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In this bumper year of elections, one of the most significant in Africa will be in South Africa.

Yet the issues confronting the country's political system and economy have largely been ignored in the international media. This is a mistake. Although South Africa is now the fourth (rather than the first) largest economy on the continent, it is still the dominant economic power in Southern Africa; stability and policy choices have a considerable knock-on effect in neighbouring countries.

The ANC, Africa's oldest liberation party, is facing its greatest electoral challenge since 1994. The South African economy and society are in increasingly dire straits: unemployment now stands at more than 40 per cent, with youth unemployment at a staggering 58 per cent. Over the past decades, there has been a progressive hollowing out of public institutions, and unchecked expansion of corruption. Critical infrastructure and the transport network are collapsing.

South Africa has been warned that it faces “failed state” status and being “grey-listed” for tolerating money laundering and terrorism financing; the issue of economic migration is also being weaponized by unscrupulous politicians, fanned by social media.

A great deal is riding on the 2024 national and presidential elections, not least the shrinking democratic space. As the likely ANC vote dips below 50 per cent (in sharp contrast to 69 per cent in 2004), the prospect of unstable coalitions at regional and national level looms large. This seminar considers the issues at stake, and the prospects for real change.

This is an online seminar, please e-mail to register.



Natasha Marrian, deputy editor and columnist, Financial Mail.

Natasha is an experienced political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. She previously led the political team at Business Day and worked for the South African Mail & Guardian.

Dr Greg Mills, director, the Brenthurst Foundation, and associate, RUSI

Dr Mills heads the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, established in 2005 by the Oppenheimer family to strengthen African economic performance.

With Brenthurst he has directed numerous reform projects in African heads of government, including Rwanda (2007-8), Mozambique (2005-11), Swaziland (2010-11), Malawi (2012-14, and again 2020/1), Kenya (2012 and 2020), Lesotho (2008; 2019-20), Liberia (2006/7), Zambia (2010; 2016), Zimbabwe (2009-13), Ghana (2017), Ethiopia (2019-20), Nigeria (2017-18), and almost continuously at various levels of government in South Africa from the Foundation’s outset. He also sat on the Danish Africa Commission and on the African Development Bank’s high-level panel on fragile states, and served four deployments to Afghanistan with the British Army as the adviser to the commander. He has also worked extensively in Colombia, and with a variety of African governments in both improving the conditions for peacebuilding and investment, including through the Zambezi Protocol on the natural resource sector.

A member of the advisory board of the Royal United Services Institute, he is the author of the best-selling books Why Africa Is Poor and Africa’s Third Liberation, and together with President Olusegun Obasanjo Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success. In 2018 he completed a second stint as a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, in producing a book on the state of African democracy, which was published as Democracy Works in 2019. The Asian Aspiration: Why and How Africa Should Emulate Asia (again with President Obasanjo and former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn) followed in 2020, which identifies the relevant lessons from Asia’s development and growth story.

Dr Ongama Mtimka, political commentator and academic at Nelson Mandela University

Dr Mtimka lecturers Democratisation and State Transformation, South African Politics, and International Political Economy at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa. He comments regularly on South African politics as a political analyst on national and international media platforms. His key research interests are in party politics, political economy, and development. Mtimka holds a Bachelor of Arts (journalism) from Rhodes University and Masters in South African Politics and Political Economy from Nelson Mandela University, where he also completed his PhD. He has worked in organisations involved in investment promotion, infrastructure development, local government, and community development. Mtimka has presented at international conferences in Brazil and two times at the United States of America. He has delivered speeches on the political outlook of South Africa for senior executives in listed companies and industry associations as well as in national disciplinary conferences. He is the Treasurer of the South African Association of Political Studies and its past Emerging Academics Research committee chair .

Martin Plaut, former BBC World Service Africa Programme Editor, Visiting Research Fellow, Department of War Studies, King’s College and associate, Royal United Services Institute. His research interests are African politics and economics, colonies and colonization, emigration & immigration. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea: Inside Africa’s most repressive state (Hurst, 2016); Promise and Despair: The first struggle for a non-racial South Africa, 1899 – 1914 (Jacana Media, 2016) and Robert Mugabe (Ohio University Press, 2018), with Sue Onslow; Understanding South Africa (Hurst 2019) with Carien du Plessis; and Understanding Ethiopia’s Tigray War (Hurst, 2023) with Sarah Vaughan.


Professor Sue Onslow, Visiting Professor, Dept of Political Economy, King’s College London

At this event

Visiting professor