How do we feel now about South Africa’s future?

Johannesburg in the future? Image by Shahid Solomon

Johannesburg in the future? Image by Shahid Solomon

– by SHAHID –

It has been fascinating to see the wide spectrum of responses to the outcomes of the ANC’s 53rd Elective Conference in Mangaung this month. Some see a victory for tribalism, factionalism and capitalism others see a resurrection of hope for the  ruling party see http://www.citypress.co.za/multimedia/watch-curtain-closes-on mangaung/utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-curtain-closes-on-mangaung

Seen from the perspective of South African long term planners it was heartening to hear about President Zuma’s endorsement of the vision in South Africa’s   National Development Plan (NDP) to 2030 see http://www.info.gov.za/issues/national-development-plan/index.html. I would count myself as a fierce critic, not of the vision but is lack of grounding in an implementation trajectory that helps the  nation face some tough choices. That said, it is heartening that the NDP has ascended above competing and parallel policy streams and that we are looking to one vision.

Whether we believe that vision gets implemented or not and the future we see is often an emotional choice we make before we really analyse anything.Because it is not here the futures is always a thought, an idea and so is the past. We project the past on the future, and we evaluate the past on our expectation of the future. And like all thoughts and ideas it is influenced by emotions and everything else that make us think the way we think.

I will suggest that there are three types of thinkers (or ways of thinking) about the future of South Africa. The optimists “Feel Goods” the pessimists “Feel Bads” and the pragmatists “Feel Alives”.

Let’s Feel Bad about South Africa

Feel Bads see in the past the disunity amongst South Africans and their history of political, economic, racial, ethnic, gender  and class war, conflict and struggle.  Usually they takes sides with what they perceive to be the group closest to their own  and there is a sense of victimhood in the story of the past.

Looking at the present, they take a hard and long look at everything that Umzansi is NOT at the current time when compared with something that they imagine: a 21st Century   France or Brazil transplanted over the Atlantic, an imagined 19th century African or European village, a South Africa richly populated with their ideal brand of South African and (worst of all) some even prefer to imagine a South Africa with only ecosystems and wildlife and no people to mess it up. They see deficits in jobs, houses, teachers, moral values and degraded settlements and ecosystems when compared with their imaginary ideal. They point to the corruption uncovered by the media and the instruments of state, the huge differences in living standards and the millions still living in poverty and shack settlements and are depressed  by the fact that governments seem unable to make inroads. see  http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1299251–apartheid-flourishes-in-the-new-south-africa#.UMRxjctR96o.facebook

They look to the future and see bad getting worse as a country heads for catastrophe without the right people (their people) in charge to take responsibility for charting a new course.  The spectre of anarchy and violent uprising as the have-nots attempt to seize what they can from the haves seems the inevitable outcome for South Africa. Many see a human time bomb ticking in unison with an ecological time bomb.

Let’s Feel Good about South Africa

Feel Goods look to the past and see progress in what they believe to be the right direction. From government perspective they point to the millions of houses built, the thousands of schools built, the massive enrolments in colleges and universities of kids from previously disadvantaged families, the new roads and infrastructure and reducing crime rates From the business perspective they point to  a history of enviable macro- economic stability, South African companies that have achieved global excellence, the incorporation of almost the entire economy within BEE Charters  and the emergence of a flourishing Black Middle Class.

Feel Goods also compare South Africa with imagined alternatives and see stronger economic growth than in the entire  club of Western Countries, better infrastructure than in most Upper Middle Income countries, new malls  and public squares being built in former townships and a healthy culture of open democratic debate inside and outside the main political parties. They see a South Africa faring far better than an Egypt, Swaziland, DRC or Kenya and a country that is able to deliver world class events and huge expansion of natural wildlife conservancies and reserves.

Feel Goods have faith in the market, South African values  and/or invisible forces of divinity or evolution which will keep raising the bar so that eventually inequality and the forces of greed, hatred and division will be conquered. Feel Goods point to the new environmental and social values of   young South Africans and are certain that the next generation will build a better South Africa. Feel Goods see the problems of South Africa as difficult to cure symptoms of   the past order and see the cracks in the wall rather than the wall itself. Feel Goods believe that we lead national change with personal change and try to do whatever they can to make a difference.

Let’s feel alive in Umzansi

Feel Alives look at South Africa’s past as honestly as they can, realising that it was a mixture of good and bad (depending on your point of view) but that is got us here, made us who we are.  They are not comforted by the achievements which they know came at too high a price, but they are also not frightened to pay whatever price freedom might demand in future.

Feel Alives look at the history of South Africa and see a golden thread of ingenuity, invention and adaptation that got ordinary people through all manner of political and economic machines.  They look to the ingenuity of the Boers who created Africa’s breadbasket out of wilderness and defeated the British Empire with guerrilla tactics that would be emulated by a generation of 20th Century revolutionaries. The look to the Karretjiemense of the Karoo who happily  maintained their nomadic lifestyle in the face of total dispossession, the network of African farmers and coffee carts which fed early Johannesburg. They take pride and honour in three generations of  black and white men who toiled kilometres underground to being billions of tons of rock and forty percent of all the gold in human circulation to the surface.  They celebrate the toughness and the resilience of South African people.

They see five million shacks as homes that have been built by ordinary people, territories that have been won through struggle. They point to the satellite dishes, shops, school-going kids and hard won relative peace and stability that nonetheless survives in most Umzansi  shack settlements. And the millions of foreigners who survive unscathed and warmly integrated for the most part.

As with the Feel Goods they point to all the improvements in health, education, prosperity and access to opportunities and technology that have reached millions of South Africans in the past 30 years. But they are painfully aware of how long the queues are in rural and township hospitals and government offices. And when they look into a policeman’s eyes they see a compassion which was never there before, even as they negotiate the R 300 or the R 500 that gets them off the ticket…most often with some sense of humour.

Feel Alives point to the fact that population growth is slowing down fast because girls are getting smarter and more boys are respecting them. The entire youth is social network enabled on Facebook and technology has all sorts of fixes up its sleeve which are going to make a sustainable South Africa possible and affordable.  Feel Alives don’t ignore the environmental challenge but see it as an opportunity as well as a threat. To Go Green is seen as a great opportunity for new markets of reinventing, recapitalising and recycling that create thousands of jobs.

Feel  Alives  (to quote Brand SA’s  Alive with Possibility by-line see www.imc.org.za ) are excited by the possibilities in South Africa’s future. They do not trust or rely on the Krokodille of big government or big business or Big trade unions to ensure Umantsi’s  nation- actualisation but neither do they believe that the Krokodille  can stop us from renovating our idea and our practice of our Umzansi Future.

This is not optimism or feel good thinking. It is based on humour, irony, resilience and ingenuity.

Let’s feel alive to the future of South Africa and engage the 2030 NDP

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