Scenarios for South Africa in 2024

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

“Is the Rainbow Nation at a turning point?” This was the question posed as the topic for a seminar hosted by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS), in partnership with the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in Cape Town recently.

Taking place in the wake of violent protests in Pretoria last month that saw a number of people killed, and with more unrest expected in the run-up to municipal elections in August, the seminar focused on protests, factionalism within the ruling party, and three possible outcomes for the country in the next eight years.

Violence and protest

Dr Jakkie Cilliers, head of African futures and innovation at ISS, presented the seminar. He explained that most protests in South Africa are motivated by a lack of service delivery (94%), followed by anti-crime (4%) and education (2%) protests.

According to the ISS, the ability of state security to respond to protests in a way that is effective and safe is worrying, as the police, defense force and intelligence departments continue to be handicapped by poor policy, management and political compromise. Lacklustre leadership and weak governance exacerbate social turbulence.

The graph shows how growing domestic protest in South Africa is rising while at the same time the effectiveness of the government is declining.

South Africa's governance indicators and riots and protests, 1997-1914

South Africa’s governance indicators and riots and protests, 1997-2014

The ANC’s factions

There are two main factions within South Africa’s ruling party. The first is the “traditionalist” camp. Predominantly rural, black and nationalistic, this faction is socially conservative, loyal to President Jacob Zuma and dominated by Zulu speakers. They have a strong commitment to a centralised state and are not constitutionalists.

The second group are the reformers. They are social democrats, mainly urban dwellers, multi-ethnic and include a larger segment of born-free voters with jobs. They believe in a mixed economy and the importance of inclusive economic growth.

Looking at the period up to 2024, the most important determining factors for South Africa’s stability are which of these factions becomes the most powerful, and how the rivalry between the two plays out. This will manifest in the results of this year’s municipal elections, the election of a new ANC president in December 2017, and the national elections in 2019 and 2024. All of this will be taking place against a backdrop of poor economic growth and possible credit ratings downgrades.

Future scenarios

At the seminar, ISS sketched three scenarios for South Africa up to 2024. The first scenario is the desirable “Mandela Magic”, the ingredients for which are the early exit of Jacob Zuma and a period of rapid restructuring and economic growth. A possibility in this scenario is a split in the ANC and the formation of a new, reformist party and alliances that could change the outcome of the 2019 elections.

The second is the “Bafana Bafana” scenario. This is the uninspiring current situation, with the economy stuck in the middle-income trap, investor uncertainty, poor political management and faction in-fighting.

The third scenario is an alarming “Nation Divided”. This is the worst-case scenario where the traditionalists triumph during the December 2017 ANC national conference. This can result in a possible split in the party and coalition politics. The country would experience continued low growth.


Scenarios for South Africa to 2024


To reach the Mandela Magic growth path, ISS recommends the following:

• A labour-intensive, low-wage and less regulated growth path.
• Government must carefully manage its social support programmes.
• Invest in partnerships with the private sector to establish a knowledge economy, close the skills gap and create an environment for growth, investment and innovation.
• There must be a focus on small- and medium-sized business with less red tape, better access to low-cost finance, business-friendly market regulations and a more flexible labour market.
• Broad-based black economic empowerment should be replaced by more specific race-based initiatives.

ISS forecasts that, “South Africa has proved its resilience over many generations, and the country should be able to weather the turbulent years ahead.” The Rainbow Nation could remain intact.