Make young people to central to South Africa's scenarios - News24 18 August 2017

Jonathan Brady reviews the Rise of the Rainbow scenario and argues that young people should be central to South Africa's scenario planning exercises.

Royal Dutch Shell’s scenario planning has become a focal point in the development planning landscape. 

Pending the decisions taken by various leaders in diverse constituencies, potential outcomes are laid out, prompting commensurate planning measures. 

Usually within the purview of energy and climate change related scenarios, this model has been used in other instances. One country deemed a vehement success story through alternate scenario application is South Africa during the political transition period in the early 90’s.

Stalled talks between leadership in government and the recently unbanned ANC in 1992 prompted interventions from various stakeholders. This came as our country at the time teetered on the brink, with assassinations, inter-party violence and seemingly immovable ideological positions from either side. 

In bringing together both parties to further negotiations, the now famous Mont fleur scenario exercise worked as an illustrative tool to influence compromises from each side. Scenarios like ‘Ostrich’, ‘Lame Duck’ and ‘Icarus’ were to be avoided at all costs, while ‘Flight of the Flamingos’ – a natural progression of stages where all who lived in the country were to benefit, following the commitment of leadership and institutions was most desirable so all of us could move forward (albeit a tad slowly). 

Currently, the country sits in a cesspool of governance malpractice and malfeasance with opportunities and resources dwindle daily. This comes in a social and economic climate beset by failures in leadership. 

The one constituency vital to changing our situation, and one which has been wilfully ignored, is the youth. Perhaps scenario planning in all of its engagement, painting outlooks to influence leadership could do with a makeover when reshaping its approach to be more youth oriented. 

The majority of South Africa’s population (roughly two thirds) are between 10 and 25 years of age, a valuable demographic to growing any economy should the right investments in skills and creating opportunities be given their due.

This is commonly known as harnessing the demographic dividend – a slogan the African Union now (strangely) finds the time for, just one year before its decade of youth comes to an end. Some of the worst ingredients for a powder keg are in place here in South Africa. 

Unemployment to a large extent consists of youth (unemployment levels within this 15-24 age group sits at roughly 50%). This includes those both in and out of tertiary institutions. #FeesMustFall – a case in point with regard to youth disgruntlement – was only taken seriously by officials after Blade Nzimande’s chastising of student grievances prompted further outrage by the movement. 

This instance is indicative of age gaps between youth expectations and senior political representatives. Such a disjuncture. Perhaps if ineffective and corrupt governance persists, #FeesMustFall could widen its lens to include officials deemed enemies to youth interests. 

Another alarming disjuncture, is the future proofing of government planning. The overwhelming word thrown about in most government plans and documentation is ‘skills development’ and ‘jobs’. 

With what has been taking place over the last two to three years in the corporate sector, all this energy and investment have little to show in future. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and its increasing implementation across professional sectors has left many to ponder the future of work for humans. 

Frans Cronje’s recently released book The Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030 plots the ‘rainbow scenario’ to allow the private sector to restore the growth of our crippled economy, citing “falling unemployment rates and increased living standards”. 

South Africa being the most dynamic economy in Africa has little time left to safeguard professional unions from becoming luddites. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Auditing and consultancy firms like PwC, McKinsey, as well as major law firms like Baker & Holster have either thrown their weight behind self-learning computer programs or instituted them at the cost of staff cuts. 

Machines don’t need vacations, severance pay, sick-leave or training days. They just do the job that’s asked of them, not to mention, excel at their given task without much maintenance or supervision. 

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine Gauteng as the hub of job concentration soon repulsing most prospective job seekers once whole sectors follow cost saving trends. 

South Africa is the most dynamic economy on the continent, with foreign direct investment forming a large chunk of it. It wouldn’t be very long until our multinational subsidiary branches only follow international protocol.

Whether this means all of us should become computer programmers I am unsure (my father made the right choice many years prior to my birth). Many massive online open courses (MOOCs) offer machine learning courses – an introduction to artificial intelligence programs and programming. Perhaps it is here where unemployed youth can gain timeous advantages in preparation for market trends soon to besiege our economy.

All this compounds to make the future both exciting and uncertain for today’s youth, both at home and across the globe. It is for this reason above all that youth should be placed at the centre of scenario planning, for uncertain futures, meshed with lacking opportunities for greater livelihood(s) only create tension and social upheaval. 

Technology has been used as a mobilising tool for aggregating popular dissent. It now poses a risk to the economic format to which we’ve become accustomed. South Africa in the state it’s currently in, cannot afford to be lagging, while in the throes of state capture. 

What really needs to be captured are alternative opportunities and livelihoods for youth while there’s still time.