10 OCTOBER 2018
The future of South Africa

by Clem Sunter: Scenario planner, speaker and best-selling author.

Experience is something you get the moment after you need it. This witty comment came from the guy sipping his coffee at the table next to me in a café last week. However, in reviewing South Africa’s future, the wisdom in the comment can be turned on its head as we have had so much experience of both the highs and lows in our recent past. Surely we can learn from that.

So, let’s go through the six principal flags identified by various august institutions as the ones most likely to influence our future:

Corruption: Venezuela is the latest victim of this flag with food and medical supplies running out, and life being absolute hell for its ordinary citizens. By contrast, here in South Africa, we are seeing attempts to turn the situation around with the commission on state capture now in action and the president voicing his determination to root out corrupt practices. This is a good sign, but for the flag to turn really green the perpetrators must see their day in court and, if found guilty, must suffer the consequences.

Quality of infrastructure: We have not had another round of major load-shedding by Eskom this winter season and serious attempts are being made to improve management of state-owned enterprises. However it is worrying to see so many construction companies with their backs against the wall. This implies that the multi-billion rand government programme to improve infrastructure is not yet seriously underway. The manner in which National Health Insurance in South Africa is implemented will provide considerable guidance on the prospects of this flag turning green.

Style of leadership: South Africa works very well when it has a leader or purpose uniting it. Witness the years of economic growth under Mandela and the outstanding reception given to soccer players and foreign fans during the 2010 World Cup. Our current president is definitely a person who can exercise the right kind of inclusive leadership to put us on our feet again, but he will have to handle the final flag of land reform very carefully in order to avoid a mutiny on deck.

Pockets of excellence: We have so many pockets of excellence in South Africa in both the public and private sector, but the last ten years have taken their toll and many people who would have formed the next generation of excellence have sadly left the country. The most important area in which to watch this flag is education because only high quality education is capable of reducing social inequality in the long run. We have some of the best schools and university faculties in the world. If we can learn from them in order to uplift the rest, we will be on our way to becoming a winning nation.

Entrepreneurial spark: By common consent, this flag is the one that can change the country’s economic destiny the most and create a genuine state of economic freedom. We need an enterprise summit rather than a jobs summit to tackle the exclusiveness that still persists in our daily lives; to integrate the township economies into the mainstream economy; and to come up with innovative solutions to convert rural communities into thriving networks of local activity. At the heart of all this will lie the goal of multiplying the number of youthful entrepreneurs in our country.

Land reform: The latest tweet by Donald Trump is not helpful on this issue, but it goes to show that only the kind of team approach that caused the political miracle of the early 1990s can turn this flag green. The positive meeting of agricultural players recently in Bela-Bela should be seen as a forerunner to a full-scale Agridesa that can take place once the government has completed its consultations with the public. Any move to impose a top-down remedy on land redistribution which sparks widespread resistance among existing land owners is bound to have immense downside on both the local and international fronts. The injustices of the past must be corrected, but in a way that involves consensus from all sides on the best way forward. Otherwise this will be the most disruptive flag of all.

The six flags lead to three possible scenarios for South Africa’s future:

Premier League: This is the scenario where we reverse the negative economic trends of recent times by turning all six flags green. We start regularly hitting an economic growth rate between 3 and 5% per annum while at the same time moving away from being one of the most unequal societies on Earth. Critically, we serve as an inspiring example to other nations of how racial divisions can be healed by implementing a vision based on ethics and common sense.

Second Division: In this scenario we relinquish our position as the number one economy in Africa that we have held for 150 years and become just another third world destination. The decline is peaceful although all the flags stay reddish in colour. The problems prove too hard for even the most talented leadership to resolve and we remain a racially divided country from which the best talent emigrates in the hope of a more peaceful and better life elsewhere.

Failed State: This is the scenario where the wheels come off completely in the near future mainly as a result of the last flag turning really nasty and violence rearing its ugly head on a wide scale. Nobody overseas even thinks of investing here as we descend into that group of nations which for one reason or another is regarded as a wasteland with no hope of redemption.

At the moment, the probabilities I attach to these three scenarios are 60% for the first one, 30% for the second and 10% for the third. Nevertheless, I respect the fact that each reader may have a completely different spectrum of probabilities given that this country is at a tipping point.

Whichever way the future breaks, be sure to anticipate it by watching the flags! Better still, roll up your sleeves to help turn the flags green and raise the probability of staying in the Premier League.

Source: We are foxy, game-playing strategists and the authors of two number 1 best selling books in South Africa: "The Mind of a Fox - Scenario Planning in Action", and "Games Foxes Play - Planning for Extraordinary Times". Visit our web-site at: http://www.mindofafox.com.

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