OPINION: Will the ANC rise to a 'new dawn'?
As far as political developments in South Africa are concerned, things have been quite tense in 2018. The year was ushered in with anxiety about the continuation of former president Jacob Zuma's administration following Cyril Ramaphosa's ascension as the president of the ANC in Nasrec last December.
Zuma was subsequently replaced by Ramaphosa as the president of the country in February this year. The "new dawn" seemed possible with the removal of the stubborn Zuma, who became a liability for the country's progress. A minor Cabinet clean-up was carried out; notably with deployments of Ramaphosa's trusted lieutenants to key portfolios such as Treasury and Public Enterprises. The state capture inquiry also began its work, revealing further details about a network of corruption that came to be known as state capture.
Since he took over as the president of the country, Ramaphosa did not waste time in speaking the language of a market-driven growth trajectory. A growth summit was held, among other investor outreach programmes. A positive mood prevailed, despite apparent poor performance of the economy amidst the raging debate on land expropriation without compensation. Of course, the economy technically entered a recession, and pulled out of it.
All in all, 2018 could have been worse for South Africa. The other candidates could have won the ANC leadership contest at the Nasrec conference held in December 2017.
South Africa had a close shave with what the markets saw as a potentially disastrous turn of the ANC leadership contest. There are still social tensions within our society that are readily available for political exploitation. The continued existence of inequalities and high unemployment of the black youth is ammunition for a radicalised and violent society. We may already be at this point; bearing the effects of an apartheid system combined with our recent loss of focus in pursuing the mission of normalising society under a democratic dispensation.
What's in store for 2019?
The big event of 2019 is the general elections. This is the election that most people are placing bets on; projecting the strength of Ramaphosa's presidency. Whilst this has thus far been a diplomatic manoeuvre with the president avoiding making key decisions, there is a belief that Ramaphosa will be more emboldened once he attains a mandate in the 2019 elections. This theory does not account for the fact that the mandate attained in the elections would belong to the ANC as a party, and not necessarily to Ramaphosa as a leader.
This is where things get complicated. The greatest risk to Ramaphosa's ability to steer the country away from corruption and lethargy in policy implementation is resistance by the ANC, or at least by some within the party. If Ramaphosa's ANC performs well in the 2019 elections, Ramaphosa would still be stuck with the very ANC where factionalism is frustrating his project. Therefore, as far as factionalism and internal leadership squabbles within the ANC are concerned, the 2019 elections will not alter much. Therefore, the idea that there will be policy certainty after the 2019 elections does not hold.
If anything, developments point to more policy uncertainty or even an inauguration of a new leadership battle within the ANC immediately after the elections. As a political party, the ANC is not able to make bold promises in the period towards the elections. The idea that the ANC can increase its electoral hold is odd, given the difficulties that the party has experienced in terms of state capture. Therefore, the ANC that will come out of elections will most likely receive a weakened mandate. This is the ANC that is already struggling to formulate a cogent policy position of land reform and has adopted the EFF's position on the matter.
The difficulty is that, despite a win by the ANC in the 2019 elections, the party would come out weaker when it comes to policy positions due to the existence of internal battles. The ANC with a weakened majority also means that the party would have to seek support on some policy positions in Parliament; in the same manner the ANC teamed up with EFF on the expropriation of land. Those are the bargains that bring more uncertainty as the ANC needs to give something in return for support on some of the key policy positions of the party.
The strange part of the equation is that the 2019 elections might not clear up policy uncertainties. One must ask: What is the question that the 2019 elections will answer about our society?
The 2019 elections cannot just be elections to demonstrate that opposition politics in South Africa is failing to position itself as an alternative. If the elections only demonstrate that the ANC can hold onto power even after its gross mishandling of public resources, then we have a bigger challenge as a society. There should be a strong message that gets delivered through the elections. I wonder what message the 2019 elections will deliver about our country beyond the uncertainty we are becoming accustomed to.
- Ralph Mathekga is a senior researcher at the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at the University of the Western Cape. He is author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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