Scenarios are important instruments that establish consequences of different paths countries may traverse. Scenarios are good for mobilising a country towards a socially desirable end. Public mobilisation is the essence of politics and when mobilisation is driven by science based quantified foresighted outcomes, political choices become rational choices, rather than beerhall noises.
Scenarios matter everywhere. But the use of scenarios in thinking the future has never been so accurate as it is in the current state of political, social, and economic despair in South Africa. So, scenarios should be heeded and be actively responded to. In South Africa, three efforts at scenario building come to mind across time. One was by the private sector in 1991, called Mont Fleur by Shell.
This largely influenced the outcome of the political settlement including the economic path it followed, notably GEAR. The other was Memories of the Future in 2003 by government and led to some course correction on the economic path that was followed, notably ASGISA. A subsequent scenario by government following on 2007 Polokwane Elective Conference and its outcomes was The Future we Chose Scenarios. The third which was by a civil society grouping was the Indlulamithi Scenarios established in 2016 in response to the tumultuous orientation that South Africa immersed itself in.
South Africa in 1994 emerged with enormous hope out of utter despair yet twenty-seven years later, South Africa is rooted in despair with no end in sight, wherein economic, political and social crime have wickedly connived under stewardship of corrupt people to an appalled onlooking citizenry. This wicked drama has reached apex proportions with local government elections that fortunately are seeing the kickback by citizens who are now claiming their space.
This outcome was tabled as Muvhango scenario in the Future We Chose Scenarios of 2008. Government had opined then that under the Muvhango scenario the ruling party will be approaching the nation saying we are sorry. The Indlulamithi Scenarios of 2017 have confirmed a Gwara-Gwara Scenario for South Africa in both its Barometer and Econometric Modelling output.
Gwara-Gwara Scenario is defined as a land of disorder and moral decay – South Africa no doubt is under and we are deep in the sinking titanic as chairs are shuffled on the deck by the here and now fortunes of local government elections noises. None of these noises have the great features of scenario quantification a bad omen for South Africa.
Back to 1994 anyone who would have said South Africa will be in this state of disrepair and dissonance at the cusp of a breakthrough settlement, would have had to undergo a mandatory psychiatrist test by universal acclaim from the citizenry that had eyes oozing with tears of hope, hearts pulsating with a spirit of we can as aptly summarised by Trevor Manuel when he said “with heads under the bonnet, hands full of grease, but our minds were seeing and reaching for the stars.”
The question is can South Africa revive the same spirit now? Or is it that as a nation we are so battered and succumbed to our woundedness and wounds? Has the continuous pummelling and impugning of toxic politics and crass materialism that reached epic proportions with the Covid-19 pandemic flattened the hope of the nation? In this period of despair, South Africa has a twin comparator, just that the comparators are at opposite temporal vertices.
Rwanda which was a land of despair, written off as a failed state in April 1994 compares differently and this is where South Africa can seek what best practices are available. The monumental toast to this comparison is the celebration of the 90th birthday of Archbishop Tutu in his banter with his bosom and spiritual friend the Dalai Lama. The presence of spiritual leadership etched in arguments for material benefits to citizenry reveals how a better life for all is possible.
The two leaders discuss the tenets for happy life which is gifted from origin of life where mother and conception of a foetus begin. This is bound with compassion. Upon birth this bond is extended. What we have witnessed in South Africa and elsewhere in the world is how this nature driven compassion gets systematically destroyed through teaching and learning of habits and practices that are counter compassion and counter pursuit for a happy life.
This destruction the Dalai Lama argues is driven by what he calls “foolish selfish” which means pursuing our narrow self-interest in ways that will work in the short term but might later bring animosity toward us. This is where South Africa is despite the great ambitions of Anton Lembede of Freedom in Our Lifetime.
The Dalai Lama asks Bishop Tutu why he is so optimistic. To which the Arch answers that he is not optimistic but he is a prisoner of hope. Hope is a strong feature of human life. In this regard hope of a better tomorrow can only be strengthened with scientifically articulated prospects and possibilities of foresight of such life. This is where scenarios become important. In their recent article in the Daily Maverick titled How to put South Africa on a bold, new, successful economic trajectory, Colin Coleman, Pramol Dhawan and Nouriel Roubini are on point and resonate with the quantified Nayi-la-Walk outcome of the Indlulamithi Scenarios – thanx to Applied Development Research Solutions modelling and quantification capabilities.
This approach long advocated by MERG in the gone by RDP days is nigh and we may come back to the future where the Archbishop’s prison of hope is etched in science-based optimism. A South Africa that is a land of better life for all. A different South Africa. But this will happen only if our politics are enlightened. For now, they are not. The dark days await us. Harry Truman the wartime President of the United States summarises it well when he said “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a brothel or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”