The biggest risk to the future of work in South Africa lies in the social paradigms and approaches to problem-solving. We are at a delicate point in our history, with increasing uncertainty. South Africa is already viewed in many quarters as the protest capital of the world and the most unequal society on Earth, says futurist Dr Morne Mostert, director of The Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

A set of scenarios that captures possible futures for South Africa was recently developed by this strategic foresight and advisory institute. The initial research was sponsored by Business Unity South Africa.

Mostert says the IFR embarked on extensive research into what drives the possible futures of South Africa. Two dominant drivers emerged.

“The first driver is a continuum with collaboration and cohesion on the one end and factionalism – where labour, business, government and civil society fight each other to claim justification and territory for their own agendas and self-interest – on the other end.

“The second driver is a continuum with exceptionalism on the one end – the notion that we are different and therefore deserve special treatment or should not have to adhere to global norms, standards or agreements – and, on the other end, a paradigm where we join and hold ourselves accountable to global standards of ethics and governance and where we are ‘surfing the fourth industrial revolution’,” he says.

According to Mostert, South Africa is in a scenario where “we are deeply factionalist and practise exceptionalism”.

“We see the justification of deeply dysfunctional behaviour based on the paradigm that ‘South Africa is different’ and we sense ever-deepening divides between government, big business, labour and civil society. It is not conducive to economic growth or social stability and it constrains our ability to create economic opportunities.”

Doris Viljoen, senior futurist at the IFR, says: “South Africa is entering its traditional ‘strike season’, when labour unions negotiate annual increases through collective bargaining. In 2017 and for the near future, our economy cannot afford any work days lost. Now is the time to seek real cohesion and collaboration between business, organised labour, government and civil society.

“Government should not primarily aim to create jobs; it should rather focus on creating a supportive and enabling environment where entrepreneurs, both big and small, can do business. In my experience, we have amazing entrepreneurs in our country, willing to do – and keep on doing – business.

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For more information on the Institute for Futures Research, click here.

“Entrepreneurial activities will move South Africa closer to a scenario where we grow the economy through surfing the fourth industrial revolution and create the economic opportunities that our people so desperately need.”

Futurists believe the future is not determined or final. It can and should be designed. Mostert urges leaders to seek cohesion. “The seeds for a cohesive society that surfs the fourth industrial revolution already exist. Influential role players have both the opportunity and the moral obligation to act now.”

This article was paid for by the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

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