Major Research Project

The State Capacity Research Project (SCRP)

Project Leader(s): Prof. Mark Swilling

The State Capacity Research Project (SCRP) is an interdisciplinary inter-University research partnership that aims to contribute to the public debate about ‘state capture’ in South Africa.

Ever since the Public Protector published her report entitled State of Capture in late 2016 that officially documented the way President Zuma and senior government officials have colluded with a shadow network of corrupt brokers, this issue has dominated public debate about the future of democratic governance in South Africa. Calls for Zuma to resign have intensified (including from within his own party) and the largest protest marches since democracy in 1994 have taken place. However, the academic community has contributed little to this discussion. To remedy this, the SCRP was initiated to achieve two objectives: (1) provide a conceptual framework that draws from the literatures on political economy of development, neopatrimonialism in Africa and democratic governance that can help to make sense of what we describe in our first report as a ‘silent coup’; and (2) collate a vast quantity of published and unpublished empirical material on the extensive ‘repurposing’ of state institutions to redirect rents away from development and into the hands of an increasingly confident power elite that intentionally operates in extra-legal and anti-constitutional ways. We agree with the intentions of the governing party’s commitment to ‘radical economic transformation’, but in our view this is being used as an ideological smokescreen to mask the rent-seeking practices of the Zuma-centred power elite. Our work is feeding directly into efforts to form a broad front of popular opposition to the power elite that is due to kick off in mid-May. One of our aims is to change the popular discourse from a focus on corruption to a focus on the systemic nature of state capture as the political project of a well-organised network that strives to manage what we call the symbiotic relationship between the constitutional state and the shadow state.

The SCRP is convened by Prof. Mark Swilling from the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University. The members of the SCRP comprise Prof. Haroon Bhorat from the Development Policy Research Unit at University of Cape Town; Prof. Ivor Chipkin from Public Affairs Research Institute, Wits University; Prof. Mzukisi Qobo, part of the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) – African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg; Mr. Lumkile Mondi, Department of Economics, Wits University; Dr. Camaren Peter, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University; and Vicki Robinson, independent journalist.

With funding from the Open Society Foundation, our programme is as follows:

  1. Produce our first report by mid-May;
  2. followed by a longer and more detailed version of this report by July;
  3. thereafter the release of short case study reports of each of the state-owned enterprises that have been captured by the Zuma-centred power elite;
  4. and possibly by early 2018 to produce a book manuscript and one or two journal articles.

In our view the South African case is just one quite typical example of a global trend in the growth of increasingly authoritarian neopatrimonial regimes where a symbiotic relationship between the constitutional and shadow states is maintained, but with real power shifting increasingly into the networks that comprise the shadow state. Understanding the South African context and challenge, therefore, is an important contribution to our understanding of this global phenomenon.

An Advisory Panel of international experts will act as a sounding board to ensure that we achieve a balance between academic rigour and what is required to make an impact on the public discourse. They will not be expected to attend meetings. They will be expected to peruse reports and publications prior to publication. Their comments and suggestions will be addressed in the most responsive and appropriate ways.

SCRP International Academic Advisory Panel:

  • Prof Edlyne Anugwom, University of Western Cape
  • Prof Ravi Kanbur, Cornell University
  • Prof Kevin Urama, Senior Policy Advisor to the President of the African Development Bank, based in Abidjan
  • Prof Desta Mebratu, former Deputy Director of UNEP Regional Office, based in Addis
  • Prof Rania Masri, American University of Beirut
  • Prof Brian Levy, Johns Hopkins and University of Cape Town
  • Prof Maarten Hajer, Utrecht University
  • Prof Maria Borgese, University of Lisbon
  • Prof Adriana Allen, University College London
  • Dr Jenia Mukherjee, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
  • Garry Jacobs, CEO of the World Academy of Art and Science

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