The Financial Mail's Claire Bisseker reviews A Time Traveller's Guide to South Africa in 2030 - 27 April 2017

Frans Cronje suggests four potential scenarios for SA’s future in his new book, A Time Traveller’s Guide to SA in 2030. Two of them are dismal; one is partly positive and one extremely so — his "Rise of the Rainbow" scenario.

In this happily-ever-after rainbow nation, South Africans find common political ground by 2030 and by unleashing the energies of the private sector end up prosperous, free and stable.

Needless to say this is not the way Cronje thinks the future is most likely to pan out. In fact, he believes that SA’s future as a free and open constitutional democracy may already have reached the point of no return.

"It’s been a gradual process of the white-anting of institutions while one man and his faction have accumulated almost untrammelled power," he says.

He also thinks confidence in the robustness of SA’s civil society and media as an effective countervailing force is misplaced. Both are "quite vulnerable to attack" should they ever pose any real threat to Zuma’s project.

The media can be squeezed by the state withdrawing all its advertising or through the introduction of regulations in the name of transformation, he argues. Similarly, NGOs which already have to register with the state and fill in reports could be silenced through creeping regulation that stipulates they must act in the national interest. There’s also talk of a draft bill that would ban NGOs from receiving foreign funding.

Helen Suzman Foundation director Francis Antonie strongly disputes Cronje’s view, saying: "I don’t think civil society is as weak as we may fear, nor as robust as we would like".

Any attempts to weaken NGOs through regulation would be contested in the courts, he says, and the judiciary would doubtless prove a strong ally in supporting institutions whose mission is to defend the constitution.

"But if the judiciary is captured, we can all pack up," says Antonie.

An opinion poll of five political analysts, released last week by Rand Merchant Bank, shows that the political environment is highly uncertain and multiple outcomes are possible.

According to those polled, the Zuma faction pushing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for president is the clear front-runner to win the ANC’s December elective conference (with their odds averaging 36% for a decisive win against only 14% for the anti-Zuma faction). The odds of a "messy win" with no clear winner are close to 20%.

But if Zuma remains as president of SA until 2019 the odds of the ANC losing the 2019 general election are as high as 47% on average. At almost 60%, the odds of a split in the ANC are even higher.

Based on current trends, Cronje feels the most probable of his four scenarios is "the Break-up of SA".

In this future, the ANC wins the 2019 election on a ticket of resurgent nationalism but then fails to enact the economic reforms required to meet voters’ expectations so loses its national majority thereafter.

This creates a vacuum in which unstable coalitions and policy confusion reign. Government finds it impossible to implement the economic reforms required to create growth.

For a moment it looks like civil society might force positive change but hope soon fades as mass protests develop a nasty racist character and turn into violent rioting.

Race, ethnic and class divides become deeper and South Africans gradually drift apart into enclaves — the wealthy and middle class behind the walls of their cluster homes and golf estates; the poor clustered into rural areas along tribal lines run by traditional leaders and in the inner cities into ghettos run by gangs.

"We’re actually further down this road than people realise," says Cronje.

The elite and the upper middle class will suffer through it, their dollar-denominated wealth will decline, there’ll be terrible problems – the country might run out of petrol – and they will be forced to become increasingly self-sufficient, independent of government. So there will be good private schools and independent universities in the enclaves.

"If you’re well hedged and living on the Atlantic Seaboard you will be able to maintain a fairly high standard of living ... if you can block out the horror outside the walls."

The worst of Cronje’s scenarios is the hell he sees South Africans experiencing under the "Tyranny of the Left" in which the ANC unites around a radical, Marxist, redistributive agenda in pursuit of self-enrichment.

The all-powerful and once-popular socialist government follows reckless, dated socialist policies that result in multiple sovereign credit downgrades, capital flight, soaring inflation, debt and recession. Property rights and civil liberties are likely to be eroded as the regime refuses to reform policy.

"Anti-government protest action will escalate sharply and will be met, when not with rubber bullets and arrests, with wild populist promises and hateful racial rhetoric and incitement to terrible violence," writes Cronje.

He feels this outcome is probably more likely than his final scenario, the "Rise of the Right," in which the ANC under Zuma’s hand-picked successor surprises its critics after the 2019 election by using its authority to force through pragmatic economic reforms.

Cronje says elements on the Right fantasise about "a new breed of authoritarian African capitalist society" modelled on the Asian Tiger economies and what is emerging in Rwanda and Ethiopia. At heart, the Asian Tiger countries (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) were authoritarian societies where government used complete power to enforce sensible macroeconomic policies.

In the "Rise of the Right" scenario the new ANC president professionalises the civil service, deregulates the labour market, re-orientates empowerment to support growth and jobs, and embraces the private sector as a partner to drive growth.

"The Rise of the Right is positive," says Cronje. "We are growing quickly and are politically stable. Unemployment will be wiped out. But we have surrendered rights and freedoms."

Some political philosophers wonder if this might even be a necessary initial step for any society to move from poverty to prosperity. That is certainly the lesson of the Asian Tigers.

This model is not the most probable scenario, Cronje thinks, since factionalism and leftist ideology still have too much hold over the ANC, and the civil service remains too weak and corrupt to implement the changes required.

In his book, he regrets that he could not come down in favour of the happily-ever-after scenario.

"While it has regrettably become difficult to offer a frank and honest as well as broadly positive assessment of where SA is headed, it also serves no purpose to play down the real threats to our future, the ineptitude of the current government, and the devastating consequences of its racial and ideological fixations," he writes.

"There can be little doubt that past reluctance to face up to those hard truths...contributed to getting the country into its current political and economic predicament."

This article was first published in the Financial Mail.