Picture: 123RF/MOOV STOCK
Picture: 123RF/MOOV STOCK

Social cohesion is at the core of so many of SA’s development plans. From the National Development Plan 2030 to the newly announced Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, achieving equality and inclusive growth is vital. Without it, even the best-laid plans will flounder.

The call for a new social order has grown louder in the last few months as the global pandemic exposed many socioeconomic faultlines in SA. The country was already battling various crises — from unemployment to poverty and economic instability — which Covid-19 just worsened. Social compacting has since been mentioned by the president in nearly every national address since March, as the country works to “build back better”.

But what exactly does this socially cohesive SA look like? Is it attainable by 2030? And if so, what steps should be taken to develop a social compact? These are the fundamental questions the Indlulamithi SA Scenarios 2030 project aims to answer. And we believe in answering them through the use of scenario planning, through which every South African is united behind a common vision of building an SA that champions social justice, prosperity and inclusivity.

Scenarios have long been used as a strategic planning tool, especially in the face of large uncertainties. Public relations professionals use them when preparing crisis communications plans. The military have used them since the Cold War years. You’ve likely used them in your own life when imagining how a certain conversation might pan out.

Scenarios allow us to imagine the different outcomes of an activity. They encourage us to examine, in detail, the sequence of events that would lead to each outcome. In doing so we’re able to clearly understand the underlying fundamentals and drivers of change, and in turn exercise greater influence over them. Scenarios break down the notion that the future is inevitable, or that it will always resemble the past. Instead, equipped with a guiding star and understanding of what propels the boat, we can steer and continually course-correct to a more desired outcome.

Graphic: DOROTHY KGOSI
Graphic: DOROTHY KGOSI

Informed decisions

This approach becomes powerful in the process of social compacting. A social compact is an agreement among members of society to co-operate for social benefits. It involves active discussion, consulting and the sharing of information to establish common interests. Scenarios help us have these conversations. They help us collectively imagine the different faces our world could have in 2030 and understand each of the factors that get us there.

With this knowledge we can agree on the scenario we want to move towards and those we want to avoid. We can make informed decisions on the sacrifices and compromises we are willing to make to achieve our goal. And we can know which fundamentals to preserve, protect and defend, and which to change.

Indlulamithi has worked with various members of society to draw up three scenarios for SA in 2030. Each scenario paints a picture of the country under different levels of social cohesion — from a united Nayi le Walk scenario to a divided Gwara Gwara.

We have also identified the underlying fundamentals most likely to shape these future levels of social cohesion. There are 25 fundamentals, or variables, including political leadership, unemployment and land reform. These variables have then been synthesised into the following driving forces, which diagnose the country’s societal challenges and guide us on intervention:

  • Social inequality. South Africans continue to experience stark inequalities in income, access and assets. The distribution of each is still heavily informed by race, gender, generation and spatial location;
  • Resistance, resentment and reconciliation. South Africans lack a shared understanding of our history and many feel postdemocratic SA doesn’t “belong” to them, resulting in struggles about recognition and reconciliation; and
  • Institutional and leadership capacity. SA has been shaken by corruption, the looting of state-owned enterprises and private sector theft and fraud, which has undermined trust in leadership.

The country is on course for the least desirable scenario. Known as Gwara Gwara, it imagines SA as a demoralised land of disorder and decay. In this scenario the country continues to experience slow economic growth, periods of deep recession, unemployment that never falls below 25%, and income inequality that exceeds even the high levels of the 2010s.

In such a state the country would be unlikely to ever achieve the desired levels of social cohesion. But the government has heard our message. Our scenarios were launched in 2017, and already they’re feeding into debates on economic, national, regional and institutional strategies. They’re being used by various institutions as a planning tool, and are being included in key institutional reports, including the Gauteng Growing Together 2030 report. The time for social compacting using scenarios has arrived.

I’ve consistently maintained that the current pandemic offers us a gift within a crisis. We’re at a critical juncture where, as we recover and rebuild, we can envision and pursue a new future that benefits us all. This moment of unbalance and uncertainty is an opportunity to usher in a new order and new way of doing things.

The time for a social compact is now. We need to work as a collective and with renewed vigour, resolve and determination towards course-correcting and improving quality of life for all citizens. Scenarios can guide our next steps forward.

For SA to walk hand-in-hand towards Nayi le Walk, Indlulamithi believes we need to tackle the issues and opportunities collectively within the key driving forces. We need to aspire to economic growth strategies that are transformative and inclusive and deal with the root causes of inequality. And we need leadership that appreciates the collective interest and works to realise it, fostering a civic spirit in line with the constitution.

The Indlulamithi initiative is updating the scenarios to take into account the shifting national and international context of the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring our approach remains relevant, effective and impactful. As we do we hope to see scenarios play an even greater role in social compacting, in which all people feel they can in­fluence the future and those in positions of power.

• Sangqu is executive-in-residence at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) and chairs the Indlulamithi scenarios executive team.

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