The international media has paid scant attention to what has been going on inside South Africa in recent years, apart from coverage of the explosion of violence and destruction in the summer of 2021. This is a mistake. Youth unemployment now stands at nearly 47% (with overall unemployment hovering at approx. 33%). There has been a progressive hollowing out of public institutions. Despite the Zondo Commission, grand corruption continues unchecked. Infrastructure is collapsing, ranging from the rail network, provision of power and water supplies. The country is now the fourth largest economy on the African continent, not the first, and sliding further down the scale. South Africa has been warned that it faces “failed state” status and being “greylisted” for tolerating money laundering and terrorism financing. A great deal is riding on the 2024 national and Presidential elections, not least the shrinking democratic space. This seminar considers the current state of South Africa , the prospects for real change, and asks the hard question, if the ANC is defeated in the 2024 polls, will it 'go quietly’? 


  • Mr Martin Plaut (Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies)
  • Professor Adam Habib (Director, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)
  • Justice Malala (South African political commentator, newspaper columnist and best-selling author)

This session was chaired by Dr Sue Onslow, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Martin Plaut is currently Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London.  He received his first degree in Social Science from the University of Cape Town (1975) and an Honours degree from the University of the Witwatersrand (1977) before going on to do an MA at the University of Warwick (1978). He worked for a year as an Industrial Relations officer with Mobil Oil before joining the British Labour Party as Secretary on Africa and the Middle East in 1979. In 1984 he joined the BBC, working primarily on Africa. He became Africa editor, BBC World Service News in 2003 and reported from across the continent before retiring from the BBC in October 2013. Martin Plaut has advised both the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the US State Department. His latest publications include Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray war, Hurst, London 2023 (February 2023); Dr Abdullah Abdurahman: South Africa’s first elected black politician, Jacana Media, 2020 and Understanding South Africa, Hurst, 2019 (with Carien du Plessis).

Adam Habib is an academic, researcher, activist, administrator, and well-known public intellectual. A Professor of Political Science, Habib has over 30 years of academic, research and administration expertise, spanning five universities and multiple local and international institutions.

Prior to his appointment as Director of SOAS, he was Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa between 2013 and 2020. He has also served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research at the University of Johannesburg, Executive Director of Democracy & Governance at the Human Science Research Council and director of the Centre for Civil Society and Professor of Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is widely published, among which are his two well received monographs, South Africa's Suspended Revolution: Hopes and Prospects and Rebel & Rage: Reflecting on #FeesMustFall.

Habib’s academic contributions resulted in his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in addition to serving as a fellow of both the African Academy of Science and the Academy of Science of South Africa. He also serves on the Council of the United Nations University.

Justice Malala is a renowned South African political commentator, newspaper columnist and best-selling author. Malala writes regular weekly columns for The Times newspaper and the Financial Mail magazine and a monthly column for DestinyMan magazine. He is the resident political analyst for and eNews Channel Africa. He also presents a weekly political talk show (The Justice Factor on eNCA, Mondays at 9.30pm). He is a political analyst at Lefika Securities in Johannesburg, and regular contributor and commentator in international media. His publications include the best-selling We Have Now Begun Our Descent, (2015) and The Plot To Save South Africa, (to be published in the UK in April 2023).

This event has been organised in cooperation with The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Collapsing South Africa