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A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030

Frans Cronje’s new book sounds like it belongs in the Douglas Adams section of your bookshelf. But the collection of realistic what-if scenarios from the scenario planner and CEO of the 90-year-old South African Institute of Race Relations is a useful roadmap for anybody seeking to navigate South Africa’s economic and political risks.

A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030 takes us 13 years into the future, a year after the country’s 2029 election. Cronje’s four possible paths may ruffle some ideological feathers, but the prescience of his 2014 book makes them worth considering.

In The Rise of the Right, an authoritarian state forces “pragmatic” economic policies that lead to a stable and increasingly prosperous country with positive economic reverberations across the continent. In The Tyranny of the Left, an authoritarian state expropriates wealth, suppresses political dissent and tramples property rights. The Break-Up posits a stalling economy in which the country splinters along lines of race and class and citizens drift into enclaves. The more prosperous enclaves become de-facto private countries; the poor fall under the control of tribal leaders.

The most optimal outcome is The Rise of the Rainbow, in which the ruling and opposition parties enter into a coalition and allow the private sector to take the lead in returning economic growth. Unemployment rates fall, living standards increase, and South Africa emerges as a free, open, stable, and prosperous society.

Cronje’s 2014 book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years, published in 2014, laid out the four roads for South Africa following the reelection of President Jacob Zuma. One scenario, The Toll Road, suggested that the government, hamstrung by infighting and volatile coalition politics, would fail to introduce economic reforms. Support for the ANC would fall in major urban areas. But democracy would persist despite large-scale protests. That has largely come true, perhaps lending credence to Cronje’s new crystal-ball forecasting.

“Good scenarios give decision makers sufficient advance warning of unanticipated political and economic shifts,” Cronje says, and “to introduce responses that capitalize on positive future events and navigate effectively around negative ones.”

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