This is the Future: Cees Bruggemans on SA 20 years after Zuma

Here’s a happy New Year’s wish. Independent economist Cees Bruggemans looks to China for inspiration for how South Africa will look in two decades. That will be the time when President Jacob Zuma and his cadre deployed cohorts are nothing more than a bad memory. All it needs, Cees avers, is a steady hand, a selfless leader in China’s Deng, post-Mao mould. When we look at things over time, the glass really does become half full. – AH

Man is allowed to dream, isn’t he? That’s why we write up National Development Plans (NDP) and thereafter store them in the back of the bottom drawer.

Where will we be, precisely, 20 years post-Zuma (2039) which just happens to be also 40 years post-Mandela?

Today, 20 years post-De Klerk we have roughly doubled the size of the 1993 economic cake. We have shared among many more people than we did then. For the SA population has grown by a quarter, formal and informal employment has grown by half, the labour force (aged 15-65) has grown by two-thirds and the ranks of the unemployed/discouraged have nearly doubled to over 7.5 million. Also, over 16 million people are now receiving public grants that weren’t receiving much then.

So that’s been progress, at least in some ways, besides the redistributive fiscal and labour market changes that have been made.

But we have talked enough about the past. Where will we find ourselves 20-years post-Zuma (besides in Kiwi, Aussie, Loonie and other such post-colonial hangouts)?

At a guess, the economy will by then be producing triple what it is now ($1 trill annually in today’s terms). The SA population will be a third bigger at 70 million (some of them immigrants, mostly from China & Africa). Formal employment could be double what it is now, and the unemployed & discouraged cadre should have more than halved in numbers (to 3 million from their 8 million 2018 peak, and down to one-tenth of the labour force compared to one-third for the past quarter century).


It turned out that the post-Zuma political leadership reverted back to pre-Zuma style, with one crucial change. It realized that between post-Mandela and post-Zuma, public sector governance had been sacrificed to personal greed, first through omission and then through commission.

As Deng post-Mao said of their earlier modern pre-Deng era, and Mandela passionately said a generation later, if in quite different SA circumstances, also echoing earlier colonial partings in greater Africa, “never again”.

But in pursuing their “never again”, the post-De Klerk crowd had been a little too zealous and naïve, indeed idealistic as only freedom fighters can be. Having learned, the post-Zuma crowd also had as their credo “never again”, but now adding never again the sacrificing of public governance on any altars.

It changed the nature of public appointments and accountability, and it led to a sea-change in the public sector, a public sector that private business could now do business with. In essence, it also addressed the trust deficit, let it be said from both sides of the aisle.

That brought steady, if gradual, performance improvement in the public sector, and ambitious investment in infrastructure, paying even greater dividends as there was a parallel improvement in private investment commitment.

The adversarial labour relations were tamed, through legislation and persuasion, and a new focus was placed on reforming education delivery.

That, what had not been attempted, and was then duly prevented from being attempted for two generations, finally saw logjams breaking.

As SA society attained its more natural rate of progression once unshackled from restraining anchors, rather than being endlessly repressed, its structural limitations of centuries could finally start to be addressed. The full fruits of this breakthrough will only be truly encountered in the second half of this century, more like 100 years post-Mandela.

That will be a poignant moment to look back and see what really happened.

In the first 20-years post-Zuma the initial progress was so considerable because basically for too long society had stagnated during the interim Zuma years, with its insider/outsider dichotomy unaddressed, its growth engines by and large becalmed, the base repressed, yet the true potential mostly undiminished, basically only asking for full sails, fair winds and a steady hand at the tiller.

If that reminds of China post-Mao, it isn’t a coincidence.

As luck might have it (or was it more than luck, just simply very hard work after paying very high school fees?), the right people came along, having been in the woodwork all along. Once they started to put society through its paces, it turned out there was nothing wrong with the DNA, the potential terrific.

All it needed was a wise, steady hand. And after the post-Freedom turmoil, that is finally what it got. A bit of a Deng story in its own right, if you get my drift.

A Christmas 2014 message with a difference, one of Hope in times of Despair.

* Cees Bruggemans is the consulting economist at Bruggemans & Associates. His website is at and email

* For more in-depth business news, visit or simply sign up for the daily newsletter.

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