“Futures Are Never Given,They Are Created“
Eleven years ago a group of elders and industry experts sat down to deliberate on the state of South Africa and what its future is likely to be in 2020, if it failed to address critical socio-economic challenges especially related to unemployment and poverty, safety and security, education and health.
The Dinokeng Scenarios were convened by Ramphele Mamphele, Vincent Maphai, Graca Machel, Nik Menell, Bob Head and Jongonkulu Dungane to create a space and language for open, reflective and reasoned strategic conversation among South Africans about possible futures for the country and the opportunities risks and choices these futures present. The Elders pulled on the expertise from a team of close to 40 researchers who drew up three possible scenarios which they said were not predictions but descriptions of possible pathways into the future. The possible pathways were measured from baseline conditions in 2009.
Scenario One: Walk Apart
In this scenario between the 2009-2011 ruling party retains majority, crisis pact between government business and labour fails. Government expands its public works program to create jobs while citizens become increasingly restless. Government responds by increasing social grants. 2012-2014 sees the nations tinkering around the edges; cronyism and corruption in government appointments and tenders; education and healthcare deteriorates; a rift between government and citizens grows; government increases social grants and civil servants pay. The ruling party wins elections with a decreased majority. In the years between 2015 -2017 crime rates in the country increase; the criminal justice system becomes inefficient because of cronyism and corruption; investments shrink further while unemployment grows. Service delivery fails and alternative modes of delivery develop while shadowy forces become more powerful. By 2020, the cracks which began in 2009 widen; budget deficit balloons and service delivery worsens. Elites buy their way out and poor people lose patience. Gangs, self-appointed mayors and taxi associations rule local areas. A “strongman” wins elections, protests spiral out of control and the government declares a state of emergency.
Scenario Two: Walk Behind
The status quo in 2009-2011 remains: the ruling party retains the majority popular vote. The global economic crisis means declining investment, growth and tax revenues. Government commits to continued investment in large infrastructure programs, debt rises. Government tries to boost its capacity through greater coordination and training. It’s expanded works program creates more unskilled jobs. By 2012-2014 job losses mount as the global crisis bites harder; the government spreads social welfare net; it increases tax rates and freezes civil service wages. A national economic summit results in a Growth and Investment Accord. Election campaigns run on pro-poor platforms. Ruling party election victory taken as a mandate for even stronger state intervention in the economy. By 2015-2017 the government backs the winners by accelerating large infrastructure programs to boost development, the government suffers a skill shortage as it focuses on high tech SOE’s; improvement of skills through better education and artisan training is prioritized but the returns are insufficient. By 2018-2020 prescribed assets laws alienate business, investment contracts and unemployment worsens. The state borrows at high rates to fund growing deficits; elections run on the growth and redistribution ticket. The country gets an IMF loan conditional on sharp cut back in state expenditure – discontent spreads widely and government breaks down
Scenario Three: Walk Together
Starts-off with the bleak years between 2009 and 2011 where the ruling party ANC still retains the majority popular vote. The global economic crisis means declining investment growth and tax returns. Service delivery deteriorates and pockets of civil society take action over education, health and crime. The period between 2012-2014 sees citizens demand more from their government. Healthcare and parent associations proliferate the country. Government promises action against incompetent managers and civil servants with marked improvements in service delivery. The ruling party runs elections on a clean and competent government. A weak ruling party returns to power and forms alliances with other political parties. 2015-2017 sees an emergence of a social pact in which the economy begins a slow recovery but is unable to create job. A citizens charter is created, citizens work together with the government to monitor health, education and crime. Trade unions back measures to address youth unemployment. By the years 2018 to 2020 nation building is underway with the government focusing on core public goods, investor confidence is buoyed by cooperative governance, citizens require more accountability from politicians and opposition parties. Then citizens and parliamentarians including the courts affect change in the voting system so politicians are directly accountable to voters.
I will leave you, my dear reader, to make up your own mind about where you think we are, relative to the three scenarios. Especially with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on all sectors of South African society still to be accounted for in addition to increasing incidents of racism, xenophobia, racial polarisation, decreasing life expectancy, corruption at all levels of government, a judiciary and press under duress and a debt to GDP ratio of 81% or about 4 Trillion dollars currently.
As I have mentioned many times in this blog – I am a South African citizen; one of millions who belong to the generally undifferentiated mass known as the “public”. I grew up dancing to Chicco Twala’s subversive pop-bubble gum song “We miss you Manelo, Where are you” at birthday parties and weekends without any knowledge of what was going on in the country politically or what it meant for m personaly. Today I find myself singing that song again, wondering if South Africans can pull-together a “miracle” again in what seems to be a fast collapsing dream of economic, political and social freedom. I also wonder if we the “unknowns” who make up the public are brave or courageous enough to elect the kind of leadership which is committed in letter, spirit and in deed to a future many died to realise.
French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville’s once argued that democracy works best when it provides from the bottom up with red central state arising naturally out of a myriad of local governmental bodies and private association that serve as schools for freedom and self-mastery.
“Democracy is, after all, a matter of self government and if people are capable of government, and if people are capable of governing themselves in their towns, corporations, professional associations, or university they are more likely to succeed in doing so at a more national level” —- Francis Fukuyama; The End of History and the Last Man (1992)