BOOK EXTRACT: A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030

2017-05-25 11:17
A Time Traveller's Guide to South Africa in 2030 by Frans Cronje (Tafelberg)

A Time Traveller's Guide to South Africa in 2030 by Frans Cronje (Tafelberg)

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It has been ten years since South Africans went to the polls in their 2019 national and provincial elections. Over the past decade tumultuous change has taken place in the country. South Africa is governed by an authoritarian state that has suppressed civil rights in order to force a very successful set of economic reforms onto the country. Constitutional rights and freedoms have been eroded but living standards are up. The economy is performing strongly. South Africa stands as the leading example of a new breed of authoritarian African capitalist economies.

For much of its first twenty years as a democracy, South Africa was seen as a free and open society with an underperforming economy. The political rights and freedoms won in the transition years of the 1990s had not been matched by sufficient improvements in the economic circumstances of South Africans. Nor, did the critics warn a decade ago, would economic freedom ever be attained. Events of the past decade have proved most critics wrong. South Africa has pioneered a new model of authoritarian capitalism that is starting to take root across the African continent. It is a model that has seen an erosion of democratic rights and freedoms. The state has been ruthless in the suppression of free speech and free political association. Protesters have been shot in the streets, journalists and opposition leaders have been exiled, jailed and, in the worst cases, assassinated. The civil rights culture that South Africa was thought to be pioneering is all but gone. The retreat of democracy has, however, been accompanied by a great improvement in the material conditions of almost all South Africans.

Drive across the country from large cities to small towns, and the extent to which basic living standards have improved is inescapable. The example of housing is perhaps the most striking: a highly effective, state-driven housing policy has delivered an extraordinary increase in the proportion of households living in a formal house. The data tells the story. In 1994 the proportion of households in a formal house stood at 64%. By 2010 that figure stood at just below 80%. Housing delivery numbers slowed in the years between 2010 and 2019 as the economy became sluggish and government revenues fell, but as economic growth picked up into the early 2020s the picture began to improve, and now more than nine in ten South African families live in a formal home. Most of the construction is taking place by means of state-subsidised construction companies. Continued rural-to-urban migration and declining average household size mean that approximately one in ten households still live in informal structures, but current housing trends suggest that this backlog will come close to being eradicated over the next twenty years.

The quality of the homes built over the past decade is also much improved compared with what was being built in South Africa’s early years as a democracy. Housing budgets have increased and the state has become much more efficient in all that it undertakes. Corruption in the civil service has almost disappeared. You cannot buy your way onto housing waiting lists. Crooked officials who try to sell state-built housing are jailed when they are caught. Affirmative action and cadre deployment practices in the civil service have been done away with. The civil service is a meritocracy in which the elites of society are proud to serve; and in the housing department, as in all other government departments, ineptitude, laziness and corruption are not tolerated.

Improved housing delivery is just one measure of the improvement in overall living standards, which is true of almost all service delivery indicators. Nearly all households now have access to electricity, an improved water source and municipal refuse removal. In many cases delivery is taking place through state-subsidised utilities and parastatals. The reliability of such services is excellent and there is no comparison between the slack and corrupt state-owned enterprises of a decade ago and those of today. Technocrats and the best students of every university graduating class, not cadres, now run these entities.

Improved state-led service delivery efforts have been accompanied by a significant expansion in the reach of the social welfare system. Just a decade ago it appeared as if that system was running out of money. Real increases in grant levels were running at well below the effective inflation rate in poor households. That has changed, and increases in welfare grants have over recent years kept pace with inflation. This has helped to bolster household income levels, which have in turn supported overall increases in household expenditure. A food-stamp programme has been introduced, allowing poor households to buy state-subsidised staple foods (bread, milk, maize meal, cooking oil, and also products such as baby formula and nappies). A new basic income grant (or BIG) was introduced. There are also jobseeker grants as well as a programme of study grants for tertiary students.

The effects of improved service delivery and expanded welfare provision have been further strengthened by improvements in the quality of schooling. Aside from a handful of elite private schools, all other schools are state-run and the state dictates all curriculum content. English is the exclusive language of teaching and children are prevented from using their mother tongue on school grounds. No fees are paid and parents are prohibited from raising extra funds to develop new facilities or hire extra teachers. There is a moratorium in place on the issuing of licences to operate new private schools.

- Frans Cronje is the CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) and holds a PhD in scenario planning. This is an excerpt from A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030 by Frans Cronje (Tafelberg, 2017). This book is available online or at all good bookstores at R260. 

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