SOUTH Africa has its sights set on the 2019 general elections, which many people believe stand to herald a new era – another beginning.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa engaging with Keidanren (Federation of Economic Organizations of Japan) in a breakfast meeting at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town. 16/02/2016. Ntswe Mokoena

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa engaging with Keidanren (Federation of Economic Organizations of Japan) in a breakfast meeting at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town. 16/02/2016. Ntswe Mokoena

That might and might not be true. But before then, we have a number of key milestones to reach and some hurdles to overcome and get out of the way. How we deal with the latter over the next two to three years will contribute to bringing the picture that will emerge in 2019 into sharper relief.


The milestones

The most crucial of these is the country’s looming credit rate assessment by the big three credit ratings agencies – Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – on whether South Africa has met all the minimum conditions to avoid being downgraded into junk credit status.

Having succeeded in pushing off a feared downgrade earlier this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has again gathered another Team South Africa, comprising representatives from government and big business for another roadshow and charm offensive in the UK and US. Their mission has become all too predictable: to convince both investors and creditors that despite appearances, the country is in the hands of good, disciplined leaders who are committed to operating within good, sound, and predictable governance principles.

They also have to convince them that the much-publicised phenomenon of state capture exists only in the minds of people who do not have the country’s interests at heart, and that National Treasury is not under threat of being handed over on a platter to a bunch of faceless people who want to plunder it for nefarious pre-Armageddon interests.

For the sake of us all, we wish them much success.

The next milestone – seeing that there has not been a change of leadership at the top of the ruling party despite seminal court judgments, a dismal electoral performance, and increasingly strident public calls for change – will be the ANC’s elective conference in 2017.

Calls for this conference to be brought forward seem to be losing momentum. What we see, instead, is a growing drive to weaken the belief of many inside and outside the ANC that it is always traditional for the deputy president to  succeed the president.

This revision seems to be gaining impressive traction, despite it being the same call that was made repeatedly by one Julius Malema, at the time an influential player within the ruling party, when he led a coalition of the wounded who insisted on the then deputy succeeding the then president.

Strangely, history seems to be repeating itself. The same Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who was touted as the most qualified potential successor to former president Thabo Mbeki is now being promoted as the most qualified and preferred candidate to succeed the current president, ahead of his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

In his strange silence on leadership issues and his own ambitions, Ramaphosa is increasingly becoming like the man who occupied his position before the last general elections, Kgalema Motlanthe. He doesn’t seem to have learned anything from his experience. This silence is also, apparently, tradition; but an aspect of it that all seem to agree has to be respected.

Accordingly, no one pronounces his or her presidential ambitions in public unless they want to have a ton of bricks falling on their heads. So Ramaphosa will continue to stand by, hoping for the best, while his formerly admired personal brand gets eroded inch by inch. There was much hope when he was roped in because many thought he was the kind of level-headed leader needed to help bring a semblance of order in the house by balancing developmental needs with market requirements.

Having hitched his wagon to the country’s leader, he now carries on as if he has no choice and as if all his worldly fortunes depend on keeping his head below the radar. I’m not sure who advises this former potential giant but if things keep going on like this, he will soon be another Kgalema Motlanthe and rely on making wise post-retirement speeches, armed with great hindsight, with no one taking him seriously.

The last milestone in the no-longer-so-far horizon will be the 2019 general elections.


The hurdles

How the authorities manage the ongoing skirmishes resulting from demand for free tertiary education will also contribute to the tone leading to 2019. It seems unlikely that the country’s higher education students will give up on this demand. The arguments from the authorities that the country has no money to fund free tertiary education will not be helped by ongoing reports of the abuse of billions of rands in public funds, or the awarding of inexplicable hundreds of millions in price-inflated tenders to politically connected individuals and groups.

Now that there appears to be growing consensus that the madness at the SABC must end, and that neither Hlaudi Motsoeneng nor the clowns comprising the so-called board of directors at the corporation are indispensable, all steps should be taken to close this chapter – but not without a thorough investigation and exposure of the extent of the theft and abuse of resources. If necessary, criminal processes must also follow.

President Zuma should also sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill into law once and for all, to demonstrate government takes its touted anti-corruption and anti-money laundering stance seriously, as well as clean governance issues.

Before leaving office, Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela is set to make public her report into state capture. There is no doubt that whatever is in it will impact the credibility of the Gordhan-led international charm offensive, as it is likely to raise serious governance issues in government and some state-owned entities.

Astute observers will connect the dots, as we all should, and use the emerging picture to determine whether multi-million rand public relations junkets constitute superficial attempts at pulling wool over the eyes of a world assumed to be naïve, or a serious mea culpa and turnaround in the way we manage our affairs.

Our collective fortunes depend on the character of this rollercoaster.