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Mont Fleur Scenarios: envisioning South Africa’s transition to democracy

Reos Partners
November, 2005

Learn how the Mont Fleur scenario exercise brought together diverse leaders who worked together to envision South Africa's transition from apartheid to democracy.


The “Mont Fleur” scenario exercise, undertaken in South Africa during 1991–92, was innovative and important because, in the midst of a deep conflict, it brought people together from across organizations to think creatively about the future of their country.

The name “Mont Fleur scenarios” was selected to indicate that the scenarios belong to the group that met at Mont Fleur and not to a specific institution or organization. Team members participated in their personal capacities.


The historical context of the project is important to understanding its impact. It took place during the period between February 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the African National Congress (ANC), Pan African Congress (PAC), South African Communist Party (SACP), and other organizations were legalized, and April 1994, when the first all-race elections were held. During these years, dozens of “forums” were set up in South Africa, creating temporary structures that gathered together the broadest possible range of stakeholders (political parties, civic organizations, professional bodies, government departments, trade unions, business groups, etc.) to develop a new way forward in a particular area of concern. There were forums to discuss education, housing, economic policy, constitutional matters, and many other areas. They ranged from informal, off-the-record workshops to formal, public negotiations. The Mont Fleur project was one type of forum that, uniquely, used the scenario methodology.

The purpose of Mont Fleur was “not to present definitive truths, but to stimulate debate on how to shape the next 10 years.” The project brought together a
diverse group of 22 prominent South Africans—politicians, activists, academics, and businessmen, from across the ideological spectrum—to develop and disseminate a set of stories about what might happen in their country over 1992–2002.

Summary of the Scenarios

The scenario team met three times in a series of three-day workshops at the Mont Fleur conference center outside Cape Town. After considering many possible stories, the participants agreed on four scenarios that they believed to be plausible and relevant:

Ostrich, in which a negotiated settlement to the crisis in South Africa is not achieved, and the country’s government continues to be non-representative

Lame Duck, in which a settlement is achieved but the transition to a new dispensation is slow and indecisive

Icarus, in which transition is rapid but the new government unwisely pursues unsustainable, populist economic policies

Flight of the Flamingos, in which the government’s policies are sustainable and the country takes a path of inclusive growth and democracy

The group developed each of these stories into a brief logical narrative. A fourteen-page report was distributed as an insert in a national newspaper, and a 30 minute video was produced which combined cartoons with presentations by team members.

The team then presented and discussed the scenarios with more than fifty groups, including political parties, companies, academics, trade unions, and civic organizations. At the end of 1992, its goals achieved, the project was wrapped up and the team dissolved.

Read the presentation of the Mont Fleur scenarios as they were originally published in the South African newspaper The Weekly Mail & The Guardian Weekly, in July 1992.

Results from the Project

The Mont Fleur project produced several different types of results: substantive messages, informal networks and understandings, and changed ways of thinking. The primary public output of the project was the group of scenarios, each of which had a message that was important to South Africans in 1992:

• The message of Ostrich was that a non-negotiated resolution of the crisis would not be sustainable. This was important because elements of the National Party (NP) government and the business community wished to believe that a deal with their allies, instead of a negotiation with their opponents, could be sufficient. After hearing about the team’s work, NP leader F.W. de Klerk was quoted as saying, “I am not an Ostrich.”

• Lame Duck’s message was that a weak coalition government would not be able to deliver and therefore could not last. This was important because the nature, composition, and rules governing the Government of National Unity (GNU) were a central issue in the pre-election negotiations. The NP wanted the GNU to operate subject to vetoes and other restrictions, and the ANC wanted unfettered “winner takes all” rules. Lame Duck explored the boundary in a GNU between compromise and incapacitation.

• Icarus warned of the dangers of a new government implementing populist economic policy. This message—coming from a team which included several of the left’s most influential economists—was very challenging to the left, which had assumed that government money could be used to eradicate poverty quickly. The business community, which was worried about Icarus policies, found the team’s articulation reassuring. The fiscal conservatism of the GNU was one of the important surprises of the post-election period.

• The simple message of Flight of the Flamingos was that the team believed in the potential for a positive outcome. In a country in the midst of turbulence and uncertainty, a credible and optimistic story makes a strong impact. One participant said recently that the main result of the project was that “We mapped out in very broad terms the outline of a successful outcome, which is now being filled in. We captured the way forward of those committed to finding a way forward.”

The second result of Mont Fleur was the creation of informal networks and understandings among the participants—an influential group from across the political spectrum—through the time they spent together. These connections were standard for this forum period, and cumulatively provided the basis for the subsequent critical, formal agreements.

The third result—the least tangible yet most fundamental—was the change in the language and thought of the team members and those with whom they discussed their work. The Mont Fleur team gave vivid, concise names to important phenomena that were not widely known, and previously could be neither discussed nor addressed. At least one political party reconsidered its approach to the constitutional negotiations in light of the scenarios.

Read Adam Kahane's article about his learnings from this exercise, eighteen years after the release of the Mont Fleur scenarios.

Read the report from the Mont Fleur Scenarios in Spanish.

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