Editorial: The prophets of doom may just be right

2018-06-24 10:09

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The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra) assembled the great and the good – from businesspeople and trade union leaders to researchers – to draw up three scenarios that could be South Africa’s reality in the future. The results were released this week.

The first is an “enclave” nation of deep social divides and widespread service delivery protests, which will happen if the current high unemployment rate and low economic growth rate don’t change significantly. The second option – a hopeful outcome reliant on good economic growth and a much high employment rate – brings about social cohesion. The third scenario is the most frightening: a dystopian outcome that follows sustained low growth and high unemployment coupled with corruption, a fragile coalition government, and high crime and inequality.

Although it is easy to dismiss these as works of fiction, these thought leaders have done this before. And they have been right.

When Mistra’s Joel Netshitenzhe was head of the policy and coordination advisory unit in Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, he oversaw The Future We Chose scenarios, which, in 2008, painted a scarily accurate picture of what South Africa became over the subsequent decade. Released the day Mbeki’s ministers resigned in protest over his axing, the scenarios also provided three possible paths. The one we chose was the disaster we endured during the Jacob Zuma years.

Besides an economic meltdown and a breakdown in governance, the scenario spoke of how government “celebrated or condoned vulgar displays of wealth and privilege”, and how politics would be “awash with left wing rhetoric”, while “the actual lifestyle and conduct of many high-profile leaders sometimes evinced rank corruption”.

Sound familiar? We all have to actively work for the future we want. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.

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