SA – An Evolving Scenario?

By Steuart Pennington

Ever noticed in England their traffic lights go from Green to Amber to Red and then back to Amber before Green? Our robots don’t, they go Green, Amber, Red, Green! Having just read John Endres (Institute of Race Relations) article “South Africa’s Third Age: What lies ahead?” it occurred to me that the English traffic lights represent what might be in SA – an evolving scenario, as the diagram below encapsulates.

4 Steps in our 30-year Evolution

As Endres writes “a useful framework for thinking about this assesses the role of the state along two axes. The first axis is whether the state plays an enabling role or one that is obstructive. The second is whether the state is expanding or receding. Combining these two axes’ results in four quadrants.”

Quadrant 1: Green – 1994 – 2007. Post our ’94 elections, no question, there was considerable progress across a wide range of indicators. Some of the cynics out there will claim that the Governing Party was enjoying the legacy of Nationalist Party rule. I beg to differ, when I did the research for the book “South Africa – The Good News” (2002) it was quite clear that a number of negative NP indicators were reversed by the ANC; debt to GDP came down; GDP grew to 5%, averaging 3.6%; our economy grew faster than our population; our deficit turned into a surplus; the number of people with jobs increased(8m-14m); 4m houses were built; more people had access to electricity (86%) and water (92%) than ever before; tourism numbers ballooned; our FITCH rating improved (BBB+); Business and consumer confidence levels improved; our global competitiveness ranking reached its highest at 42/140; crime came down by 50%; labour strikes were few. The robot was green, we were going in the right direction. We were a developing state.

Quadrant 2: Amber – 2008 – 2019. Then the US Contagion hit, worldwide there was a recession. In 2009 Thabo Mbeki was ‘re-called’ and Jacob Zuma became President to the thrill of the Tri-Partite Alliance ANC/COSATU/SACP; employment crashed; our economic growth slowed to barely 1 %; GDP per capita declined; business and consumer confidence declined; protests regarding service delivery began to increase; crime started to increase dramatically; SOE’s started asking for bail-outs; our FITCH rating declined to BBB-; our Global Competitiveness fell to 60/140; Cadre deployment became full-frontal with State capture fully exposed; load-shedding commenced; ANC hegemony started to give way to coalition governments. The robot changed to amber, we were slipping wherever we looked, as the Zondo Commission revealed. We were in a detrimental state.

Quadrant 3: Red – 2020 – Present. The nine wasted years under Zuma became fully exposed; the State’s influence started receding in terms of its capabilities and became obvious to all, the Tri-Partite Alliance started fragmenting; our FITCH rating was downgraded to junk (BB-); we were Grey listed; Govt, with NDR aspirations starts passing, and proposing, a raft of new laws and restrictive regulations in respect of; Employment Equity, Water Empowerment, National Health Insurance, Schools and Education, Labour laws; Service delivery protests became increasingly violent; big city infrastructure begins to collapse; load shedding becomes the bane of everyone’s life; water crises become common; railways are unable to deliver to our ports; corruption, cadre deployment, political incompetence is deep and endemic; coalition rule becomes the talk of the day as the 2024 elections near; the state becomes increasing bypassed as private sector and civil society ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ happens with power, water, potholes, security, healthcare, schooling. The state tries to get in the way, but it begins to realise it can’t cope. The robot is red, the state is emasculated.

Quadrant 4: Red-Amber-Green Present to Future? Big business gathers to work with the State; 115 CEO’s sign a Pledge to fix logistics, power and crime; privatization starts gathering momentum; President Ramaphosa affirms the opportunity for SOE’s to engage with the private sector; citizens increasingly form co-operatives to fix what’s broken, civic organisations start building training institutions for the future, low-fee independent schools abound; corporations start providing security for state institutions where they can’t; medical aid organisations start working on health care schemes for the poor; local government partners with the private sector to fix potholes; citizens install their own renewables, putting power back into the grid; community organisations collaborate with their local governments on security, infrastructure, education and environmental challenges. So….what’s the robot doing?

As John Endres concludes “We are solving problems in the growing absence of the state and doing it successfully. In years to come, South Africa may well become a case study of how private initiative succeeds where states fail. And in the future, South Africa could end up with an enabling, compact state, a lean state, which co-operates with non-state actors instead of trying to stifle their efforts.” So….do we have to potential to go from red, back to amber, and then to green?  Is this the way our scenario will evolve, or will we stay red and the state continue to fail?

I think the traffic lights of our future could start working properly and become increasingly syncronised. If they do, and it’s a big if, we will have a workable future, enabling ‘traffic flow’ between the state, the private sector and civil society. So, a change to Amber then Green will result in unbridled opportunity and possibility. If it stays Red….. a snarl-up!