Adam Kahane is worried. The world-renowned facilitator, who helped shape ANC planning at the dawn of South Africa’s transition to democracy, has warned that the state lacks capacity to solve complex problems; that the citizenry is responding with protest and that the government, in return, reacts with brutal repression.
Kahane—a pivotal figure during the Mont Fleur scenarios in 1991 and 1992, that helped to shape South Africa’s democratic and economic thinking—was a central figure four years ago when the Dinokeng Scenario team came together to take stock of where South Africa was and to consider possible futures for the country.
In 2008, along with the Dinokeng team, he warned about a walking apart-scenario for the future of South Africa in which the state becomes weaker and ineffective, and that the disengaged citizenry loses patience and erupts into violence. The state then responds brutally.
Kahane said in an interview with FORBES AFRICA the walking apart-scenario is an apt description of Marikana where scores of miners were shot dead at a mine owned by multi-national, Lonmin.
It is not a question of the state being weak morally, but its capacity has weakened to deal adequately with the challenges of society, he says.
“Some pockets of the state [are] strong, but on balance, its capacity is not strong enough to deal with the
“All the scenarios that we discussed at Dinokeng coexist currently in South Africa, but what happened at Marikana, with social groups not getting what they think they deserve and protests erupting, and the state responding violently, makes this a catastrophic walking apart.
“All the mechanisms of solving disputes, between workers and trade unions, between citizens, the police and the state failed. It was a failure of mechanisms for working out disputes.
“Marikana shows that our capacity to work out difficult complex conflicts is degrading. In fact, it was a catastrophic degradation,” says Kahane.
He also warned that South Africans will have to rediscover their extraordinary capacity to work things through, instead of superficially papering things over.
Some observers have called Kahane a critical and pivotal figure in helping to shape South Africa’s economic thinking in the two years prior to the 1994 elections.
Clem Sunter, South Africa’s foremost corporate scenario practitioner, might have had Kahane in mind in January 2010, when he said that Africa had navigated its own transition to democracy and the global recession, “So take a bow, all you who were involved in the Mont Fleur initiative. You may have changed our history at a critical juncture in the fortunes of the world.”
But Kahane denies that his role was ‘pivotal’. He argues a meaningful role is a more apt description and salutes the impact of Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni on the ANC think tank during the Mont Fleur scenario discussions.
The Mont Fleur scenarios team questioned how South Africa’s transition will proceed and whether the country would succeed in taking off.
One of the dark prophecies that the country wanted to avoid, was Icarus, in which a constitutionally unconstrained black government comes to power on a wave of popular support and embarks on a huge and unsustainable public spending program, which crashes
Manuel and Mboweni presented the Icarus scenario to the ANC’s leadership team. Icarus was a direct attack on the party’s orthodoxy.
Mont Fleur helped to shift the economic thinking and action of the ANC to avert an economic disaster.
“The post-1994 government had been more conservative and fiscally disciplined in its economic policies than what they were expected to be. Mont Fleur had a broad impact on the specific question to what constitutes a sustainable economic policy,” says Kahane.
“Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni had created the scenario and understood inside out what it meant. So I would not take personal credit [for shaping the ANC’s economic thinking], but Mont Fleur [had] made a useful contribution,” he says.
Asked whether the vibrant and vigorous debate about the nationalization of the mines presented a possible return in the ANC engine-room to socialist thinking, Kahane said one must understand the global debate about the matter.
“Not only in South Africa, but globally, the faith in markets and in the current form of capitalism that we had in the late 1980s and the 1990s has been eroded substantially. The SA government is trying to figure out what is the best way to get the social and economic results we want. In 1992, during the Mont Fleur scenarios, [the faith in capitalism] was much more credible that it is now.
“Globally there is a reopening of the question on sustainable economic models. In South Africa there are specific challenges about the extremely poor and about economic inequality which has worsened in a certain way since 1994.”
Kahane said the economic debates in South Africa are not entirely a parochial matter, but are vigorously debated elsewhere.
When Kahane and the Dinokeng-team debated possible options for the future, the most positive one was ‘Walking Together’. This tells the story of a state that becomes increasingly collaborative, listens to its citizens and leaders from different sectors and engages with critical voices.
When asked how South Africa can produce the Walk Together option, Kahane said changes by government won’t necessarily fulfill the ‘Walk Together’ scenario.
“The citizenry must increasingly stand up and say: this is what we need, think and what we want. The government might then readily or grudgingly respond to these voices.
“I think it is important that ‘Walk Together’ is driven by the citizens, and not by the state. The state will always generally have a tendency of saying, ‘We will take care of this, why don’t you keep quiet and let us do the job’. It is an error to wait for the state. The citizenry must push the country and state into walk together,” he says.
Although the drive by the citizens should not be a violent one, it is not necessarily a calm phenomenon. People will shout and push and shove, there might even be a cacophony of voices that must be tolerated in order to move to a ‘Walk Together’ scenario.
The mechanisms, cultures or institutions that allow conflicts to be addressed, even noisily, is sadly absent, he notes.
Kahane not only nudged South Africa towards a peaceful resolution, or helped post-dictatorship Guatemala move beyond the longest civil war in the history of the Americas. He and Reos Partners, of whom he is a director, have also been involved, intimately, in Zimbabwe with scenario planning and have released a document called The Great Zimbabwe Scenarios Project. They are also involved in Southern and Northern Sudan, in Europe, America and Australia.
A man equipped with such enormous insights and the author of the recently published book Transformative Scenario Planning: Working together to change the future, Kahane could offer some advice on how to arrest the current malaise in South African society, the hardening of the stance between government and some sections of society.
And Kahane says the possible answer lies in the excavation, the rediscovery of the capacity for dialogue and for collaborative action in South Africa.
“I have learned my craft in South Africa. South Africans have an extraordinary capacity to work things through. This existing capacity must be un-buried,” he says.
“We are always in a seesaw between walking together and walking apart. We are in a phase now where trust is low, polarization is high. It is about protecting myself and my people. It leads to walking apart.”
“Perhaps combinations were made that [were] superficial. Perhaps real economic, cultural or political differences were papered over. I said in a previous book of mine that love without power that papers over differences, is sentimental
Kahane said the current situation might require a deeper capacity for engagement in which society and the state deal with difficult unresolved issues.
“A superficial coming together is inadequate. Difficult work is needed. We need to look at conflicts squarely and not pretend they are not there. We might be more wounded than we think we are, for untreated wounds are dangerous,” says Kahane.