South Africans must decide whether we want a “Mandela Magic” or a “Bafana Bafana” scenario, says Jakkie Cilliers.
Cape Town - South Africans go to the polls on May 7 in an environment of political turbulence and economic uncertainty.
South Africa appears to be in crisis. But while the country faces leadership challenges and urgently needs changes to key social, economic and political systems, the perennial sense of doom is not supported by deeper analysis.
South Africa’s structural growth prospects are actually quite healthy. Prosperity is within our grasp.
If the electorate and its leaders make the right decisions, the economy could, by 2030, be 23 percent bigger than it would be on our current path. If we take the wrong turns, it could be 18 percent smaller as factional politics and policy zigzagging open the door to populist policies.
Under another scenario, we keep missing opportunities and proceed along a path of modest growth, as a perennial under-achiever with greater potential than performance.
These scenarios are based on research in a new paper called “South African Futures 2030”. Each is rooted in current reality and provides plausible combinations of events based on political and economic analysis.
They are not predictions, but a review of the most likely implications of decisions and actions by South Africans and their leaders. The ANC leadership is central to all three. As an optimist and a pragmatist, I won’t focus in this article on the worst-case scenario, which sees a divided nation in economic decline. But I do want our leaders and decision-makers to read this scenario, if only to see what not to do.
Mandela Magic is the name of South Africa’s best-case scenario, in which the government pursues a clear economic and developmental vision. It may come from a reinvigorated ANC, or a weakened ANC with strong opposition parties. Accompanied by appropriate policy and implementation, both options could yield higher economic growth and well-being for most South Africans.
The difference between the two options in the Mandela Magic scenario depends on what happens within the ANC, the future of organised labour and the extent to which opposition parties can mobilise young voters.
Central to the first Mandela Magic option is an internal ANC process of introspection and reform following the death of Nelson Mandela. The party resets its moral compass and asserts its leadership within the alliance. It ends slate-voting and cadre deployment, and appoints people on merit and not allegiance. Under this scenario, a strong executive deputy president is able to define and implement policies, as Thabo Mbeki did under Mandela.
The ANC leadership renews its commitment to the rule of law. Independence of the judiciary is ensured. Transparency, fairness and integrity underpin appointments to key criminal justice institutions. A smaller Cosatu remains united behind the ANC, with pragmatic policy shifts that allow for greater labour market flexibility.
The government stabilises and transforms the civil service in co-operation with public sector unions, leading to a turnaround in the delivery of key services such as education. Governance is faster and better, creating a sense of stability that impacts positively on local and international perceptions. This revitalisation of the ruling party enables the ANC to retain close to 60 percent of the popular vote and to govern without needing alliances beyond the 2024 elections.
Under the second Mandela Magic option, the ANC does worse than expected in this year’s elections and we see the rise of a genuine multiparty democracy. The ANC again loses to the DA in the Western Cape and has to rule in coalition in two other provinces. But, shaken by its losses, the ANC responds by ending cadre deployment and commits itself to a serious implementation of the National Development Plan, with a focus on growth, jobs and effective services.
The private sector is recognised as the engine of growth, with the government in the role of regulator and facilitator, encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation through investment in research and development, and rolling out cheap broadband and IT services nationwide.
The DA, which governs three of the nine provinces after 2019, competes with the ANC over service delivery, clean government and positioning South Africa as a winning nation.
Both trajectories of the Mandela Magic scenario would deliver by 2030 an economy worth more than $161 billion (R1 549 trillion), with gross capital formation reaching 27 percent of GDP and foreign direct investment increasing to more than 2 percent of GDP.
Technocratic, consultative management rather than ideological grandstanding is the order of the day as the government retreats from a lexicon of racism, imperialism and anti-colonialism to focus on improvements in terms of trade and investment guarantees.
Through concerted policy implementation, the growth of the manufacturing sector is assured. Commercial agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector all expand. Efforts to reduce unemployment through public works programmes bear fruit, reducing social tension and service-delivery strikes.
GDP growth stabilises at in excess of 5 percent a year from 2024 and averages 5.1 percent annually over the 17-year period from 2014 to 2030.
In contrast to the desired future of Mandela Magic, the scenario closest to our current pathway is named Bafana Bafana, after our national soccer team. It is essentially a forecast of more of the same. South Africa is not doing badly, but like our footballers, we remain a perennial underachiever. Bafana Bafana is a story in which South Africa never quite breaks free from a cycle of inequality and unrest. Things get better, but the structural limitations remain the same.
In the years after the this year’s elections, the government has no clear leadership, growth plan or policy direction. The ANC remains nominally committed to the NDP 2030 but does not co-ordinate its implementation. After 2024 the ANC has to govern in coalition.
In time, the government succumbs to pressure from its own ranks and its partners to abandon or roll back its limited efforts towards greater labour market flexibility and skilled migration reform.
The heavy hand of state regulation becomes ever more present. Voter apathy increases alongside a sense of drift and lack of direction. The government’s initiatives to convey a more positive message are drowned out by a cacophony of reporting on graft, corruption and poor service delivery, much of it centred on top leadership.
Wasteful government expenditure – almost R31 billion last year – continues largely unabated. Senior appointments continue to be made on the basis of personal and party loyalty, and not merit.
Without a clear support plan for industry, exports to the rest of Africa steadily lose ground to China and India. Foreign investors remain hesitant. South Africa attracts only modest levels of foreign direct investment at below $2 billion annually. The rest of the continent consistently grows much faster than South Africa.
South Africa still does relatively well, growing at around 3.8 percent per annum on average up to 2030. Modest growth has limited impact on unemployment and inequality, though life for the middle- and higher-income groups remains good.
But the country gains a reputation as a chronic under-achiever – it should be dominating the region but it isn’t. Policy-making is episodic, last-minute and piecemeal. In short, South Africa muddles along.
All is not doom and gloom, however. In the Bafana Bafana scenario, investments in education start to pay off, schooling improves and social grant programmes continue to alleviate the worst effects of dire poverty. Around upper-class dinner tables, the doomsday clock remains firmly stuck at one minute before midnight.
Meanwhile, the real South Africa actually does relatively well.