Journalist Helen Grange reviews Frans Cronje's latest scenarios for South Africa - 8 June 2017

When Clem Sunter, one of the most incisive thinkers on SA affairs, says a book on the country’s future is ‘masterful and gripping’, you know you have to sit up straight and focus, focus.

CEO of the IRR, our leading think tank, Frans Cronje is a ‘scenario planner’. Cronje established the IRR Centre for Risk Analysis in 2007, to advise boards, strategic planning teams and policy-makers on short-, medium- and long-term strategic decisions in SA.

The author and his team have chosen one question as the main axis of four possible scenarios of SA’s future to 2030. It is: will popular expectations be met or unmet? The other axis is whether the state will be dominant or weak.

The first scenario is ‘The Rise of the Right’, a new model of authoritarian capitalism that sees the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms. The second is ‘The Tyranny of the Left’, stagnant and negative economic growth rates persisting, with the state pursuing reckless, out-of-date socialist policies that lead to ratings downgrades and major capital flight.

The third, ‘The Break-up of South Africa’, portrays a weak and divided government, with fragmentation, factionalism and confusion reigning. The fourth is the most positive one, ‘The Rise of the Rainbow’, with SA no longer a country in which people wait for the government to do something for them, but do it for themselves, the government creating the conditions for them to do so. SA, with a booming middle class, becomes an Asian tiger without the authoritarianism in The Rise of the Right.

Cronje tells the chilling story of the origins of the Arab Spring, which engulfed 16 oppressive countries in the Middle East and North Africa in murderous turmoil, which brought down even long-time dictators with total power such as Gaddafi. The touchstone was a poor Moroccan street vendor, who due to total frustration with obstacles put in his way by an uncaring government, and corrupt police demanding bribes, set himself alight in 2010. Massive demonstrations began at his funeral.

“Why does this matter to us? If you live in SA you already suspect the answer: because the circumstances that led to Mohamed Bouazzi setting himself alight describe very closely the daily struggle of millions of poor young South Africans. Massive unemployment, an out-of-touch, arrogant and corrupt government, and a rising tide of public violence.”

Asked whether SA might face massive economic and political destabilisation, the answers are guarded. “This is not to suggest that SA will descend into the chaos of the Middle East. To be clear from the outset, we do not think it will, and none of the scenarios in this book describe worlds as violent and chaotic as we see in the Middle East. But political change and economic destabilisation can take many forms, and we are headed towards our own unique brand of trouble,” writes Cronje.

So which scenario prevails? Read the book to see. Gripping stuff.

This article first appeared here.