Beyond the high road : a scenario analysis of the prospects for political stability or instability in South Africa over the period to 2024
Cronje, Frans Johannes Cornelius
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Despite the widely hailed success of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy it was apparent by the mid-2000s that beneath the veneer of stability lay a country facing serious social and economic challenges. The employment and labour market participation rates were uniquely low among emerging markets. Protest action against the state had reached levels last encountered in the volatile 1980s and early 1990s. The budget and current account deficits had reached unsustainable levels. By its own admission the government realised that the country was not recording GDP growth rates necessary to make dramatic inroads into poverty, unemployment and inequality levels. A number of analysts and commentators therefore came to question the future stability of South Africa’s political system. Trade unions and some Cabinet ministers routinely described unemployment as a “ticking time bomb”. The Chairman of the Institute of International Affairs wrote in Business Day that he could predict when South Africa’s “Tunisia Day” would arrive. The respected Economist newspaper ran a front page feature on what it called South Africa’s “downhill slide”. Former President FW de Klerk warned that South Africa was approaching a precipice. Clem Sunter, South Africa’s most renowned scenario planner, upped his prospects that South Africa may become a failed state. Global ratings agencies downgraded South Africa citing the fear that government policy could not meet popular demands. Amidst such speculation it is vitally important that the prospects for instability be investigated and determined, not via opinion or speculation, but rather against a sound body of theory. This task is complicated by the fact that the feared instability may only occur at a point in the future. The theory must therefore be applied via a methodology capable of overcoming the weak track record of political science in accurately anticipating major shifts in political systems. This problem statement will be addressed by showing that complex systems theory holds the key to a series of units of analysis via which the stability or instability of any political system can be objectively determined, compared to any other political system, and tracked over time. Secondly that there are scenario planning methodologies that can overcome the uncertainty inherent in the futures of all complex systems and thereby the poor track record that political scientists have in anticipating dramatic future changes in the systems they study. When combined into a single complex systems/scenario model, these theoretical and methodological points of departure will allow the long term prospects for stability or instability of any political system to be accurately and objectively determined.