Why a policy expert says SA's current phase of chaos is 'normal'

South Africa is currently in a period of chaos – a normal phase to go through after years of neglect, corruption and weak leadership.

This is the view of policy specialist Theo Venter of the North West University School of Business and Governance. He was one of the speakers at the Momentum Consult annual conference on Thursday.

“I subscribe to the view of a range of possibilities for SA’s future where one sees cyclical movements followed by periods of chaos. It shows how difficult it is to deal with a situation like the country is in now,” said Venter.

He suggests that South Africans look at the current situation in the country in terms of the abbreviation 'VUCA'.

It stands for

  • volatility  - reflected by what the rand is doing;
  • uncertainty  - related to government policy);
  • complexity, and
  • ambiguity  - which includes fake news

“Don’t let the current uncertainty stop you. In a VUCA environment you need a better vision. You need to know where you are going and you need more research,” Venter said.

“To deal with complexity you need clarity, and for ambiguity you need agility.

Creating noise

Venter said if politics were an iceberg, then the real situation has to be established by looking at the data beneath all the noise created above the surface.

He said the most important aspect is perception and not wanting to see what we are not comfortable with.

“We only see things when a crisis opens our eyes.  Usually we cannot ‘see’ what is emotionally difficult for us to see,” he said.

“If we talk about land reform – the current hot topic in SA - what happens is that people have difficulty entering the discussion process. Then comes a disruptive turbulence and chaos phase and only after that phase can you get into a new beginning which could bring consolidation.”

He said one must allow people entry into the land reform discussion process even if they were not willing to enter at the beginning. This is because not everybody develops the same insight at the same time.

A VUCA approach demands reframing, looking for new ways to approach the various possible futures SA faces.

“We learn from economists that the economy goes in a cyclical way and it is difficult to determine where SA is in that cycle.”

While certain things like the banking system, free press and relatively good infrastructure are having a positive impact on the country, other factors like the weak economy, unemployment and the ruling party being in “disarray” make a negative impact, in his view.

“As the SA economy weakens, people’s view of what happens in the country becomes more negative too,” he said. At the same time the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa created a more positive feeling.

At the same time the policy uncertainty index shows that uncertainty remains in the country, the index remains in negative territory. Venter also does not expect SA to do much better on the latest global competitiveness index expected to be released soon.

A World Economic Forum (WEF) report also shows the top four challenges for SA are corruption, crime and theft, government instability and tax rates.

He said there are a number of critical uncertainties in SA. These include land reform, social cohesion, the political process and the economy.

“I don’t think the Constitution will be changed regarding land expropriation,” said Venter.  “It is a mindset issue. We must get out of the emotional approach to what we are doing and be solutions driven.”

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER