The Watch On The Limpopo

The Watch On The Limpopo

by David Archibald, author of Australia’s Defence (Connor Court)

16 March 2016


In 1977, a South African by the name of R.W. Johnson published a book entitled “How Long Will South Africa Survive?” He thought the country’s apartheid system was unsustainable and gave it 15 years. Apartheid duly ended in 1994.

Another 21 years on from the end of apartheid and Mr Johnson published another book with the same title. This time he gives the country two years (from May 2015), with its demise due to rampant corruption by the African National Congress (ANC) party that runs the country.

There are a number of failed states now but none that are important. If South Africa failed as a state, it would be missed. Among other things, it produces 68% of the world’s platinum.

If South Africa is a failing state, that fact should be evident in statistics. Let’s start with the country’s HIV rate which is 13.6% in blacks and 0.3% in whites. In the 15 to 49 year old age group, the incidence is 16.6% of the population. South African life expectancy fell from 62 years in 1992 to 51 years in 2006. It is now 56 years.

HIV isn’t the killer it once was because of antiretroviral drugs. Provision of these drugs costs the South African government US$1 billion per annum and a further $0.5 billion from donor countries. There are localised hotspots of higher infection rates with some schools in the Natal province having 28% of schoolgirls HIV-positive.

The HIV rate is a Sword of Damocles hanging over South Africa, in that if the government broke down to the extent that the antiretroviral drugs weren’t distributed, then the black population growth rate would go negative. It is currently 1.6% per annum. Of HIV-positive mothers, one quarter of the babies they bear is infected with the virus.

One of the symptoms of a failing state is that the government spends money more readily on the here-and-now rather than on long term maintenance. The national power generator, Eskom, started experiencing a higher rate of equipment failure a few years ago and resorted to load shedding. The situation has improved recently and Eskom is planning more generation capacity.

With respect to population, the following table shows household income in Rand, percentage of population and population growth rate by the four racial groups recognized in South Africa:

Average Household Income Percentage of Population Population Growth Rate
Black 60,600 80.5% 1.6%
Coloured 251,500 8.8% 0.9%
White 365,000 7.9% -0.2%
Asian 251,000 2.5% 1.2%

Most of the whites that were going to leave South Africa have left. On the current population trajectory of the racial groups, whites will fall from the current 8.3% of the population to 6.0% in 2035.

A country that can’t feed itself will find its existence becoming increasingly precarious. How South Africa shapes up in terms of grain production is shown in this chart:


To make the stuff that white people eat, bread, South Africa is now importing more than half its wheat. The country tends to import more corn when droughts impinge upon domestic production.

The staple diet of black South Africans used to be sorghum. It is now corn and that has caused an epidemic of squamous carcinoma of the oesophagus. This is caused by Fusarium fungi that grow freely on corn, producing fumonisins, which reduce nitrates to nitrites and synthesise cancer-producing nitrosamines. Fusarium fungi do not grow well on sorghum, with the production of fumonisin from sorghum being two orders of magnitude lower than from corn.

If a country was going backwards, it should show up in its income statistics. The following chart shows South African GDP per capita in 2010 US dollars along with some other African countries as far north as Kenya:


Incomes have risen in South Africa over the last ten years. Angola has enjoyed the benefit of some large offshore oilfield developments. In most of southern Africa, increased national income has been offset by increased population growth with the result that the per capita income increase has been muted.

Income growth may have been flat but population growth continues with doubling times of 25 to 30 years. Given that Africa is already a net food importer, the implication is that the population growth will be fed by imports. If it can last that long, Africa in 25 years will be like Egypt today — with half its food grown at home and half imported.

That effect is shown in the following chart of wheat imports for some African countries from 1960. Over the last 20 years the average annual growth rate in wheat imports has been 9%. If that rate continues for another 20 years, these few countries will be importing 48 million tonnes per annum which is just under a third of the current world export wheat market. Africa is playing a game of musical chairs which will end in tears. South Africa will not be immune.


With HIV under control though never to be cured, the power grid stabilized and incomes rising, it is hard to see South Africa staying on schedule for collapse by mid-2017, per Mr Johnson’s prediction.

As per Napoleon’s dictum that the moral is to the physical as three is to one, moral and ethical factors are also important if a country is to hold together as a shared enterprise based on common values. Nelson Mandela was considered by some to be a saintly figure though he was quite happy to sing about killing whites.

With the passage of years, electronic recording of such things has improved greatly, as evinced in this video of the current South African President, Jacob Zuma, singing the same song. Can a country last if its leadership keeps talking about killing its most productive citizens? We are going to find out.