Today I sent this to the staff of one of my elected officials. I have edited out the preliminaries and some sensitive information, but nothing substantial.
To the point: I am VERY concerned about the situation in South Africa and its implications for US national security.
1) South Africa is becoming a growing hub for heroin trafficking. The narcotics are produced in Afghanistan and, due to interdiction efforts elsewhere, more of the product is being moved via the Southern Route, which is actually many different variations on the theme of taking heroin south from Afghanistan to the coast and then sending it across the Indian Ocean. While it goes to different destinations, including the Far East, most of it goes via Africa to Europe. As this is evolving, more and more of it goes farther and farther across the ocean before coming ashore in Africa; South Africa is becoming a key player.
a) South Africa has very good physical infrastructure, which facilitates physical movement.
b) It also has good port facilities and commercial ties with the rest of the world; heroin and other contraband are sent via containerized cargo to distant places, such as the European ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg and so on, and because of South Africa’s extensive commercial ties and the fact that it is not known as a drug-producing country, customs inspections of that containerized cargo are less rigorous than for cargo coming from other places.
c) South Africa has the second-largest and most developed economy in Africa, including excellent financial infrastructure; consequently, it becomes a hub for laundering drug money.
d) The extensive corruption of the ruling ANC, which took a hard left turn politically in the middle of the last century and became heavily affiliated with organized criminal activities in exile during the Apartheid-era insurgency, facilitates all manner of illegal activities. It is so bad that South Africa has become an example of “state capture” – a term that refers to a situation where a government is used for private gain, including for illegal activities.
e) Leakage from transshipped drugs helps fuel the local drug economy; gangs fight to control local distribution, and international drug-trafficking organizations fight to control transshipment hubs. All of this fuels violence and crime, whether it is an addict looking to score a fix, or a war between rival gangs. This is addressed more below.
f) The heroin negatively impacts our allies. In Europe, for example, every Euro spent dealing with drugs is a Euro not spent on defense, giving the current regime in Russia a freer hand in the Black Sea area and in subverting Western democratic institutions, and keeping the West from presenting an effective and unified front against Chinese takeover in the South China Sea via bases in the Spratly Islands. Furthermore, the profits of Afghan heroin help fund jihad against our troops and our allies worldwide.
2) South Africa has a very real, very significant, and rapidly growing problem with crime. It is a murder capital; some jurisdictions are significantly more dangerous than Syria at the moment.
a) Law enforcement is on the defensive. They comprise a significant spike in violent deaths, and a relatively unknown but not unanticipated fact is that their suicide rate is also quite high due to the stress. South African police who try to do their jobs honestly and effectively are demoralized. They are in survival mode; any further stress in South African society could easily have a catastrophic impact on the cops there – they will certainly not be able to promptly turn the tide should the situation devolve.
b) An even higher spike, both in the rate of violent crime and of the violence of the crime, is the victimization of commercial farmers of European descent. During the Apartheid-era insurgency, white farmers were specifically targeted by the ANC’s military wing, the MK. This was a war crime. In the post-Apartheid era, President Mandela did try to address the Farm Attacks. However, post-Mandela, the situation has gotten far worse; reversing a policy that President Mandela had pushed, the government has removed the “Commando System” of rural militia, which performed auxiliary police functions and gave farmers an intrinsic defense capability. Furthermore, the government has deprioritized the Farm Attacks, going so far as to aggregate the Farm Attack statistics in with the rest of the high crime rate for many years, so the plight of commercial farmers would not be noticed. My own analysis of the situation seems to confirm what others suspect: the Farm Attacks appear to have de facto sanction by the South African government, and appear to be perpetrated by a government-sponsored militia, possibly tied to organized criminal activity, but definitely in the spirit of Apartheid-era MK attacks on rural farmers. In a country where “necklacing” was invented, the Farm Attacks stand out for their brutality and gratuitous violence. Officially, the phenomenon is downplayed or altogether denied; however, reports I receive via private means, including from [edited], confirm scholarly research on the phenomenon: it is serious, organized, brutal and well-connected to people in power. The murder rate of white commercial farmers and the violence associated with their deaths is a spike significantly higher even than that of South African police. To be sure, on average, whites are less threatened by crime; but white commercial farmers have what is probably the most dangerous job in the world.
c) Not in the news is the high rate of crime, much of it fueled by drugs, in the township areas inhabited predominantly by blacks. The white commercial farmers at least have some kind of mutual support network and an organized means of trying to combat the Farm Attacks; NOBODY is going to bat for the blacks in these townships, as their communities are plagued by violent crime and sexual assault, and flooded with drugs.
3) Amplifying this mix:
a) ANC mismanagement and corruption has really hurt the economy, taking the country backwards during the quarter century of their rule. One example is the public power utility, ESKOM, which implements “load-shedding” – rolling cuts of electric power. Another example is the destruction of infrastructure – criminal gangs literally rip up the tracks of commuter trains and sell it as scrap, and have gone so far as to assault commuter trains, killing the employees and the guards there to protect the employees and commuters.
b) The identity politics of the ruling ANC, as well as the more extreme identity politics of third-place EFF and the fringe group BLF, fuel ethnic unrest; this creates the atmosphere where Farm Attacks receive tacit approval, even as they are denied and downplayed, and has helped set the stage for the repeated outbreaks of xenophobic violence, the most recent of which we are seeing right now. Quite frankly, my information shows that various factions are arming for civil war.
c) Problems in neighboring countries further impact this. Zimbabwe went down the path of “expropriation without compensation” and took farms from people of European descent; this heavily damaged their agricultural infrastructure, but neighboring South Africa was there to pick up the slack. However, if South Africa goes down this path, it will devastate the entire region with the fallout. Nations in the region are now struggling due to the drop in the price of diamonds. Mozambique has issues with an indigenous Islamic insurgency, as well as with other unrest, and is now dealing with the impact of a recent cyclone. And so on. Southern and Eastern Africa cannot prop up a collapsed South Africa; rather, a collapse in South Africa will most likely have a domino effect.
Boiling this down, the situation in South Africa is much worse than we may believe, even by going out of our way to get news and information about the region. It would not take much to cause significant unrest which, in turn, could quickly spike into ethnic cleansing (as it is, the situation with the Boer farmers is a slow-motion ethnic cleansing with the Farm Attacks) and genocidal violence. This, in turn, could cause a more general collapse, famine, and a refugee crisis which could destabilize neighboring countries all the way up Africa’s Indian Ocean coast; and, it would take a US-led intervention to stabilize our key ally in the region, Botswana, which is much smaller than South Africa and has its capital right across the border. Implicit in this would be a similar stabilization force for Namibia, both to keep the problem from spreading, and to ensure logistic support to US troops in the field in Botswana as well as ensure that Botswana could maintain a degree of trade with the world community via Namibian port facilities (Walvis Bay).
In this light, reports that Zimbabwe is acquiring the Chinese HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system from China – essentially a “poor-man’s Patriot” – and of the presence of militant Islamic extremists infiltrating South Africa’s well-established and growing, but peaceful, Islamic community are just icing on a very bad cake.
In my opinion, this is moving in the direction of a Venezuela-style crisis, with the potential for a Rwandan-style genocide, and ultimately a failed narco-state kind of similar to Somalia’s experience – all along critical sea lines of communication and atop key mineral resources needed for world industry.
We still have time to prevent the worst of this. The ruling ANC has shown its sensitivity to criticism in the international arena. While we do not want to tell them how to run their country, 1) heroin trafficking is a legitimate international issue, 2) genocidal and xenophobic violence and ethnic cleansing will not be tolerated, and 3) considering that the American taxpayer is subsidizing South Africa with $510 million in foreign aid for FY 2019 – about $9 per person there, and (depending on the exchange rate and data sources) is easily one fourth of all the money that disappears there due to corruption – the US certainly has a horse in this race.
Please look into this – publicly.