Clem Sunter

The Dinokeng Scenarios

2010-04-14 12:20

The recent hogging of the media headlines by individuals of extreme political persuasion has made a debate on the Dinokeng scenarios absolutely vital. The scenario exercise was funded by Old Mutual, facilitated by Adam Kahane and chaired by Dr Mamphela Ramphele. The team included many notable South Africans.

They came up with three scenarios. “Walk Apart” is a scenario where extremists trump moderates because of political factionalism and weak, unaccountable government at the centre. Society disintegrates to the point where civil war becomes a strong possibility. Corruption abounds and strikes multiply.

“Walk Behind” is a scenario in which the state intervenes strongly in the economy; but the results are mixed due to lack of service delivery and welfare programmes breeding a sense of complacency and dependency among the citizenry. Private initiatives by business and civil society are crowded out.

“Walk Together” presumes a government that encourages an active citizenry which feels empowered to do things for themselves, but sufficiently united not to get in each other’s way. It is a scenario of give and take where the moderates trump the extremists. Citizens’ groups, business, labour and broader civil society actively engage with the state and form partnerships to improve performance in the public sector. Quality education for all is the key to wean people away from handouts and allow them to live an independent life.

At the moment I would say that the flags which would indicate a rise in probability of the “Walk Apart” scenario are as follows: an increase in unemployment and violent crime statistics; an increase in the Gini coefficient which measures the economic inequality in our society; a further decline in service delivery and the state of our infrastructure; the continuation of our ranking at the bottom of countries in the Premier League in regard to mathematics and science education; a rising popularity of demagogues who aggravate racial divisions within our society; and bribes being the only way of getting things done.

Flags which would indicate a shift towards the “Walk Behind” scenario include the following: nationalisation of land, the mines and the banks; an increase in government expenditure as a percentage of GDP; hikes in individual and corporate taxes which put us way ahead of international norms; growing bureaucracy and an increasingly punitive regulatory environment which particularly hammers entrepreneurs and small business; and the emergence of an all-powerful leader around whom a personality cult develops and against whom no criticism is tolerated.

For the flags which would signal that the “Walk Together” scenario is coming into play, I can do no better than quote the three flags which Steve Biko would have chosen, were he alive today. They are contained in the book I Write What I Like, the first one being a rising of black consciousness and self-worth to a point where the creation of a truly integrated and properly working society in South Africa is a collective endeavour to which everyone contributes. Any other process, he says, “is rather like expecting the slave to work together with the slave-master’s son to remove all the conditions leading to the former’s enslavement”.

The most effective statistics to indicate that this flag is up and fluttering in the breeze are a massive improvement in literacy and numeracy levels among the population as a whole; a serious decline in the Gini coefficient; a consequent broadening of the tax base in the higher income brackets; and a society where the elite - both black and white - do not stick out like a sore thumb.

The second flag is a growing degree of racial harmony in this country in order to improve its competitiveness on the world stage. Without unity of spirit - or an enhanced sense of patriotism if you wish to call it that - our economic prospects are bleak. It means whites must stop being snobs and dismissive of African history; while blacks must stop singing provocative songs about whites and avoid turning themselves from being the oppressed into the oppressors.

As Biko says, “Out of this mutual respect for each other, and complete freedom of self-determination, there will obviously arise a genuine fusion of lifestyles of the various groups. This is true integration.”

Elsewhere he states: “A people without a positive history is like a vehicle without an engine.” Moreover, “the revolutionary sees his task as liberation not only of the oppressed but also of the oppressor. Happiness can never truly exist in a state of tension.” The most tangible sign that the second flag is rising will be for the comments on this website to become a little less angry and a little more forgiving!

The third flag revolves around not so much what Biko wrote but what he did. He launched an organisation called the Zimele Trust Fund; Zimele means “stand on your own feet!” It was to help ex-prisoners from Robben Island to rehabilitate themselves by setting up small co-operatives like brick-making plants. To walk together, we need to start from the bottom up with a plethora of self-help organisations – particularly in rural areas. We need to celebrate and assist both social and commercial entrepreneurship. We need to build a bridge between the formal and informal sectors of our economy so that our entrepreneurs can live the South African dream.

With no positive interventions, I would at present attach significant odds to the “Walk Apart” scenario. “Walk Behind” could be a temporary intermission; but the fractious nature of our society will not allow any single individual to amass the level of personal power required to become a permanent dictator. A sequence of coups and counter-coups is more likely as we return to the more anarchic future of heading in different directions.

Despite political transformation and the current programme of black economic empowerment, the three flags are still at half mast on “Walk Together”. Hence, my point at the very beginning of the article that we need to start an open and frank dialogue right now on how we establish the preconditions for walking hand in hand into the future. Biko deserves it and so do the next generation of South Africans. Democracy – or people power – will be the biggest loser if we fail.

Send your comments to Clem

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