Research Group Leader: Mark Swilling

The onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 has triggered a new global discussion about an alternative to neo-liberalism, including a rethink of the role of states in the economy and the nature of governance in general. This has very specific implications for the way African futures are understood and imagined. These issues have been highlighted in South Africa by what is commonly referred to as ‘state capture’ – the construction of a symbiotic relationship between the constitutional and shadow state, presided over by a power elite with a long-term political project to retain power and ensure accumulation for a new class of black industrialists, legitimated by the notion of ‘radical economic transformation’.

At the centre of these global and South African crises, are choices about energy futures. Globally this is about breaking the dependence on fossil fuels and embracing the renewable energy revolution, and in South Africa the proposed ‘nuclear deal’ poses a major threat. Rethinking the role of the state and governance cannot happen in isolation from an understanding of the underlying biophysical drivers of economic crisis and the related hollowing out of democratic institutions as a new breed of authoritarian populists wrest control of polities across the global.

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