Time travelling to 2024 – Moneyweb, 21 November 2014

This column, a new initiative between Moneyweb and the IRR, has been conceived to provide theories to where South Africa could be headed. It will track the country’s progress monthly against the scenarios set out above and speculate as to which of the four futures is coming into view.

South Africa is facing rising unemployment, fragmentation of the ruling party and dissension in the population. Some would say that SA’s is on the verge of demise, while others argue it will weather the current storm and emerge stronger.

In April 2014, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) released a new set of scenarios for South Africa in a book titled A Time Travellers Guide to Our Next 10 Years. The book described the world South Africans would wake up to the morning after the 2024 election.

These scenarios follow.

Wide Road

In the Wide Road scenario the ANC won that 2024 election with a comfortable majority having been forced into a series of major policy reforms by the dire economic environment it confronted in the aftermath of the 2014 election. Following a series of leadership changes the ANC sought, and won, a popular mandate for real economic reform and by 2024 the economy was growing by 5%, the unemployment rate had fallen from 25% to 15%. South Africa remained a free and open society and was well positioned as the gateway into a booming Africa and a top global emerging market.

Narrow Road

In the Narrow Road scenario the ANC again emerged from the 2024 election with a solid majority and firm control of South Africa. However, it had arrived here via a very different route to that of the Wide Road. Coming out of the 2014 election, as in the Wide Road, the ANC understood that it was in terrible economic and political trouble and needed to stage an economic recovery to save itself. Gambling that it would never get a popular mandate for reform the party sought to undermine democratic safeguards in a desperate bid to force a series of conservative, Thatcherite, reforms in a desperate bid for economic recovery and therefore political survival. It undermined trade unions and forced the dramatic deregulation of labour markets while abandoning BEE and affirmative action policy all in the single minded pursuit of investment led growth.

Ten years later South Africa was growing sustainably at 5% of GDP and unemployment had again fallen to 15%. Economic recovery saw waning ANC political support recover driven by South Africans who were only too happy to trade a degree of liberty for personal economic progress.

Rocky Road

In the Rocky Road scenario a violent and corrupt black-nationalist regime bludgeoned its way to a narrow 2024 electoral majority. The ANC has fallen in with the EFF and the radical left. Property rights and the rule of law have been abandoned. The economy ended the decade in recession as unemployment rates hit record highs. Populist demands for increased state intervention amidst the economic demise where cleverly exploited by the government to destroy democratic safeguards. South Africans were shocked and dismayed at the speed with which the economic catastrophe overtook them – but powerless to fight back.

Toll Road

In the Toll Road scenario a new black-led DA has won the 2024 election with a small majority. The decade to 2024 saw the ANC simply unable to meet the expectations of its supporters. Negative political momentum growing out of weak economic performance, unchecked corruption, and extraordinary incompetence overwhelmed the ANC’s ability to maintain political control of South Africa. The economy has spent ten years in the economic doldrums with growth averaging less than 3% of GDP as unemployment rates hovered at around 25%. Now an untested DA government has five years to prove it has the policy mix to reverse South Africa’s failing fortunes before the political pendulum swings again in 2029.

This column, a new initiative between Moneyweb and the IRR, has been conceived to provide theories to where South Africa could be headed. It will track the country’s progress monthly against the scenarios set out above and speculate as to which of the four futures is coming into view.

The warning the IRR provides from the outset is that the world changes in strange and unpredictable ways. Not one of the great political or economic shifts of the past 100 years was predicted with any degree of accuracy. Examples stretch from the end of the Cold War to the global financial crisis. Remember that in 1985 PW Botha warned that he would not lead white South Africa down the path of “abdication and suicide”. Ten years later Nelson Mandela celebrated his first anniversary in the Union Buildings. Most recently American officials have admitted that they did not see ISIS coming.

Therefore resist the temptation to use short-term current trends to come to fixed conclusions about South Africa’s future – history suggests that your initial conclusions may be very wrong.

Frans Cronje is CEO of the IRR. He can be reached at ceo@sairr.org.za

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