You can also be like Nostradamus

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Do you know that this year will see the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK? Or the 40th anniversary of the first Concorde supersonic transatlantic flight?

It will also be 30 years since the unveiling of the private correspondence of Michel de Nostradame.

Nostradamus, as he is better known to most of us, is probably the world's most famous seer. His fame is mainly for predictions he did not make – in recent times, these have taken the form of email chain-letters claiming that he predicted modern day events such as the collapse of the World Trade Center in the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Nevertheless, there are many people who are in love with the idea that the future can be predicted. Predestinarians love romanticising Nostradamus. They are also fascinated by Mayan prophecies. They love looking for hidden meanings in ancient scriptures. They also love the Da Vinci code. My mother is their patron saint.

I make some small claim to being a seer, having over the past year predicted – in this column – some significant events such as that people would lose money on Facebook, that there would be a bloody conflict at Marikana, and the outcomes of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the ANC elective conference in Mangaung.

The trouble with doing this kind of stuff is that when one explains to people how one arrives at a particular set of conclusions, it loses the magic – as readers of Sherlock Holmes will know.

So let me unpack the process of arriving at a prediction so that you too can do this in your spare time and astound your friends and family.

2011 Census data released last year showed a range of facts that were of selective interest to politicians. President Jacob Zuma, for example, loves referring to the fact that almost 20 years into democracy, whites earn six times as much as blacks.

(I find that stuff boring. It's about as relevant as the fact that Afrikaners are far more likely to be rugby players than Indian South Africans. But I digress.)

I find the unsung stuff to be more significant. Here's one you are probably aware of: our country's population now stands at 51,7 million.

So let's drill down into those figures.

Firstly, women outnumber men by about 1,4 million.

Secondly, our median age is 25, but if one excludes Whites, Coloureds, and Indians, the median age drops to 21.

Thirdly, the unemployment rate is highest for the 15-24 age group.

Fourthly, the percentage of educated women is significantly outpacing that of educated men. (There are 873 439 black African men with a tertiary qualification versus 1 095 162 black African women.)

Now let's measure that against stuff that we know outside of the census.

Firstly, the median age of our ruling cabal is more than double the national figure: Jacob Zuma is 70, Cyril Ramaphosa is 60, Gwede Mantashe is 67, Baleka Mbete is 63, Zweli Mkhize is 56, Jessie Duarte is 59.

Secondly, the gender split: four men versus two women (with the two women in largely ceremonial positions).

Now let's connect that up with some other seemingly unrelated information.

Firstly, Internet access in this country is growing at a faster rate than our population – 8,5 million active users in 2011 versus 6,8 million the previous year. Most of this growth is in the mobile space – meaning that people access the Internet on their cellphones.

Secondly, the uptake of new technology is always higher among younger people.

Thirdly, younger people are more likely to be able to mobilise large numbers of people using social networks. (Witness the massive wave of protest following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi.)

If we now connect the dots between all of these bits of information, what inferences can we draw?

Here's my take on it: we have a minority bunch of rich old men who are controlling the future of a majority of unemployed young women. The ability of that group of unemployed young women to organise around a common vision is increasing exponentially.

All that's needed for us to have seismic change in the political landscape is for one young charismatic internet-savvy woman to be able to mobilise that group around a common vision and get them to the polls in 2014.

I know of at least a dozen women who fit that profile. I'm watching them closely. You should too.

Welcome to 2013. It leads to a better future.