Frans Cronje was head of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), an organisation that has been collecting socio-economic and political data on South Africa for nearly a century.
His book, The Rise Or Fall Of South Africa, is the culmination of the IRR’s research and presents a detailed analysis of the country’s potential future trajectory.
The book delves into the potential future trajectory of South Africa, contemplating whether or not South Africa will persist on a path of state capture, corrupt leadership, and economic downturn, or if it can recover from the lost decade.
A failing chosen glory
Cronje discusses the concept of ‘chosen glory’, a political psychology term referring to a society that, despite a difficult past, is able to achieve great success. He mentions that, in the first decade to 15 years after 1994, South Africa was on the path to becoming a chosen glory.
During this period, the country saw huge improvements in living standards, job creation, and infrastructure development. For example, for every new shack erected in a township, ten real houses were being built.
Then something happened
The subsequent decade saw a stagnation and even a decline in these positive trends.
This has led to a high risk that the collective psychology of the country could shift – and is shifting – towards fear of failure.
This is what the book explores.
Cronje dives into this psychological aspect, questioning whether the collective will of the South African people can overcome the stagnation and decline, and resume the positive trajectory seen in the early years of post-apartheid democracy.
ANC’s support base
He believes that the African National Congress (ANC) experiences varying levels of support among different age groups, with older South Africans showing more loyalty than the younger generation. This trend was evident in polling data collected before the last election. Furthermore, he suggests that there is a direct correlation between the ANC’s declining support and the slowing of job growth in South Africa.
Corruption within the ANC is also helping to decrease the party’s popularity.
Increasing debt and electricity
Cronje highlights the significant budget deficit facing South Africa, drawing parallels to economic challenges experienced in the volatile 1980s and during the world wars. He points out that such financial strains have historically led to major political and social changes.
There is a relationship between the expansion of social welfare programs, ANC support, and government deficits. Cronje believes that big policy reforms that might change this relationship, under the current administration, are unlikely.
Cronje argues that the decline in electricity distribution – that is, daily blackouts – is triggering mass anxiety and disillusionment.
He also notes the impact of the COVID-19 ‘pandemic’. While the book was written before the pandemic, he had anticipated that an external shock could put significant pressure on the country. The pandemic has indeed played this role, adding to the challenges that South Africa faces.
What path will South Africa take in the coming decades?