/ 26 April 2024

GGA webinar series: The SA 2020 Scenarios Project

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Pockets of excellence still exist: we must just learn how to harness them

In 2002, a group of young South Africans, selected for their acknowledged leadership potential to scenario-plan the country’s future, gathered in Stellenbosch over a period of a year to envision what the country could be like in 2020. More than two decades later, some of the participants agreed that while South Africa has become dysfunctional in many respects — largely due to its poor leadership — there is definitely hope, as pockets of excellence do still exist.

Among these are: the fact that we can still speak out openly about our situation; that many people have indeed been uplifted by the more socialist elements of our state; and that our courts are still able, to some degree, to rein in the excesses of our leaders.

Good Governance Africa (GGA), in partnership with the Mail & Guardian, has brought some of the original participants of the SA2020 Scenarios project together for a webinar series to reflect on the initiative, reminisce about their experiences, and envision the way forward as South Africa heads for the 2024 elections. 

The experience of participating in the SA2020 Scenarios project 

Moderator Patrick Kulati, CEO of GGA, kicked off the proceedings of the first webinar by asking the panellists to introduce themselves and recall what it was like to take part in the project all those years ago. 

Patrick Kulati
Patrick Kulati, CEO of GGA, moderator of the webinar.

He briefly outlined how in 2002, a group of young South Africans gathered at Mont Fleur Conference Centre in Stellenbosch to scenario-plan the country’s future and envision what the country could be like in 2020. The SA2020 Scenarios project was orchestrated by the African Leadership Institute and engaged young leaders to think innovatively about the future and craft strategies to address South Africa’s immense societal problems. 

Donavan Williams, social commentator, said he has always been an activist, but taking part in the project was the first time he had done scenario planning. He said the experience was “pretty exhausting”, as he had positive views of South Africa’s future, but he found that there was a lot of conservatism in the group. The issue of race was avoided a lot, and some participants were very pessimistic. “This prepared me for today,” he said, “because we still have the exact same problems, and there has been a rise in the justification of racism, and of right-wing thinking.”

Isobel Frye – Director Of Studies In Poverty And Inequality Institute Copy
Isobel Frye, executive director, Social Policy Initiative.

Isobel Frye, executive director, Social Policy Initiative, said that she found participating in the group helped her to form her identity in the context of encountering people from such different backgrounds. She found it surprising that the issue of the basic income grant was rejected by some participants, who were of the belief that anyone could simply work to raise themselves up. 

Nkuli Mabandla, lawyer and executive, said she was happy to be involved given her activist background, but she found some of the participants differed a lot from her, which was challenging, and that she found the whole experience quite frustrating. 

Kulati interjected to provide some context, and explained to the audience that the participants of the SA2020 Scenarios project had included people from vastly different backgrounds, with diverse class, genders and jobs — there were economists, doctors, environmentalists, members of parliament — even a representative from Orania.  

He said that four scenarios were envisioned.

The four scenarios

  • The first was called “Dead End” — if the country had leaders mired in corruption and individualism.
  • The second was called “Slow Puncture” — it explored the outcome of SA choosing to carry on the same path that they were on in 2002, not rocking the boat.
  • The third was “Sharp Right Turn” — an economic route with capital-intensive growth, but little regard for the social sector and the people of South Africa.
  • The fourth was called “Dual Carriageway” — a bold, inclusive set of policies that would lead to sustainable growth and social equity.

Kulati then asked the panellists a series of questions.

In which scenario are we now?

Frye said that there is still a lot of “Dead End” today; there is a compact between white capital and the political elite; the power and water cuts are a sign of a society that is dysfunctional. 

Mabandla agreed and said that there has been a lot of excesses, but South Africa’s courts, and initiatives like the Zondo Commission, have helped to minimise corruption to a degree through “lawfare”, where the courts were drawn into the public arena and thrust into a relationship of tension with political players. She pointed out that we forget the burdens that our democracy inherited, such as the unequal economic structure of apartheid.

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Nkuli Mabandla, lawyer, activist and executive.

Williams said that on a macro level we have aspects of the first three negative outcomes in place today; we have self-serving leadership, the reward of corruption, and some of our religious institutes have become businesses. But, on a micro level, many people are being uplifted, and there is a lot of openness: for instance, we are able to publicly criticise politicians without fear. 

“We have more than the basic elements of a social state,” said Williams, providing the example of visiting the eDumbe municipality in northern KZN recently where he spoke to farm workers, who said a bus came every day to fetch the kids for school, which they didn’t pay fees for; and a mobile clinic came to look after the elderly. This may be similar to the “Tintswalo” story, but we have made some positive steps. 

The real issue is that the private sector has not come to the party when it comes to development, said Williams. We did not take accountability into account when we were planning the scenario; our leaders should be held much more accountable. But we are still poised for Dual Carriageway, because there are still amazing elements out there; we just don’t know how to harness them. 

Frye pointed out that there are positive things we achieved that we should celebrate, such as the rollout of ARVs, which effectively addressed the HIV pandemic. However, she pointed out, we cannot redistribute wealth if there is no economic growth; SA needs social security and wealth tax, but we haven’t dismantled its basic unequal economic structure. With our unemployment levels, we are a dysfunctional state, but we are not a failed state, and “we are in a war crisis because of unemployment, but we do not seem to have a war response”.

Kulati said that, from what he could summarise about what had been said, was that we are in a serious situation, but there are pockets of positivity that we can be proud of. The real issue is that of poor leadership, and not just political but also business leadership. 

Frye said that corruption was rife under apartheid, but that was how the state functioned and how business related to politics. This structure was never dismantled when the ANC came to power, and little has changed, despite the efforts of initiatives like the Zondo Commission — which also highlighted the role of international players in our corruption. Williams pointed out that even if we did address corruption, our neoliberal capitalist system is fundamentally unequal. 

What is the real value of planning scenarios? 

Mabandla said it felt like the scenario was a bit absurd at the time, but now she can see that “we were on the mark”. The real value lies in how they are positioned. 

Frye said that their value lies in the compromise, because we can see where the various scenarios lead to, and we don’t want to go there. Much of the value lies in how the participants evolved; the outcome was the process itself. Williams said the value of scenarios lies in the conversation. We shouldn’t rush into action when we don’t know what it is that we really want. When we talk of the future we have to confront the present and the past, and if we do that properly then we won’t end up facing the same problems in the future. The ability of South Africans to talk loudly and without fear is what may save us in the end. 

Donavan Williams, social commentator.

Kulati said there have been many political changes since 2002 — the ANC has been riven by conflict, we are entering an era of coalitions, a dwindling voting population. 

How can SA be put back on track?

Williams said our economic policies have enabled inequity. What was interesting about the 2021 elections was that it was a vote of no confidence in the opposition parties, even though people were disillusioned with the ANC. The populace is losing trust in the ANC — but it does not trust the opposition parties either. 

Frye said while it is clear that there will be more political parties in parliament, our voters must hold the parties and people they vote into power accountable to the manifestos they promised to implement: “representative democracy is not just about placing your vote”. She added that her worry is that education and health may suffer at a provincial level because of coalitions.

Mabandla said she is fearful that there will be a small turnout of voters in the elections. Kulati said this is called “democratic backsliding”, which happens when people feel that their voting won’t make any difference. The GGA is motivating people to vote, because although we don’t know what will happen in the future, we do know what has happened in the past, and we don’t want to go back there.

The way forward

Frye said her organisation believes in the basic income grant; if everyone is above the poverty line, it will boost businesses in the townships. “If everyone gets R1 500 at the end of the month, there will be a lot of activity the next day.” But beyond this, people need jobs. We have to get the youth involved, get them voting and ask them how they would like to become involved in political structures. We must celebrate those who are getting things right at a local level.

Williams said he agrees that we need social stimulus. He said we need to develop hydrogen fuel in South Africa, as we have the largest hydrogen reserves in the world. We need to own the mines so that we reap their benefits. Land reform has to occur in the rural areas, and people need to start farming again. He said people must get involved in community organisations and grassroots participation, and “we can’t just participate as keyboard warriors”.

Mabandla agreed that land restitution is essential. We need more follow-through on policies like RDP and the national corruption policy. She also said that more budget is needed for the criminal justice sector. 

Kulati concluded by saying the GGA is rolling out a campaign to recruit and train a million young people in good governance, participation and ethical leadership. “The main issue in South Africa is we need better, caring leadership.” 

For more details, visit: https://www.gga.org/

Join us for our next webinar on Tuesday 07 May at 5pm SAST, where we will be discussing the role of effective leadership