Thuli Madonsela speaks about the importance of SA's political future in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

"A worthy read", she writes Thuli

South Africa is a country of paradoxes. It is a country that produces globally sought-after professionals in the fields of finance, engineering and nursing, plus globally respected corporations, among others. Yet, it is a society that scores low in the global human development index, in addition to still having children learning in mud schools, unequal education infrastructure and a massive number of mid-primary school learners said to be unable to read for meaning. The country boasted a National Development Plan similar to and long before the global Sustainable Development Goals, yet it lags far behind similarly sized economies on the Global Competitiveness Index. 

The country’s Constitution is globally celebrated as a blueprint for a good society. A good society, as understood by great philosophers and leaders including Plato, John Rawls and Nelson Mandela, is a well-ordered society. Such society is just, fair to all and all have a say in how they are governed and generally accept the governing principles, yet the rule of law in South Africa is increasingly a challenge. Thirty years since declaring a departure from its legalised racial stratification and divisive past, South Africa would be a top contender if there were a world dysphoria award.

The mismatch between where the country seeks to go and where it has landed, with the likelihood of falling deeper into the abyss, would be eliminated if there was a foresight lens that could give the people and public policy-makers a glimpse into the future and the impact of their decisions in relation to such. Imagine having 2020 vision foresight instead of the normal hindsight. That is what scenario planning endeavours to do. Though not as accurate as natural science, working and planning with scenarios provide a glimpse into how the future might unfold if a certain mix of leadership and factors in the field of possibility, including improbable but possible factors, coalesce. 

The scenarios presented in this book are a gift to South Africa of a foresight lens on what the future holds if different political choices are made and the interplay with anticipated domestic and global ecosystem factors is considered. Based on systems thinking and appreciating complexity, the scenarios are primarily based on political permutations likely to flow from the 2024 elections and consequent policy choices. Some of them are frightening. However, foresight of possible ‘ugly’ futures can incentivise carefully considered decisions about leaders and policies, including pivoting to better align choices with desired scenarios. 

The book highlights the importance of determining very clearly what a good South Africa looks like and, in this regard, aptly quotes George Harrison’s aphorism: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

The book notes the Zondo Commission’s report on state capture, detailing what went wrong regarding the integrity dimension of public governance and what we need to do to fix corruption. It is more than a year since Chief Justice Ramond Zondo delivered his final state capture report, but we are yet to see substantive progress regarding the implementation of its recommendations. 

By now, parliament should have held its members who were implicated in state capture accountable. There could be written new rules that prevent the civil service from being used for enrichment and to consolidate its professionalisation to serve all competently and impartially, while driving societal transformation as envisaged in the Constitution. An unequivocal message should be sent to society, indicating that corruption will not be tolerated by ensuring that implicated persons are prosecuted speedily and competently without fear or favour. 

What is certain is that without an engaged and active civil society, the country will not move forward. Without harnessing all the best skills and logistics available, energy and infrastructure problems will not be resolved.  Without unlocking value among citizens, particularly the youth, and innovation, we will miss out on societal renewal and shared prosperity. 

At the heart of our actions must be a commitment to recapturing the constitutional vision of our society, through fostering the ethical and competent state envisaged in the Constitution, particularly Section 195, thereof. That requires the people to be clear about the society they want and ensure that they elect leaders who are ethical, act purposefully to deliver that society by being impact conscious in respect of all their actions on the country, its people and the environment, and demonstrably committed to serve all justly and fairly. 

It is time for the people to claim their agency and not allow themselves to be voting fodder lured by transient promises or gifts that will not free their potential, improve the quality of their lives and heal the divisions of the past, as envisaged in the Constitution. Every law or regulation that is promulgated must be interrogated with the question: does this take us to the society envisaged in the Constitution, which includes extending freedom from want and opportunity to enable all to operate equitably at all levels of the economy and society, thus fostering shared prosperity?

Ultimately, the scenarios give us a glimpse into possible futures from which we must choose. The call is for all to exercise political will to bend the future towards the South Africa we want. In my view, anything other than re-anchoring good governance in constitutional governance, based on the constitutional blueprint, will not give us the peace, stability and freedom from the dysphoria we desperately need. A worthy read indeed.