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SA edges closer to 'Hunger Games' scenario - academic

Apr 19 2017 15:39
Liesl Peyper

Cape Town – South Africa increasingly finds itself in a scenario where politicians, business, labour and civil society defend deeply dysfunctional behaviour, based on the paradigm that the country is “different” from its international counterparts, says Morné Mostert, director of the Institute Futures Research (IFR) at Stellenbosch University. 

“The country has overnight stepped closer to a scenario that can be called ‘The Hunger Games',” says Mostert, “with a state of factionalism and self-interest festering on the one side, while sliding nearer to an ‘exceptionalism’ paradigm on the other.” 

READ: A millennial's take on the downgrade: let the Hunger Games begin

In a state of factionalism and self-interest government, labour and civil society fight one another for power, while exceptionalism refers to a scenario where South African leaders believe they don’t have to conform to acceptable international norms and standards, according to Mostert. 
  
“Such dysfunctional behaviour is defended through deep factionalism where each social partner claims justification and territory for its own agendas and self-interest.”

SA is a 'special case' 

He says President Jacob Zuma simply thinks South Africa is a “special case” and he therefore acts in a manner that is unbecoming of a leader and a president. 

On March 31, Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet, removing among others well respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. 

The rand tanked on the news and two credit ratings agencies – Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Global Ratings and Fitch – downgraded South Africa to junk status shortly thereafter. 

Immediately after the Cabinet reshuffle, there were calls for Zuma’s resignation from a number of quarters, such as Cosatu and the South Africa Communist Party (SACP). The move was even criticised by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, and ANC treasurer-general Zwele Mkhize – three of the ANC’s so-called top six. 

However, after a special meeting of the ANC National Working Committee (NWC) days later, Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize acknowledged they had made a "mistake" by publicly criticising Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle.

READ: Zuma survives and emerges stronger - economist 

“The problem is not only President Zuma,” Mostert says, “but now also that the six top members of the ANC defend this behaviour on the basis that SA is ‘different’ and has a unique history. This creates a precarious tipping point.”

Towards ‘Ecotopia’ 

Instead of factionalism, self-interest and exceptionalism, South Africa should strive towards an ‘Ecotopia’ scenario in which the country “surrenders its claim for special status” and rather “surfs” the fourth industrial revolution, says Mostert. 

In such a scenario South Africa would subscribe to international standards and norms of ethics, governance, safety, production, productivity, technology literacy and other international benchmarks and actively embrace new technology and intellectual literacy competencies in schools and universities.

READ: SA's place in a changing world  

Mostert says in addition to surrendering exceptionalism as a dominant paradigm, South Africa should address inequality and form an alliance between government, business, labour, civil society and academia. 

Doing these things will result in more policy certainty, which will result in increased foreign direct investment (FDI) and higher employment. 

This positive scenario is possible for South Africa, but there’s an urgency for clear decisions to be taken. 
 
Other possible scenarios 
 
Mostert is of the view that there are two other possible scenarios, however, they’re highly unlikely to materialise. 

The first is a “Fool’s Paradise” scenario where South Africa joins the international community, although factionalism and self-interest still continue. 
 
The second scenario is an “Islandia” scenario where everyone in South Africa gets along very well as cohesion improves, but one in which country, business and labour leaders continue to defend dysfunctional behaviour and incompetence on the basis that South Africa is “different”. 

In such a scenario South Africa will fall further behind international standards, Mostert says.

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