My great dystopian South African novel

David Bullard says he is all set to write the book, there's just one teeny tiny problem...


One of my favourite movies of all time is the 1982 release of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. I bought a Blu-Ray DVD of the director’s cut years ago and I can watch it any amount of times without getting bored.

The acting is spectacular, the sets and special effects are way ahead of their time for a movie that’s nearly 40 years old (although eclipsed these days by computer generated images) and the musical score by Vangelis shrouds the whole movie in a hopeless gloom of booming synthesizer bass notes.

It is probably one of the best dystopian movies of all time and I’m afraid the sequel “Blade Runner 2049” came nowhere near the genius of the original, partly because Ridley Scott wasn’t directing but mainly because the musical score was way inferior to Vangelis.

The fascinating thing about producing a dystopian novel or film is that anything is possible if you set it far enough into the future. The problem comes when you approach the fictional future date and life gradually seems to be imitating art.

South Africa is the perfect setting for a dystopian novel portraying a totalitarian future with a one party state controlling every aspect of the citizen’s life, sweeping away any cherished previous freedoms and rewarding the party faithful handsomely at a cost to 98% of the country’s citizens.


I’ve often been urged to write a novel but have always refused on the basis that most South Africans aren’t interested in reading and a best selling novel might sell 5 000 copies if you’re lucky. That’s an awful lot of effort to put in for very little reward. However, I’ve had a change of heart and decided that I now want to leave my literary masterpiece to be judged alongside those of George Orwell, Philip K Dick and Margaret Atwood.

The only setback with my plan to write the authentic South African dystopian novel is that I’m probably too late. I should have done it ten years ago because we are already in a state of dystopia, or maybe a few months short of it. By the time the novel is written, proof read, printed, launched and sold it will read more like a history book.

But that’s the problem with dystopia, it creeps up on you and takes you unaware. One day you believe you’re living in a free country with traditional liberal values and the next thing you know there is a hate speech law designed to throw people with “problematic” opinions in jail for a very long time. But maybe I’m over-reacting as I so often do and there is nothing to worry about. Maybe I should Google dystopia and put my mind at rest. So I did….

"Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control."

Well that didn’t help at all. We already tick most of those boxes, particularly the bit about the “illusion of a perfect society”. If it isn’t sports victories it’s empty promises of job creation and massive impending foreign investment. And what about bureaucratic control?

Well, we’re already there. If you want to start a business you have to persuade somebody who is unqualified to do anything that you are competent, that you’ll fill in all the correct forms, pay the licensing fees, employ who the government tells you to employ, pay them what the government demands and be prepared to pay heavy fines if you fail any of these onerous demands.

Isn’t it odd that a member of parliament can earn R100 000 a month with no obvious talent for the job and yet pass laws that impose conditions on people who are perfectly qualified and willing to risk their own money in a business venture to prove it? I doubt many members of parliament would score the matric standard 30% in a simple financial literacy test.

I think we can pass on worries about technological control while we await the great arrival of the 4th Industrial Revolution. With our failing electricity supply we barely qualify for membership of the 2nd.

But what we lack (due to the legacy of apartheid no doubt) in technological control we more than make up for in moral control. It is now regarded as virtual heresy to suggest that colonialism had anything good about it, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

To criticize the ruling party is to be automatically labeled a “racist” and to support anything to do with capitalism is to be regarded as beyond the pale by many of our pale faced media commentators.

It would be fascinating to know what sort of South Africa they wish for in the next ten years. To ridicule the notion of white privilege or to scoff at the absurd social sciences departments at universities who now run courses in gender studies and diversity training is to risk being outed on social media as a bigot.

To make a risqué joke at a braai invites being “called out” by some woke little toady who has videoed the whole episode and put it up on YouTube. Not for his own glory you understand but because we must all move on as a nation. And mock the annual reed dance as a teenage titty display for dirty old men at your peril.

You will be sharply reminded it’s an African cultural thing. If it was white men and bare breasted teenagers taking part though there would be a mass outcry from the feminists.

Totalitarian control? In rugby loving SA…. surely not? Well once the government have introduced NHI and told you which doctor you must go to and whether you qualify for a bed in hospital you’ll begin to get the picture. Or when they introduce prescribed assets to siphon off part of your pension to invest in ailing state owned enterprises.

Don’t be too surprised when you reach retirement and the pot is a lot less full than you were led to believe. Or when the “state” decides that your land which you borrowed money to buy is, in fact, their land and seizes it without compensation.

So my fellow South Africans, welcome to a frightening dystopian future that’s already here.