South Africa’s Future: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
It has been remarked on many previous occasions that ‘South Africa’s future is in the balance’. Unfortunately, this statement is more accurate than ever before. Greg Mills and Roelf Meyer share their thoughts on scenarios for a future South Africa
Director, The Brenthurst Foundation
Roelf Meyer led negotiations to end apartheid and is now head of the In Transformation Initiative
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by Greg Mills and Roelf Meyer
Our economy is woefully failing to create jobs and the majority of young people have no future in the world of work. Electricity supply is precarious as we endure the worst load shedding we have ever seen.
On top of this, the country’s political leadership is in turmoil. President Cyril Ramaphosa, once believed to be the man to finally lead South Africa out of the darkness of state capture, corruption and economic failure, has struggled to turn things around and now finds himself battling to put the ‘Phala Phala’ scandal in clear perspective.
All of this has created a climate of uncertainty. Where is the country going? Is the economy doomed to failure as Eskom switches off the lights? What will happen if Ramaphosa is charged in court or defeated at the ANC’s conference in December? What will happen if the 2024 election fails to produce an outright winner?
As the ANC prepares to elect its leader for the next five years, the country’s future is precariously in the balance. The ANC decision – to back President Cyril Ramaphosa or his rival Zweli Mkhize – will set the scene for the 2024 election which is likely to bring momentous change to politics.
Our research shows that a coalition government is likely, ushering in a new era of multiparty contestation after three decades of single-party dominance.
Will such a coalition be able to reverse the tide of economic stagnation, corruption and turn the light on? A lot hangs on whether those who favour constitutionalism and the rule of law are able to suspend hostilities and band together to save South Africa.
In an effort to address these questions, The Brenthurst Foundation led by Director, Dr Greg Mills, and the In Transformation Initiative led by Roelf Meyer, have produced a set of scenarios for the country under the title ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’.
Based on research into the country’s economic position, the positioning of political forces and attitudes of South African voters, the scenarios attempt to draw fact-based conclusions about the country’s trajectory.
What is clear is that the decisions made by ANC delegates in December 2022, those made by voters in 2024 and those made by politicians about political alliances, will shape the South African narrative for decades to come.
Mills said: “It has been a cliché to say that our country is on the edge of a precipice. This time, it’s real. The decisions taken over the next two years – by political parties, by voters and by political leaders – will shape our trajectory for decades to come.
“We will either emerge stronger and recommitted to our constitutional order and economic advancement or we will find ourselves on the path charted by Venezuela, Zimbabwe and others who have abandoned democracy for self-enrichment.”
Meyer said: “During the late 1980’s Clem Sunter through his “High Road Low Road” scenario influenced many like me to engage on a path of change. Fortunately we listened and implemented the required change that had put South Africa on the high road for the next fifteen years.
“Now it’s time for the same. South African politicians and voters will have to apply their minds and make choices from now through to 2024 that will determine the longer term outcomes. Hopefully this presentation will help with those choices.”
There are three key events that will shape South Africa’s future over the next three years:
1.The decisions taken by the ANC’s conference later this week;
2.The decisions taken by voters at the 2024 election; and
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3. The decisions taken by political leaders about coalitions as the ANC slides below 50% of the vote.
The four scenarios are:
1. The Good
The ‘Good’ scenario sees those who support constitutionalism, the rule of law and reforms aimed at spurring on economic growth – the silent majority of South Africans – putting aside their differences and building a powerful new reform movement at the centre of South African politics. In this scenario, South Africa is proudly a constitutional democracy and seeks to build relations with others who share the same values on the world stage. This approach could be taken by a coalition of opposition parties with or without the ANC or by ANC reformers if they are able to take full control of the party and act decisively.
2. The Bad
In this scenario, the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation wing wins the internal battle for power, leading to the ANC’s electoral support dropping far below 50% in the 2024 election. This leads to a coalition between the ANC and EFF, who are aligned with the RET faction on policy. The result will be a rapid and precipitous decline in the country’s finances as nationalisation is implemented and the prosecution of party bosses for corruption ceases. Malign actors such as Russia entrench themselves within government and the country abandons its constitution and democratic values. Investors will flee sending the currency into freefall and causing hyper-inflation, leading to economic collapse.
3. The Ugly The ‘Ugly’ scenario represents a continuation of the status quo. The ANC remains divided and unable to chart a clear path to reform and the rule of law. The energy crisis continues to accelerate, and the economy continues on a path of anaemic economic growth and joblessness continues to rise. Investment continues to underperform and government remains wary of the private sector.
4. Fistul of Cents
The ‘Fistful of Cents’ scenario is a close relative of the ‘Ugly’ scenario except that cronyism rises as elite extraction accelerates as the state loses its attempt to reign in corruption and graft. The result is greater inequality and joblessness while the elite thrives by extracting rents, legal and illegal, from a sliding economy.
While it is tempting to take a negative view of South Africa’s future, this is by no means the only possible outcome. The right decisions by citizens, party members and political leaders can water the shoots of constitutionalism and democracy and propel the country onto the road to economic reform and growth.