What's Gone Wrong? by Alex Boraine

At the precipice

Craig Laurence is impressed by Alex Boraine's meticulously argued analysis South African politics


When a current South African political commentary carries the sub-title On the brink of a failed state, it behoves the reader to sit up and take notice. Even more so when the author is Alex Boraine — the former opposition politician, co-founder of IDASA and deputy chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a man whose experience, acumen and humanity have earned him serious credibility.

What’s Gone Wrong? is compelling reading. It adds a significant contribution to the mounting literature from political commentators who are concerned — even shocked and horrified — at the way the ruling party is running roughshod over the South African political landscape.

Over the course of several chapters, Boraine builds a comprehensive case to support his notion that we should all be very worried about the state of democracy in our country. He argues that much of the current ANC leadership’s approach to parliament, the constitution and the judiciary has been formed by years in exile, and that those years have not forged a culture of true understanding of democratic process. The ruling party cops a few grave hits, but parliament, the judiciary and civil society are all also subjected to the microscope, and all seem to wither under scrutiny. Boraine is as matter-of-fact as he is meticulous in his argument — more Hercule Poirot than Gerrie Nel.

By the time I reached the conclusion, it was with some trepidation that I turned the page to discover Boraine’s prognosis for the future. I thought I had seen glimpses of it in the preceding chapters, and that it would make for more grim-faced reading. Which is why I was a bit surprised when it ended a bit (for want of a better word) meekly. Boraine takes us to the edge of the precipice and then withdraws, perhaps himself afraid of what lies on the other side.

Nonetheless, this is an outstanding read from one of the clearest political thinkers in South Africa today. Given its brevity, it is easily readable before the upcoming election, and one would be hard put to find something more thought provoking to pore over between now and then.

What’s Gone Wrong? is published by Jonathan Ball and is available from Kalahari.com.



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