Valuable foresight on challenges facing South Africa - The Herald 26 June 2017

Gillian McAinsh writes that Frans Cronje's latest scenarios for South Africa emphasise the importance of firms developing a range of strategic plans to take advantage of all possible futures.

Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing but foresight is so much more valuable.

However, as experienced strategic planner Clem Sunter notes in the foreword, nobody can predict precisely how the future will play out, although that is the rather ambitious aim of Dr Frans Cronje’s new book A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030.

Fortunately for the reader, the CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) is well placed to have a good overview of the challenges facing this country.

Armed with a PhD in scenario planning, he has given presentations on our long-term economic and political prospects to corporations, government departments, political parties and even foreign governments.

He also has covered this ground before in his 2014 book, A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next 10 Years, and in his view there are four fascinating roads which he foresees South Africans may be walking: 1. Rise of the right; 2. The tyranny of the left; 3. The break-up of South Africa, or 4. Rise of the rainbow. Readers need to bear in mind that his book is not a crystal ball and Cronje makes the point that scenario planning is not the same as forecasting.

He does make the point thought that if the Arab Spring was triggered off by one man, Mohamed Bouazizi, in Tunisia, then South Africa could likewise become subject to the “butterfly” effect where relatively small changes today lead to dramatic shifts in the future.

His advice to firms – and individual investors – is to make a plan for each of the four possibilities, which he claims is not that much more difficult than making one plan.

He also warns us to watch out for “flags” raised now which signal our future and economic indicators are key among these. The flags are in fact already there and one of his closing shots in A Time Traveller’s Guide is, “there is no excuse to say we did not see it coming”’.

At a time like this, in June 2017 when South Africa may be close to its tipping point for political leadership and the national economy, it’s a fascinating read!

– Gillian McAinsh

This article was first published in the Herald.