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The Dinokeng Scenarios: Three Futures for South Africa

Busi Dlamini
September, 2009

What will our country, South Africa, look like in 2020? As citizens, will we be better off? Or will we be worse off? And how will the country stand in the world?

These are the questions posed by the Dinokeng Scenario Team, a diverse group of 33 South Africans who have been working together since August 2008. The purpose of the project is “to create a space and language for open, reflective and reasoned strategic conversation among South Africans, about possible futures for the country, and the opportunities, risks and choices these futures present.”

Dinokeng is the name of a beautiful catchment area northeast of Johannesburg. Dinokeng is also a Sepedi word meaning “the place of rivers,” which is apt as it sums up the spirit of the team’s conversations: a flowing together of ideas from a wide range of different perspectives to co-create scenarios.

Fifteen years into democracy, South Africans find themselves facing harsh realities in the present and many daunting uncertainties about the future. In this context, two South African companies (Old Mutual and Nedbank) decided to sponsor a public–interest exercise to generate a fresh set of national scenarios . The sponsors chose not to try to control either the process or the outcome, and this has contributed to the sense of open participation and authentic engagement of all members of the Dinokeng Scenario Team throughout the process.

Six prominent South African leaders were invited to act as convenors of the project. One of their first tasks was to identify and invite people to join the Scenario Team. The goal for this group was for it to be large enough to allow for a diversity of perspectives while small enough so that participants would be able to engage in deep conversations. This goal was achieved, as the team represented views from business, trade unions, most political parties, youth, research institutions, civil society, government, and religious groups. Once the team was in place, the facilitators guided the group through the scenarios construction process.

Scenarios are an important tool for stimulating and structuring the dialogues we need to deal with the challenges we face. Adam Kahane of Reos Partners led the construction of the scenarios, which took place over four workshops between August 2008 and February 2009. There were several iterations of the team’s scenario report. After much deliberation, they decided to issue this report only after the national elections of April 2009; the Dinokeng Scenarios consider future possibilities for the country that span a timeframe well beyond that of an elections, and the team’s messages could have been lost in the noise of electioneering. Since the release, Sarah Babb of Reos has led the process of disseminating the team’s work.

The release of the scenarios has struck a resonant chord in the country, as we face so many uncertainties within the context of the global financial crisis and daunting and growing social challenges. The scenarios provide a framework from which to understand our current reality as well as to see the seeds of possible futures that exist in the present.

The three scenarios that the team constructed deal with the crucial axes of the nature of the state and of the nature of engagement between civil society and the state:

• Walk Apart is a scenario of a corrupt and ineffective state and a distrusting and self-protective citizenry.

• Walk Behind is a scenario of an interventionist and directive state and a dependent and compliant citizenry and civil society.

• Walk Together is a scenario of a collaborative and enabling state and an engaged and active citizenry.

The members of the Scenario Team experienced the process of working on these scenarios to be an important personal and collective journey. Many refer to their “Dinokeng moments,” in which they experienced forging new relationships across seemingly intractable differences, and reengaging as citizens and leaders in the country. Members of the team have experienced the scenario process as a call for renewed action and commitment to creating the future we desire.

South Africa has a rich tradition of public-interest scenario work, including the Mont Fleur Scenario Exercise of 1991–92 (also facilitated by Adam Kahane). Dinokeng has been well received across a range of audiences, and indeed is seen as providing an honest reflection and framework from which to understand the core trends emerging in South Africa today. Since the launch just under four months ago, the Dinokeng Team has presented at over seventy engagements around the country to members of governmental, business, civil society, and faith-based organisations. Requests for presentations come in every day.

The national media continues to print and engage in conversations around Dinokeng. So, indeed, the Dinokeng Scenarios have begun to achieve the objective of creating a language for conversations around the country’s future and in opening spaces for these conversations. The Dinokeng approach to dissemination is to encourage all citizens and leaders to take the conversations into their own circles, networks, and sectors to discern in the context of the scenarios their own way forward.

Throughout this dissemination process, the question that has been raised continuously and vociferously is, “How do we walk together?” After 15 years of disengagement, with a trust deficit compounded in many by a feeling of individual insignificance, Dinokeng has ignited in South Africans a sense of personal and leadership engagement in crafting a better national future.

The current trajectory of South Africa is not producing a country that we want to live in. Moving onto a new path requires all citizens and leaders to Walk Together to address our core challenges in a difficult global context. This makes Reos’s work of creating a container for diverse groups to work together essential.

While these questions are being raised in South Africa, they are relevant globally as well. What is the role of the state? What is the nature of engagement of civil society with the state? How do we all walk together to deal with the global challenges we face, including climate change and the financial crisis? These questions remain, and it is incumbent upon all of us to continue having these conversations.

Download the case study.

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