Subscribe to the bi-annual report
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: South African Monitor by Heinrich Matthee.]

The securocrats step forward in the ANC’s hybrid regime

On 22 April 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced probably the largest deployment of military forces since the 1994 elections to support police in enforcing Covid-19 countermeasures.

Under Ramaphosa, who sometimes appears in uniform these days, there has been a clear shift in authority to the security forces. They set the terms for the lockdown and also influence which economic sectors should be open. [2]


The National Joint Operations and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) brings together the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and intelligence, and play a leading role in the Covid-19 countermeasures. NatJoints does not publicly account to anyone. Its finances are not transparent either.

“Right now, everything, whatever form of cooperation or collaboration, this is done by the NatJoints. They sit as officials. They work on a plan. They present to the [Covid-19] National Command Council,” said the defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, on 22 April 2020 to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence in Parliament. [3]

Political implications

Some securocrats will seize the opportunity to assign more resources, power and status in the regime to themselves. They compete with others during a time of lesser resources.

Ramaphosa will try to use the securocrats to tighten his grip on the various factions in the ANC. This strategy may work. However, the securocrats may also become more powerful, while Ramaphosa will remain where he was, strongly constrained by factional battles. [4]

Arbitrary exercise of power

Institutional checks and balances are currently often non-functional. The arbitrary exercise of power to show who is the boss, without necessarily successfully preventing the pandemic, and implementation of regulations that protect such wide-reaching powers, will remain risks. [5]

On 22 April 2020, SANDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Lindile Yam, SANDF Chief of Joint Operations Lieutenant General Rudzani Maphwanya, and Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube also briefed the Defence Committee in Parliament.

General Maphwanya stated: “While we are being provoked, law enforcement will not allow anyone to insult the President. We will react immediately. It is important that this is known”. [6] Yet, South Africa has no presidential insult laws.


General Yam stated that “the state is an instrument of government to ensure law and order is enforced”. He told parliamentarians: “You’re not our clients. We are not the police. We take instructions from the commander-in-chief [Ramaphosa].”

The Constitution, in Section 198(d) as part of the governing principles for security services, clearly states, “National security is subject to the authority of Parliament and the national executive”. Yam, as SANDF Chief of Staff, has a crucial role in drafting the deployed soldiers’ rules of engagement for their part in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. [7]

Patronage politics with fewer resources

Due to large debts, the sources available to the ANC regime for bread or patronage politics are already limited. The widening deficit and guarantees to failing state-owned enterprises will push South Africa’s debt to 84% of GDP by 2021, according to Moody’s.

Dondo Mogajane, Director General of the National Treasury, stated on 26 April 2020 that the ANC government is seeking 95 billion rand ($4.99 billion) from multilateral lenders including the IMF, World Bank, New Development Bank of the BRICS and African Development Bank to help it fight the Covid-19 pandemic. There are internal debates in the ruling elite, with some factions preferring to be dependent on BRICS support, rather than the IMF.

The ANC factions now control fewer resources. They may at the local level selectively project power and favour their support groups with what is available, also regarding food parcels. [8] Already, wine exports have been banned during the lockdown period [9] which will harm a key sector in the Western Cape, the only province controlled by the Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition party. Bans on the sale of cigarettes have benefited organized crime groups too.

Local unrest and uprisings

The next couple of years will be tough. Financial support for workers in the formal sector may cover about 75% of them, but excludes the 3 million workers who are employed in the informal sector.

Looting of trucks, sources of food and liquor stores have already occurred, and more than 55 schools have been burned down. [10] Reports regarding many incidents of unrest and violent protests will not even reach media platforms, but will have a profound influence on events at ground level. [11] High levels of instability will reinforce the position of the securocrats within the ruling elite.

Political culture

Perceptions in government agencies that robust displays of power might be required in some cases permeate the political culture. Certain government measures will be perceived by some groups or citizens as being too severe, or even illogical, and will constrain them at times. [12]

The state’s delivery systems are not adequately developed to handle current antivirus measures. Behind the scenes, a lot of improvisation will be required to make things work.

South Africa is more fragile than before. Especially Chinese, but also Russian actors will scan the environment in the next few years for opportunities to extend their influence among securocrats and decisionmakers in international trade.

Rules of the game

According to international experts, it will take up to eighteen months before an antidote for Covid-19 becomes available. This is a mere estimate, less or more time may be needed. No one can rule out more waves of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

As had been the case before the Covid-19 pandemic, the South African government does not have the capacity to maintain total control throughout all communities in the next two years. The autocratic dimensions of the hybrid regime will, in addition to the “more democratic” forces, come into play strongly, or even more strongly in the next twelve to eighteen months.

Thus, several dynamics will persist: selective political patronage, a one-party dominant political culture, a weak separation of powers between the executive and Parliament, as well as limited competence and capability in state institutions. A shrinking social contract with communities that do not support the ANC, the acceptance of forms of intimidation and even killings in politics, and high levels of inequality, social instability and violent crime will continue. [13] The media and some democratic processes remain influential. However, intervention by the ANC’s one-party dominant system in the economy will be reinforced.

Rapid changes

Political dynamics with a disruptive impact on the economy and business can be expected to  occur rapidly and in varied forms in the next few years. International business and NGOs will have to review or recalibrate their business continuity and crisis response plans with this in mind.


1.    Dr Heinrich Matthee is a political analyst for international business in the Middle East and Africa.













South Africa at a Glance
59 620 000 (mid 2020 estimate)
2.2% y/y in June 2020 (CPI) & +0.5 y/y in June 2020 (PPI)
-2.0% q/q (1st quarter of 2020)
More information: Click here!