Press Releases

South Africa at a Crossroads

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

What will South Africa look like in 2020?

South Africa stands today at a crossroads. Since 1994 we have made great strides towards a democratic and more prosperous society. But we have also made many mistakes that could become critical if not addressed.

If we, as South African citizens, do not energetically engage with a more capable government to set the country on a path of renewal, we may well face disintegration, decay and compromise our democratic system.

This is the message of the Dinokeng Scenario Team, a diverse group of 35 South Africans from civil society, government, various political parties, trade unions, business, religious groups, academia, and the media.

The Dinokeng Scenario Team engaged in robust debate about both the present and the future of South Africa. Despite their divergent views, they are bound by a common commitment to the values of the Constitution, an acknowledgement of South Africa's bitter legacy, and a deep concern about how they, as citizens and leaders, can contribute to a sustainable future for all South Africans. The key question posed by the scenarios is this: "How can South Africans address the country's critical challenges before they destroy the country's accomplishments?"

Dinokeng is a Sepedi word meaning a "place of rivers".  It is also a catchment area in the north-eastern corner of Gauteng where the scenario team met for three three-day workshops over the course of four months.

The Dinokeng Scenarios exercise is sponsored by Old Mutual and Nedbank who are committed to creating an opportunity for healthy debate about the future of the country. "It is an initiative conducted in the public interest," said Bob Head, who represented Old Mutual and Nedbank in the exercise. The agenda and product was determined by the Scenario Team, not by the sponsors.

The scenarios team was brought together by six convenors, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, who chairs the convenor group, The Most Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane, Mr Bob Head, Ms Graça Machel, Dr Vincent Maphai, and Mr Rick Menell.

"We want to create a space and language for open, reflective and reasoned strategic conversation among South Africans about possible futures for the country, and the opportunities, risks and choices these futures present," said convenor chair, Dr Mamphela Ramphele.

Fifteen years into our democracy, South Africans find themselves confronting some stark realities. There is rising political intolerance, weak state capacity, and a failure of leadership to successfully build one nation. The government has too frequently turned a blind eye to corruption and incompetence in the public service. This undermines a key provision in the Constitution that promises an accountable and efficient public service. Racial polarization persists, as do poverty, unemployment, and inequality. South Africans have stood by as the country's educational system has faltered, and we have stood by as parts of the public health system have crumpled under weak management. The persistent challenges of education, health, crime and poverty are not due to a lack of funds: indeed public funding has consistently increased over the past 13 years.

Rather, at the heart of our challenges is weak state capacity, and an unwillingness, or inability on the part of ordinary citizens to challenge and engage government. The message of Dinokeng is this: The government needs to become more accountable to citizens, and citizens themselves must more robustly engage government so that all of us can address the pressing challenges of our time. Only in this way can we hope to navigate our way towards a future that lives up to the promise of 1994.

The Dinokeng Scenario Team believes we are seeing the symptoms of three inter-related trends: since 1994 citizens have become disengaged (or have been co-opted into government or party structures), state capacity to address our challenges is weak and declining, and leaders of all sectors have become increasingly self-interested, unethical, and unaccountable.

The Dinokeng team also acknowledges that South Africa is profoundly affected by the world's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. While South Africa has been buttressed by strong financial regulations and prudent fiscal and monetary policies, the ripple effects of the global economic downturn are sending tremors through the domestic economy. Now, more than ever, South Africa needs leadership and vision to navigate its way through this difficult climate, made worse by the international storms. . Citizens and leadership in all sectors must step forward to address our challenges. An engaged citizenry needs to demand an accountable and effective state.

Summarizing the conclusion of the Dinokeng Scenarios, Dr. Ramphele said: "A healthy democracy and strong socio-economic development require a healthy interface between an effective state and an alert and active citizenry. South Africans are standing at a crossroads. Each one of us, citizens and leaders, must choose how we walk forward. Through the steps we take, we will create our future."


Scenarios are not predictions. They describe possible pathways into the future. All of the scenarios concluded by the Dinokeng team have their seeds in the present.  But scenarios allow us to draw apart the intertwined strands of complex reality in order to see more clearly the risks and opportunities we face.

Walk Apart

In the first scenario, Walk Apart, we continue on the same path that we are on today. Our pressing problems - unemployment, poverty, safety and security, and poor public health and education delivery - worsen. Our social fabric unravels as civil society disengages and public trust in public institutions diminishes. Forces outside the state, some of them criminal, fill the gap created by the failure of the state to deliver. Protests and unrest escalate and provoke an authoritarian response from the state.

Walk Behind

In the second scenario, Walk Behind, the state both manages and leads the process of addressing our challenges. Citizens either support strong state intervention or are acquiescent in the face of a more powerful state. If citizens are not acquiescent, the state may become authoritarian. The risk in this scenario is that the state over-reaches itself by intervening too strongly in the economy. It is eventually forced to borrow from multi-lateral financial institutions. This undermines the country's autonomy and its ability to decide its own spending priorities. Citizens are disgruntled, the state cracks down, and thus our democracy is compromised.

Walk Together

In the third scenario, Walk Together, our challenges are addressed through active citizen engagement, a catalytic state, and strong leadership across all sectors. Good governance, competent delivery, and active citizen involvement become the key to fixing social problems that will become deadly if unaddressed.

In conclusion, Dr Ramphele explains, "The next phase of the Dinokeng Scenarios is to stimulate and broaden debate and conversation and to encourage people to actively engage and take responsibility for the country's future."


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Click here to view the Dinokeng Scenario Team