South Africa could become a “failed state” but has yet to reach that point, a senior official of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has said.
The admission by ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula comes as South Africa experiences power cuts, known as load-shedding, of up to 10 hours a day.
“This load-shedding has just made a mess of our country,” he told the BBC’s HARDtalk programme.
The power cuts have worsened South Africa’s economic crisis.
The country is also battling high levels of corruption, all of which has damaged confidence in the ANC government.
“If certain things are not resolved, we will become a failed state, but we are not journeying towards that direction,” Mr Mbalula said in an exclusive interview with BBC HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur.
“South Africa is undergoing challenges like many other countries but I think to put it into the category of a failed state is an exaggeration,” he added.
While external forces such as global economics, the impact of Covid and the war in Ukraine had all played a role in battering South Africa’s economy, blame also lay partly with “some of our own weaknesses in terms of managing the economy well”, Mr Mbalula acknowledged.
South Africa has an official unemployment rate of about 33%, one of the highest in the world.
One in two young South Africans is unemployed and 60% are living under the poverty line.
Yet Mr Mbalula maintained the country was “recovering well” and defended the ANC’s economic record.
The party took power in 1994, following the end of the racist system of apartheid.
“We have been able to cushion our people from the worst,” he said, after a legacy of “300 years of deprivation and a mismanaged country and economy”.
But he admitted the power crisis was the ANC government’s “Achilles heel”.
According to South Africa’s central bank, it is costing the country at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP).
“We can’t afford that,” Mr Mbalula said.
With elections due next year, the continued blackouts could have seismic political consequences for the ruling party.
“It will affect the fortunes of the ANC to receive just an outright majority… if it is not dealt with decisively,” he said.
South Africa’s state-owned power utility Eskom has $26bn (£21bn) of debt, old infrastructure, and power stations that do not work properly.
It has led to South Africa’s worst-ever power crisis, and Eskom has warned that the situation could worsen in the winter months of July and August.
Watch the full interview on Tuesday 23 May 2023 on BBC News and on BBC iPlayer for UK audiences. It will be available to listen to on BBC World Service Radio on Wednesday 24 May 2023.