There is a lot of talk in the air of how violent South African politics is becoming. There is even talk of the prospect of democracy being superseded by a dictatorship. Is that a plausible prospect? How would it happen?

If such a scenario is possible, it is because many of the necessary elements already exist. Replacing democracy with a darker political form is not a question of creating something entirely novel but of rearranging existing pieces into a new puzzle. What are these pieces?

First is a tendency for executive power to bypass both the organs of state and of the governing party. This has been happening since President Jacob Zuma came to office. Much of his business is conducted informally and in parallel structures. Hence, ideas that originate from neither state nor party — such as "radical economic transformation" and "white monopoly capital" — emerge as if from nowhere to dominate public discussion. Second is a criminal justice system that has lost its independence. Both the police and the National Prosecuting Authority were robbed of their autonomy under Thabo Mbeki and have thus been unlikely to act against a sitting president for a long time now.Third is the seeping of a culture of assassination from the pockets in which it originated, primarily the taxi industry, into politics. Fourth is the presence of sufficient visible agitation among ordinary people to create the impression of disorder. It is from this fourth element that a path from democracy wo...

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