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Scenario: A Populist South Africa


Dr Marius Oosthuizen is a scenario planner and writes in his own capacity.

In 2018/2019 Cyril Ramaphosa will likely become South Africa’s fifth state president. He will be faced with an economic mountain to climb, youth unemployment that's creeping to near 50%, and an impatient population, average age only 27.

The eyes of the world will be on Ramaphosa to see whether he can continue the legacy of the Rainbow nation’s icon, Nelson Mandela, who dreamed of a united, prosperous and equal South Africa.

It is in the interests of all South Africans to work together under Ramaphosa’s leadership to realise that dream. But, a strident African nationalist populism has metastasized into the African National Congress (ANC). It calls for the “expropriation without compensation” of property and the nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank. These are now policies of the ANC.

Unless arrested, this leftist policy drift signals a coming collectivist-populist revolution within the two decades, under the guise of “redress for apartheid”. Such a collapse of the social contract will fundamentally change South Africa.

While the analysts ponder the first term of a Ramaphosa presidency, I thought to sketch a post-revolution South Africa, so that citizens can decide now, whether that is what we want for our country. Perhaps a peek into the abyss will help us better calculate our interests in the short term:

2037: Zulu Kingdom joins Commonwealth, seeks direct parliamentary representation in SA

In 2037 the South African Rand trades at R660.00 to the Euro. Massive capital flight followed the annulment of all title deeds issued since 1913, in favor of a nationalised version of land rights. The economy has stalled, social grants were rescinded and massive retrenchments were the result. The health, energy and food system are on the verge of collapse. The people of KZN turn increasingly inward to for leadership along tribal lines.

The Zulu Kingdom, having officially boycotted the coalition of centre-right forces who won the national elections in 2036, succeeded in a bid to join the Commonwealth as an independent entity. With self-serving irony, the newly crowned Zulu King lauds the constitutional monarchy of Britain. A series of mega-bilateral agreements signed between KwaZulu-Natal and Beijing around 2030, promise to secure an economic recovery for the kingdom after the devastation of the Peoples Revolution.

With 30% of the population living in the KZN province, the young Zulu King demands direct parliamentary representation without which the King vows to secede.

Cape Colony Rewind, new Catalonia

Minority communities in South Africa cope with the sudden economic decline through a range of moves, including the so-called “second wave of emigration”, reminiscent of the post-1994 exodus of white South Africans. Only this time a notable portion of educated middle class blacks from cities migrate to faster-growing East Africa and to Europe in search of better prospects for their children. The ageing populations of EU member-states lead to attractive merit-based worker visa programs targeting emerging market talent.

The conservative Afrikaner white-collar strongholds of Pretoria, Bloemfontein and the Nelspruit region, see a mass movement south, as failed local government and rising insecurity threatened suburban life. The Western Cape, now operating as an integrated regional province along with the Northern and Easter Cape, received these migrants. Port Elizabeth is heralded “die Nuwe Durban” as the last vestiges of Gauteng manufacturing relocate to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality. A weak Rand and abundant labour in an investment-hungry local government allows for experiments with free economic zones, without the dysfunction of coalition politics of the north.

The movement of parliament from Cape Town to Pretoria by a beleaguered ANC in 2025 cements the idea that the Cape Colony of old is increasingly a new reality. Talk in the Burger newspaper is that the Cape region will be the new Catalonia, the region around Barcelona that seceded from Spain in 2019. But the real economy is devastated.

Azania Peoples Republic, capital Tshwane

When the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces declare bankruptcy in 2022, the national government, centered in Tshwane, restructure the provinces to incorporate the northern regions into the Azania Provincial Region. The mass de-urbanization in these regions during the deep recession and job-losses that followed the Peoples Revolution, strengthen the hand of the rural chiefs. Entrenched African nationalism becomes the only unifying force as talk of a new “Azania Peoples Republic” coordinates otherwise competing interests. The infighting and corruption is debilitating.

The beloved country

In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, published in 1948, Msimangu the priest laments, “The tragedy is not that things are broken, The tragedy is that they are not mended again … It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in the place of what is broken.”

If Mr. Ramaphosa fails and populism succeeds, by 2040 the tribes will again have triumphed, but theirs will an empty victory. They would have failed to realize that their destinies were intertwined. In the pursuit of narrow interests, they would have won their land but lost their country.

South Africa, united, is a tapestry of opportunity, a rich orchard of diverse people, resources and beauty. The collision of these diverse threads produced the historic injustice of apartheid, but were also a recipe for a miracle reform. If Msimangu could speak today, I wonder what his prayer would be for the beloved country? DM

Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics. He oversees the Future of Business in SA project that uses strategic foresight and scenario planning to explore the future of South Africa, Africa and Brics.


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