South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change by Hein Marais. London: Zed Books, 2011. 566pp., £24.99, ISBN 9781848138599
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2013 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 11, Issue 1, pages 145–146, January 2013
How to Cite
Graham, M. (2013), South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change by Hein Marais. London: Zed Books, 2011. 566pp., £24.99, ISBN 9781848138599. Political Studies Review, 11: 145–146. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12000_116
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
In South Africa Pushed to the Limit, Hein Marais offers a hard-hitting and powerful polemic of post-apartheid South Africa under the stewardship of the African National Congress (ANC) since 1994. Marais assesses South Africa's progress beyond apartheid; in doing so, he investigates why certain decisions were made by the political elite and the impact these policies had upon the country and its people, while explaining why some initiatives failed to match their intended outcomes. This devastating critique of the ANC in power is a compelling read.
Set out thematically, the book explores a number of pertinent issues that have affected governance and society in modern South Africa. Some of the themes include the legacies of apartheid and the exile experiences of the ANC; the negotiations and pressures of South Africa's transition; the neo-liberal economic model implemented by the ANC; the mismanagement of health (in particular HIV/AIDS) and education; the failure of the ‘left’; and the very public battle for power between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. These topics are developed and analysed in turn, with Marais skillfully demonstrating how a myriad of intertwined and often complex factors and pressures shaped the political economy of a democratic South Africa.
The core argument of the book rests upon the pervasive onslaught of neo-liberal ideology, illustrating how and why the ANC leadership succumbed to the incessant international and business pressure to adopt such principles. Marais adeptly argues that the interplay between neo-liberal forces and the ANC's own choices has fuelled the rampant inequality in South Africa and resulted in poor economic growth and the decline of its population's welfare. The book does offer examples of policy successes by the ANC and a few solutions to South Africa's current ills, yet these are few and far between. The overwhelming message is that unless the government takes far-reaching action, if business power is not curbed, or if the organised ‘left’ fails to regroup and challenge the ANC, there is little hope for drastic changes in South Africa. Although some might not agree with the forcefulness of Marais’ denouncement of neo-liberalism, his argument is nonetheless convincing.
Marais’ penetrating analysis of post-apartheid South Africa is excellent and leaves the reader in little doubt of what he believes are the causes of its current problems. For anyone wanting to gain a deeper understanding of South Africa in the democratic era, this book is a must read.