/ 25 February 2009

Where will SA be in 2025?

Possibly one of the finest public documents yet published, the 2025 Scenarios paint three states of our nation in 16 years. The first is a business-as-usual nation where the country atrophies and divisions grow, the second is an ideal where we leverage our strengths to end the ravages of apartheid, while the third is a dog-eat-dog world of a privileged elite with a large underclass.

Lucidly written and dispassionately honest, it’s a must-read for any interested South African citizen or South Africa watcher. It is a humorous document with none of the turgidity of state documents. Each scenario contains the story of a fictional young South African born in 1994 and who, by 2025, is a young adult 31 years old.

Their stories tell a tale of what life is like in a South Africa of the future.

One of the keys to the successful transition of South Africa from apartheid to democracy was in the effective use of scenarios such as the Mont Fleur scenarios. They plotted what would have happened if South Africa had nationalised assets and industries and implemented the socialist policies then popular within the African National Congress.

Through the process, the future ruling party adopted the mixed-economy model and dropped nationalisation. It also institutionalised joint decision-making now practised, with varying degrees of success, in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) as well as the various presidential working groups.

A new set of scenarios commissioned by Old Mutual is to be launched in the next month and will doubtless lead to a great debate about where the country is headed. The Mail & Guardian will keep tracking the scenarios’ processes.

Each scenario is globally focused and projects a substantially different geopolitical stage come 2025. Brazil, India and China (by acronym, the Bric nations) have come to dominate, taking over from the United States and Europe. (Earlier this year Germany was knocked from its perch in the top three superpowers by China, so it is a likely scenario.) In each scenario sustainability is a key political question as climate adaptation and energy usage are determinants of national wellbeing.

Efficiency (or the lack thereof) is a thread running through the scenarios as well as the role of the state. Corruption and class are evergreen determinants of the future and are likely to remain important, possibly forever. In each scenario the political landscape is predicted to change, though the ANC remains a constant.

Not yet Uhuru
Taken from the song by Letta Mbulu, who was inspired by Ajuma Oginga Odinga — the first vice-president of independent Kenya who argued that in post-colonial Africa one form of oppression had merely been exchanged for another. It was not yet uhuru, not yet freedom.

In this scenario the post-2009 election South Africa adopted a business-as-usual position on the economy. It entrusted employment to the private sector and state efforts produced just 100 000 jobs a year in public works and the civil service.

”The core tenets of economic policy did not shift in the radical ways anticipated by political shifts of 2007/09.”

South Africa worked hard at integration on the continent. Africa grew and this aided us, but beyond that, the state was ”developmental” by catch-phrase alone.

South Africa did not invest sufficiently in climate change mitigation strategies. Our platinum fields were coveted because they powered the growing industry of fuel-cell technology and so foreign interests came to dominate policymaking.

But, on the whole, the global economy was in a ”grow-slow”, though an upturn in the mid 2010s saw South Africa slowly begin to get into gear again.

We lost our young professional class which was drawn to much better universities and private sectors in the West and foreign investment proved elusive.

While the state was a huge investor in the economy, its inefficiency hampered impact. ”The inefficiency of national and provincial investment agencies, from developmental funding institutions to youth development funds, continued to make capital hard to come by for small farmers and entrepreneurs.”

Transformation was stillborn as whites still owned the majority of all equity: senior management in state service was majority black while it was still 60% white in the private sector.

With an inefficient state, outsourcing became de rigueur. Pension payments, hospital provision, prisons, housing, schools and even universities were run by the private sector. This was not a politically popular trend, but people were drawn ”to services of decent quality, delivered with a smile rather than a scowl”.

”By 2025 more than 15-million South Africans were accommodated in the private healthcare system (double that of 2008), while 20% of learners [are] in private schools, up from 2,8% in 2008.

”Private security guards outnumbered the police four to one, compared with the two to one ratio of 2008. And by 2024, private contractors were running all but one prison in South Africa.”

South African inequality grew and so did anger on the streets. At the top end of society, the bling and brands dictated culture and finally, there was a left split from government in 2013. It garnered just 10% of the vote though the media had punted a much bigger win and the ANC, shaken by this, began to plan to meet employment and poverty targets only by 2024. It had been 16 years of drift, of marking time.

This song by Mandoza symbolises a nation with ”celebratory energy and a swaggering self-confidence”. By 2009, levels of trust in society were low so a new government worked hard to galvanise a national energy.

”It was make or break for South Africa, the last great chance to turn around the fortunes of a country that was once so sure it was destined for greatness.” South Africa forged a successful compact with government, labour, business and civil society buying into a national vision.

”In convention halls, retreats, summits and on the airwaves of talk-radio and TV every part of society got involved in agreeing what they had to give up if South Africa was to prosper in the long term.”

Industrial policy finally yielded a growth dividend; a system of meritocracy replaced cronyism in the civil service. ”Companies large and small were made to feel consulted, appreciated and important.” While unions grumbled because it was not quite the decade of workers they had been promised, the direction of the country was largely one they supported.

Growth was robust, but not spectacular but a change in values and attitudes meant that it was shared growth. Provinces were downgraded while influence was held at the national and local branches of government. ”In this context, more strong mayors worked more directly with central government to ensure that programmes were implemented.

”School governing bodies, for example, demanded greater results and were emboldened by government to abandon the misplaced tendency to run a blind eye to educators who were not producing results.”

The state expanded and was responsible for massive job creation, but this did not really touch sides; these with an African baby boom and rapid resource depletion, were the key risks on the horizon. ”Because of this, food security, once taken for granted, became an urgent national challenge. Even in the 2000s South Africa was not able to produce, for example, all the chickens its population consumed.

”Having promised a chicken in every pot, and then having to import the birds embarrassed the government into action.”

By 2021 government was confident enough to declare the ”end of the transition from apartheid to democracy” and by 2025 ”the consequent removal of BEE charters and affirmative action programmes from the workplace”. Black land and stock exchange ownership was at 30%; four in 10 managers were black. Transformation had been achieved.

”By 2019 South Africa was already a beacon for ‘Afropolitans’ everywhere.”

Muvhango is a popular South African soap opera ”chronicling the fortunes and misfortunes of a divided family, torn apart by jealousy, betrayal and the quest for money and power”. It reflects, says the scenarios’ authors a ”nation where the true battle is a battle of values”.

By 2012 politics had not settled down: factional battles had disabled the state and the economy was anaemic. Following the battle of the period from 2005 to 2009, the state had been denuded of both political and public service talent. The general reaction to the exodus had been: ”good riddance [to you]”.

In 2009, seven in 10 ministers were new and all premiers had changed leading to a period of instability. The first three years had been characterised by good growth, but inertia had set into the state. ”It is clear that a core reason for failure was the negligible consequence of inefficiency. Poor performers were shielded by unions and political connections.”

Merit was never rewarded. ”In addition, not enough was done to check public sector corruption, such as tenders going to companies with overt connections to well-positioned individuals and groups within the ruling party or to curb personal enrichment by people working in government at all levels.” Corruption spread to all levels of government service — ”winning tenders without a backhander to some-one became nearly impossible”.

”South Africa in 2025 was marked mostly by a sense of what could have been rather than a celebration of what had been achieved.”

Public servants did not use the services they provided and went on strike to insist that more of their members were covered by the private healthcare medical aid. As the provinces failed, so society splintered into ”communities of interest” on ever-smaller scales. These communities turned inward and identity politics triumphed over the founding vision of a rainbow nation. ”South Africa descended into easy use of the language of exclusion in everyday situations.” A militant feminism gripped the land; the Gautrain had women-only coaches.

At the same time membership of churches, political parties and other activist causes slumped.

South Africa was eclipsed by Nigeria and Egypt as a leading continental economy and foreign ownership was high. The ANC split with a breakaway called the ANC-pPMv (post-Polokwane and post-Mangaung victims) contesting the election. The ANC won with just more than 55% of the vote in 2019 and it entered a period of radical introspection to start the process of nation-building afresh.