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A Reflection on the South African Dream and the Looming Nightmare of Food Insecurity

By June 26, 2020 No Comments
south african dream

Saying that 2020 did not turn out exactly as good as we hoped is probably a huge understatement. But all is not lost, and while it is a cliché that we cannot control events or actions of others, but we can control our reaction to events or actions of others. It is worth remembering that we do have choices. And now, more than ever, the choices of our governments, groups we are affiliated to, and our individual choices, will contribute to shaping our future. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the potential dangers of taking directions that could send us into an abyss of unnecessary misery.

This is part two of a 3-part blog on food security in the time of COVID-19 and climate change. We are juxtaposing recent developments against our rich treasure of scenarios that have created a vision for South Africa throughout the journey towards and into democracy. These scenarios remind us of the best possible dreams for the country and could give hope for the future. They provide a common thread that could pull us through the current challenges. At the same time the scenarios we have reviewed also provide valuable insights into what could prevent South Africa from taking the best possible course.

Checking reality against the dreams we had for our future

While we are all part of creating a new reality for our country (albeit consciously or unconsciously), day by day, as we respond to the new reality, it may be helpful to look back at what our dreams for our country looked like in the time before and shortly after the birth of our democracy, which promised a better future for all our people.

There is a common factor in all the scenarios that have been developed for the country by a range of think tanks and planners, from as early as 1991. All of them include a scenario that envisages inclusive approaches, where the country works together towards a common goal. Inevitably, within each set of scenarios, this is the one that foresees the best possible future.


Taking care not to avoid the nightmares about our future

Every set of scenarios include one or more scenarios that predict negative outcomes when the wrong choices are made. A summary of the less desirable scenarios provides rich food for thought when considering the issue of food security and hunger against the backdrop of recent events. For example:

  • The Mont Fleur Scenarios predict unfavourable outcomes when: responses to urgent issues are not adequate, e.g. when: realities are ignored (Ostrich); decisive action is not taken (Lame Duck); or unsustainable populist policies are pursued (Icarus).
  • The Dinokeng Scenarios shows how we cannot win when we “Walk Apart”. Under this scenario critical challenges facing the country are not adequately addressed, resulting in decreased trust in public institutions and ultimately in a cycle of resistance and repression. The “Walk Behind” scenario paints a picture where the state plays a strong central role in an attempt to accelerate service delivery to citizens, which discourages private initiatives by business and civil society, thereby risking a situation where the state amasses unsustainable debt, and/or becomes more authoritarian.
  • The less favourable Indlulamithi Scenarios include “iSbhujwa – An enclave bourgeois nation”, which describes a South Africa torn by deepening social divides, daily protests and cynical self-interest; and “Gwara – A floundering false dawn”, which paints a picture of a demoralised land of disorder and decay.
  • The Clem Sunter Coronavirus scenarios include some that point to severe negative economic impact, which in turn, will impact on food security and hunger. “The Camel’s Straw”, where the virus leads to a collapse of the world economy; and “Spain Again”, where a significant percentage of the world population perishes, similar to the Spanish flu which led to the death of between three and five percent of the world’s population. The “Much Ado About Nothing” scenario, which brushed the COVID-19 virus off as just a bad bout of the seasonal flu, has by now been rendered redundant by evidence on the spread and impact of the virus.

langston hughesWe need to hold on to our dreams

As South Africans, we cannot afford to let go of our dreams for our country. When facing challenges that seem to be insurmountable, it is dreams that will help us navigate the rough patches and boulders in the road. Dreams will also keep us focused, to remember what we are working towards, and it will give us strength and energy when the challenges seem too many, and the hurdles too steep to overcome.

Possibility thinking is necessary to ensure that we do not waste this COVID-19 crisis. Reflection on our dreams and nightmares can provide a useful frame for figuring out what path our responses to this crisis will lead us on.

Clearly, the working together scenarios are those that will create a better future, particularly now that we have had the opportunity to understand the practical implications of the links, and disruption of links between many stakeholders and systems. The current crisis has demonstrated how the complex relationships between agriculture, business, government, donors, non-profit and other community and faith-based organisations are needed to ensure that food security is achieved and maintained.

Walking together is the only option, and in the current crisis we are not “walking the road” together – we need to “walk the tightrope” together. This will require a careful and considerate balancing act, where all actors in society can play their role. The government cannot do this on their own, and the only way to stand up to the growing challenge of food insecurity and hunger would be to work towards the common goal of achieving food security for all who live in South Africa.

[1] The Mont Fleur Scenarios


[3] SA Scenarios 

[4] Investec: Camel to Tightrope Road to Recovery

[5] Politics Web: The South African Dream Revisited

[6] Poets: Langston Hughs