In 2013 we wrote that by 2016 there would be “pockets of political violence”, accompanied by “economic gangsterism … looting and vandalism of private property” in South Africa. We argued that “foreign direct investment will stall”, inflation will rise sharply, the “EFF thrive” and that xenophobia, racism and tribalism would surface. Sound familiar?

We arrived at this grim prediction through the use of the “futures wheel” below, a method for thinking through the consequences of a significant event in a socio-political and economic system. The event was the ousting of Zwelinzima Vavi from Cosatu and the tripartite alliance and our interpreting that event as indicating that the ANC is losing its grip on the so-called “workers”.

Graphic: Marius Oosthuizen
Graphic: Marius Oosthuizen

A senior ANC official said to me in April this year that “the ANC is the only party that can control the streets”. This seems to be increasingly untrue.

We wrongly predicted that AgangSA and the DA would form an alliance. Well, they kissed and then broke up so it almost happened. We foresaw an Amcu-EFF alliance, an ideological friendship so obvious that it’s inevitable. Perhaps the post-election setting will ripen this leftist courtship. Our biggest political prediction was that President Jacob Zuma would be recalled by 2016 and his predecessor, Kgalema Motlanthe reinstalled as a pacifier between the factions.

Retrospectively, His Excellency the President fell from constitutional grace but managed to bog down and entrench himself. Perhaps the NPA will help this along now? Ultimately, we anticipate a “conservative versus labour” arrangement in the SA political landscape by 2020. Perhaps an ANC-DA coalition government in Tshwane later this year will incubate that reality.

Government, with friendship and loans from the Chinese will look to nationalise industries in crisis by 2020 to “protect jobs”. This will be their misguided attempt after state investment meant to spur the GDP fails to create or even sustain job levels. Basically, political uncertainty will have ambushed already risk-averse private sector investors to the point of financial exile.

The more worrying elements our scenario predicted relates to the social dimension where a resurgence of the “restitution debate” will begin to dismantle the negotiated settlement. The expropriation bill recently passed in Parliament marks this new normal, where resentments over historic disenfranchisement begin to overshadow property rights to the point of undermining our non-negotiable constitutional foundations. In terms of race relations, the question we raised was whether xenophobia would translate into tribalism, animosity between workers and employers and ultimately turn what are class divisions into race-based tension.

In our analysis, political violence is a symptom of the loss of the legitimacy of the ANC as the combined effects of corruption, factionalism and internal decay turn the once grandiose movement into a mere outdated political personality cult whose prophets have all been discredited. The current economic woes in turn are a symptom of this shattering of the political facade.

Doctor, tell me the bad news…
In preparation for this 2013 analysis and forecast we synthesised the findings of the diagnostic report of the National Planning Commission to understand the true state of the nation. This is depicted below. The speech made by the president in January is not a description of the nation’s health, but rather of the menial milestones achieved in progressing along the ruling parties’ narrow promissory mandates. The true state of the nation is too dire to wax lyrical about. It requires a sombre lament.

Graphic: Marius Oosthuizen
Graphic: Marius Oosthuizen

In a nutshell, “treacherous politics” is strangling a “finite economy” while a “needy society” gets increasingly frustrated, as these combine into what we called then a “cycle of decline”. It is for this reason that during the Gibs Economic Outlook conference in January 2014 we forecasted a 1.9% GDP growth when the economists were forecasting 2.3% and that we in 2015 anticipated 0.9% when the economists hoped for 1.7%. We’re not quite at the bottom of the trough of decline as we near recession. Politically, our infections have names: corruption, policy incoherence and cadre deployment in the political dimension, and a slow, increasingly uncompetitive economy. But the real crisis masked by all the political noise is the social breakdown of our communities. Many of these are enclaves of stagnation where young, detached parents go partially hungry as they languish in vulnerability, too uneducated to work meaningfully and too disempowered to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They wait for government.

Now for the medicine!
South Africa can spark a cycle of hope and prosperity, but the political will needs to be found for:

– President Zuma to go and be replaced by a respectable, capable person and cabinet.
– The economy is restructured and ignited though business-friendly policy adjustments and investment in infrastructure and skills.
– Education is placed front and centre. Not only at school level but especially further education and vocational training for 20-somethings.

The continent of Africa is not waiting for us, it is moving ahead with growth in Lagos and Luanda and Nairobi outstripping ours. If we wake up from our self-induced slumber we can retake our place as a leader in Africa with much to offer the 1 billion young consumers who will aspire to better things for them and their unborn children in our lifetimes.


Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA Project. He is passionate...