South Africa in 2030

 ·18 Feb 2014
Expat jobs south africa

A new paper, compiled by Jakkie Cilliers of the Institute of Security Studies (iSS), has explored what the South African social, economic and political landscape could look like by the time of the National Development Plan’s maturation in 2030.

The paper uses known indicators and projections made in numerous sectors, by prominent commentators and studies, as well as past scenarios to paint its stories of South Africa’s future.

While by no means set in stone or described as predictions, Cilliers identifies three possible “pathways” for South Africa, lining up with the government’s National Development Plan (NDP) goals for 2030.

“Each (pathway) is rooted in South Africa’s current reality and provides plausible combinations of events,” Cilliers said.

“They are not predictions, but plausible storylines that set out the most likely implications of decisions and actions by South Africans and their leaders.”

According to Cilliers, the ANC leadership is central to all three scenarios, but the country’s political future will also be affected by the future of organised labour and the extent to which opposition parties can mobilise young voters.

Setting the scene

Despite what mainstream media and ‘common understanding’ would have us believe, “it is important to emphasise that South Africa is not doing badly compared with international standards,” Cilliers said.

The country’s economy remains the largest on the African continent, and maintains a seat of prominence on the global political map in terms of its placement in BRICS, a leading role in the African Union, and a temporary spot on the UN security council.

The country, too, has a good handle on business, with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) being the largest stock exchange on the continent.

However, the country’s problems are clear: unemployment, a growing trade deficit, social unrest and growing corruption amongst politicians are well-known and well-reported.

According to Cilliers, by making the right decisions, South Africa’s leadership is sitting in a position where it has the potential to allow the country thrive and boost its economy by 23% by the time of the NDP’s maturation in 2030.

On the other hand, poor decisions could lead the country in the opposite direction, and see the economy shrink by 18%, while social unrest intensifies.

Bafana Bafana

Vladimir Melnik /

Bafana Bafana – staying the same

The Bafana Bafana scenario is named after the national South African soccer team. “This is essentially a forecast of ‘more of the same’,” Cilliers said.

“Bafana Bafana is simply the well-known story of a perennial underachiever, always playing in the second league when the potential for international championship success and flashes of brilliance are evident for all to see.”

In this scenario, South Africa stays its current course, toeing the line between decisive socio-economic action by the ruling party, and keeping with populist views to keep the masses’ support.

Under these conditions, South Africa will see:

  • The ANC retain a large portion of votes in future elections (above 50%);
  • The ANC govern with coalitions as it loses third majority in parliament;
  • Voter apathy increase, as the population loses faith in government;
  • Party loyalty, not merit, dominate major position appointments;
  • The NDP fluffed about, but ultimately shelved as yet another failed project;
  • Heavy reliance on private companies to service social needs;
  • South Africa remain in international standing, but lose its influence;
  • Economic growth pick up to 3.8% per annum as middle class grows.
Madiba Magic

Madiba Magic

Madiba Magic – a brighter future

Mandela Magic is the story of a country with a clear economic and developmental vision, which it pursues across all sectors of society, Cilliers said.

“In this scenario, Team South Africa plays to a single game plan and is consistent in execution during every match, refining and harmonising its strategy as it goes along.”

“Changing the productive structures of South Africa’s economy is complex and challenging, however. Competition is stiff and the barriers to success are high.”

According to Cilliers, this scenario could play out in one of two ways:

The future is ANC – with the ANC shifting policies and taking clearer focus and leading growth with a 60%+ dominance.

Under these conditions, South Africa will see the ANC:

  • Reform to reclaim Mandela’s legacy;
  • Bolster triparteid alliances;
  • Stabilise civil services and boost delivery of key services;
  • Maintain independence of judiciary, criminal justice system and uphold transparency.

Alternatively, with the ANC falling out of favour as voters opt for other parties in future elections, there will be a drive in competition amongst political leaders to deliver services better than their competitors in a true multi-party democracy.

Under these conditions, South Africa will see:

  • Factionalism eat away at the ANC;
  • The ANC dip below 50% of the vote, leading to rule under coalition governance;
  • Opposition parties flex their political muscles, with the DA ultimately heading 3 of 9 provinces;
  • Private sector become the engine for growth.

Both of these scenarios will ultimately see:

  • A major turnaround in the socio-politcal landscape;
  • A competitive drive to hit NDP targets and govern better;
  • South African carbon emissions pick up drastically as industry thrives;
  • Economic growth pick up to 5.1% per annum by 2030.


A Nation Divided – sinking ship

A Nation Divided’ reflects a South Africa that steadily gathers speed downhill as factional politics and policy zigzagging open the door to populist policies, Cilliers says.

“It is not one set of decisions or developments that might cause the former Rainbow Nation to spiral down to even worse levels of social violence, unemployment and poor performance.”

“This is a story of the absent coach, no game plan and individual players who rely only on themselves, sometimes passing the ball, but only when absolutely necessary.”

In this scenario, the ANC lets go of the reins of the country, and allows politics to muck up any solid plan for social, economic and political development.

Under these conditions, South Africa will see:

  • A breakdown of the tripartheid alliance
  • Cosatu fall apart as unions split
  • Corruption, cronyism, and state control increase
  • ANC remain in power, however, ultimately only with 47% of the vote
  • Voter apathy increase
  • Economy slow down as lending and patronage cause debt to balloon
  • NDP 2030 abandoned with no clear plan to replace it
Outcome summary

Outcome summary (click to enlarge)

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