Scenario planning is something of a cottage industry in South Africa and was particularly popular during the negotiations for democracy in the early 1990s. Careers were launched on the back of this industry, and speakers known for gazing into the crystal ball back then still pack halls with (white) middle class people worried about their future in the country today.

Scenario planning served as a kind of parallel process alongside the negotiations, especially in determining the direction of South Africa’s economic policy. While the former apartheid regime exposed ANC leaders to, for example, Derek Keys, a businessman who briefly turned politician during that period, scenario-planning exercises were used to influence the ANC’s thinking with dominant economic dogma.

These attempts to influence the ANC’s policy makers usually happened in opulent settings where the proffered ideas would be imbibed with a glass or two of wine. The most well known example is probably the Mont Fleur-scenarios, conjured up near Stellenbosch, a university town set among wine estates that has been a magnet for the well heeled.

Scenario planning is clearly not so much about “the future” but about the present. It functions as a strategy to normalize dominant assumptions, in that rather than the revelation of possible futures—albeit through a somewhat questionable, quasi-scientific method—participants are inducted into ways of thinking that only really benefit the status quo.

In scenario planning the results – the “scenarios” – depend on the choice of information fed in at the start, which is determined by the ideological position of the planner. The question is therefore not where Frans Cronje, in his book A Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years (Tafelberg, 2014), thinks South Africa will be in ten years’ time. The question is, rather, which ideological intervention Cronje regards as most urgent in the present and of which he would like to convince readers.

Apart from Cronje being the head of liberal think tank the South African Institute for Race Relations, another clue for readers appears early in the book when he describes the atmosphere in South Africa 20 years ago at the time of the negotiations for democracy:

Even if the country managed to avoid a civil war, many doubted whether the ANC, a socialist liberation movement long supported by the Soviet Union, could possibly govern South Africa. Board rooms and dinner parties were rife with fears that the new government would wreck the economy by expropriating land and nationalising key industries such as mining, thus destroying the middle classes. Fast forward to the present, and we know that the ANC has not ruined the economy, or turned South Africa into a third-world basket case.

This quote, with its inaccurate cliché about the “socialist ANC”, reveals the point of departure. He uses the words “we” and “our” freely, as in the title, but this is a very specific “we” and “our”. Who this “we” refers to becomes clearer when Cronje says: “contrary to popular opinion, significant progress has been made since 1994”. In the May 2014 elections, the ANC attracted some 11 million votes from people who probably mostly think that the country has made significant progress since 1994, so the “popular opinion” under discussion can’t be theirs. The first quote above shows “we” are the people in “board rooms and at dinner parties” – the “largely white middleclass”, as Cronje calls them later. Thus, the author combines the usual liberal emphasis on property rights as the only economic option with judgments associated with a certain form of whiteness. This is the ideological point of departure of this particular scenario planning.

The author then sketches a picture of a suburban existence of BBQ-ing next to the swimming pool amid the expansion of luxurious shopping centres and coffee shops over the past 20 years. Of course, the ANC government has already disproven apartheid rulers’ propaganda–that it would turn South Africa into “another African basket case”, as the oft-heard saying goes. Cronje also sounds surprised that middle-class life is still intact.

But still, the white middle class can’t sleep peacefully. It’s not their consciences keeping them up at night. The bugbear, Cronje unselfconsciously admits, is rather how the glorious middle class existence can continue undisturbed. Because the “real revolution” has only been averted temporarily. At this point appears the usual reference to the threat of the withdrawal of foreign investment to discipline any wayward reader who might be entertaining the daydream of social justice. There are greater economic powers at work, the author warns, that South Africans have to bow to.

Cronje, as the author of this “scenario”, believes that “the disadvantaged” harbor “growing expectations”. This is described as a “crisis”, a “curse” and a “cruel irony”. Obviously only the middle classes may hold expectations (of swimming and BBQ-ing, of course). In his view, having expectations is something that does not behoove those 25 million people living under the breadline in South Africa. His reasoning reminds one of the old colonial nightmare of the “restless natives”… if only they would accept their lot…

Given the ideological basis of Cronje’s planning exercise, Step One is obviously to ponder whether “the poor” will rise up, whether a “racist government” (apparently referring to a black government) will rule and whether wealthy people will be able to escape if things got out of hand. This elite-driven framing, with its implicit reference to “black racism”, draws on current white-right complaints of “reverse discrimination”. It is blind to the everyday interactions among people of different backgrounds that are not always race-based or about economic interests. Cronje-the-scenario-planner apparently does not wonder about ways to promote equality, or how to end poverty and discrimination or deepen democracy and human dignity.

He warns that change is “dead easy” because the “crisis of growing expectations” is happening in a context of constitutional rights and mechanisms. This confluence of factors makes a “second revolution” unavoidable. Presented in this way, post-apartheid South Africa’s commitment to comprehensive human rights is part of the problem.

The scenarios he then proceeds to paint revolve around the economy. Instead of democracy or democratic mechanisms, Cronje’s scenarios speak of mysterious “feedback mechanisms” that determine “freedom” in all likelihood of the economic kind. This conceptual wooliness strengthens the impression that the liberalism on offer here is specifically concerned with the maintenance of existing economic privilege. Building South Africa’s democracy, with its emphasis on human dignity, is less important.

* An earlier version of this review first appeared in Afrikaans in Rapport newspaper, South Africa. The image is from “Casting Shadows” by Edward West.

Further Reading