South Africa: Nation Faces 'Bafana Bafana' Future, Says Think Tank

Photo: ISS
A graphic representation of South Africa's future under three different scenarios.

Cape Town — If South Africa's governance continues on its current path, the country faces a "Bafana Bafana" scenario in which it remains a "perennial underachiever, always playing in the second league", says a local think tank.

However, if it adopts a "clear economic and developmental vision" and all sectors of society work together, it could achieve a "Mandela Magic" scenario and grow the economy by nearly a quarter more than currently predicted for 2030.

On the other hand, if the factional politicking in the ruling African National Congress alliance gets worse and it adopts populist policies to shore up support, the economy will end up 18 percent smaller than it could be on the current trajectory. This the think tank describes as a scenario of "A Nation Divided".

The three scenarios were presented to journalists, diplomats and NGOs in Cape Town this week by Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies.

The institute modelled the scenarios using a forecasting tool developed by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver in the United States.

Cilliers said "Bafana Bafana" was the most likely of the scenarios to prevail because although support for the ANC was declining, opposition parties were unable to capitalize on the party's unpopularity.

In the words of the ISS report on the scenarios, "Bafana Bafana is a story in which South Africa strives to break free from its current cycle of inequality and unrest, but never quite manages to. Things get better, but the structural limitations remain the same ...

"By comparative middle-income standards, South Africa does relatively well... [But] the country gains a reputation as the chronic underachiever: it should be dominating the region, but it isn't ... Fearful of too quick a transition and the threat of even higher levels of social conflict, South Africa muddles along."

In the scenario of a nation divided, Cilliers said, the labour movement allied to the ANC would implode, the government would abandon its National Development Plan with its promise of better governance, the country would lose its international credit rating, crime, violence and corruption would grow and spending on social grants would rise in a bid to keep the country stable, at the expense of spending on education and infrastructure.

"Mandela Magic" presupposed either the resurgence of a reformed ANC or a stronger opposition, forcing the ANC into local coalitions and generating more competitive politics in which the ANC committed itself more seriously to the implementation of the NDP.

Cilliers highlighted four interventions which he said were key to achieving this best-case scenario:

  • Electoral reform, to make politicians more accountable to voters than they are under the current system, where their seats in legislatures depend on party bosses placing them on party lists;
  • Leaders who live by high standards of values and ethics;
  • Fixing the education system; and
  • A growing, more flexible and more inclusive economy.

The ISS report highlighted the contributions of former president Nelson Mandela to economics - presiding over the beginning of the longest sustained economic expansion in the country's history - and politics - with his focus on reconciliation and inclusion.

Mandela's death, it said, gave South Africans an opportunity "to consider a future that is more peaceful, prosperous and participatory for all its citizens".

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