What with banking crises and market gyrations on both side of the Atlantic, you probably haven’t noticed what’s going on in South Africa. But if you think you’ve got it bad, spare a thought for South Africans, where things seem only to go from bad to dreadful. A called-for national shutdown last week by the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters, the country’s third largest political party, was a bit of a damp squib. But you shouldn’t for one minute think that its grievances aren’t shared by all South Africans, whose lives are blighted by power blackouts of up to 10 hours a day and corruption on a Homeric scale. The two, you might not be surprised to hear, are connected. Some local commentators think the country a failed state. Not yet, it isn’t, but it is in danger of going that way.
Things were supposed to be very different under Cyril Ramaphosa. I remember well the euphoria in financial markets that accompanied his election as president in February 2018. My inbox was stuffed with notes from strategists and commentators, every one claiming that this was a turning point for South Africa after the endemic corruption in the years of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. You would have had to have been particularly heartless not to hope for such an outcome. But I thought it very unlikely.