughout Zuma’s tenure as president the general political dispensation surrounding him and the executive authority in particular have adapted to his unique style of leadership. Since the democratic transition, the consolidation of power within the ANC and the tripartite alliance, as well as in the regime context (the growing nexus between party, government and the state) were viewed as strategic priorities and issues of significant importance. Even during the early stages of negotiations in the 1990s the goal of controlling the security services (the police, armed forces, intelligence, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services) was viewed as a main strategic priority by the ANC. The aforementioned branches of the executive would later be united and institutionalised under the banner of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster. During Zuma’s presidency this cluster constituted his staunchest allies and emerged as a favoured instrument of political power. It is no coincidence that the JCPS cluster has been characterised by a virtually exclusive Zulu ethnic membership and/or individual loyalty towards Zuma.

Through strategic appointments in the regime context under the auspices of cadre deployment, Luthuli House has established political control over the state apparatus in general and the security services in particular. This has correlated with the establishment of a new security management model facilitated by the type of close party/state cooperation that was a hallmark of the Soviet Union, which emphasised institutional control above all. In South Africa this manifests through the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as ideological foundation, according to which the security establishment is given a dominant role in state and society. Zuma’s tenure as witnessed an accelerated fusion between the domains of ideology and security, and the resulting dynamic, has manifested tangibly in his management of the state.

Given these perspectives, this article sets out to answer the following questions:

  • What are the meaning and implications of the securitisation of a state?
  • Is the South African state currently being securitised?
  • What does the trend of securitisation entail?
  • What are the implications of the abovementioned for South Africa’s constitutional democracy and the consolidation of democratic values and institutions?

By answering these questions, the article aims to present an exploratory perspective and conduct a trend analysis of securitisation in the contemporary state and South African political environment. To this end, the following aspects are focal points of the article:

  • The place and role of the state in society
  • Praetorianism and the role of the security establishment in politics and society
  • A trend analysis of securitisation
  • The implications of such a trend.

As part of a trend analysis the article posits four possible scenarios, based on two variables, namely the autonomy of the security institutions and the rule of law. Accordingly, in a political context where the autonomy of the state’s security apparatus is constrained along with a high degree of rule of law, one would encounter a scenario of democratic consolidation (scenario 1). As the rule of law deteriorates and security institutions become more autonomous and unconstrained, this would manifest in scenarios of increased securitisation. This study identifies three progressively securocratic outcomes, namely political interference (scenario 2), the police state (scenario 3) and a corrupt and neopatrimonial state (scenario 4). The latter represents the least desirable outcome, where the security establishment is manipulated for corrupt and factionalist political ends.

The analysis of the South African political context reveals that political interference (scenario 2) is currently prevalent. Some elements of a police state (scenario 3) can also be identified, especially in recent times, although available evidence does not suggest a trend towards the establishment of such a scenario. However, it is disconcerting that elements of neopatrimonial praetorianism have become established during the Zuma administration. This is verified by the appointment of loyalists to key strategic positions in the management of the security cluster and political purges designed to neutralise opponents. It is argued that these developments have had the effect of undermining the institutions of state, especially when the interests of the “strong man” are threatened. Of course, this also serves to undermine democratic consolidation and the very foundations of the South African constitutional state.

The article concludes that the role of the security establishment in South African politics is characterised by political interference according to which a limited praetorian role is fulfilled. It is evident that the interests of the party, state and “strong man” are increasingly intertwined and integrated, which makes their differentiation difficult. In particular the distinction between the state and non-state domains has become clouded, contrary to normal patterns of democratisation and institutionalisation. This juxtaposition highlights a perilous trend of democratic deconsolidation in South Africa.

Amidst growing political, economic and social instability the question remains how the security establishment will position itself and what (or whose) interests will dominate its functioning. Should the political environment continue to exhibit revolutionary signs, as is currently the case, the emergence of a police state with a strong praetorian character represents a likely scenario. Alternatively, if the preservation of the “strong man” and his networks in the ruling party, regime and state becomes the security establishment’s overriding goal, then a form of neopatrimonial praetorianism is a more likely outcome. This trend is frequently observed in African politics, with Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo being well-known examples.

It is clear that the next five years will be a crucial period in South African politics that will decisively influence the trajectory of the state. In this regard, the national and provincial elections of 2019 will be a key barometer, particularly in terms of the role that the national security establishment will play in its run-up and aftermath. Similarly, the coming 2016 local government elections may provide early insight into the possible political trends identified in this article.

Keywords: neopatrimonialism; praetorianism; security establishment; securitisation; South African Police Service

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die sekurokratisering van die Suid-Afrikaanse staatkundige bestel – ’n tendensbepaling

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