Contrary to all the pre-electoral promises and expectations, indications are that the 2019 general elections delivered a perfect damp squib.

Many argued that all President Cyril Ramaphosa needed to turn things around was to be strengthened, but if that were the case, he is neither showing nor acting the part. In fact, everything points to him continuing to walk the tightrope pitting him against known and unknown forces acting against national harmony and the interests of the country.

It is also clear that most of such forces operate within the party he (partly) leads.

Those of us sitting outside of the ANC can only continue to speculate. How else do we make sense of the madness unfolding in front of us on one hand and, on the other hand, the sad spectacle that is our dream, destined to remain deferred for another five painful years while the ANC gets its act together?

The story being told

The prevailing narrative is that there are two main factions in the ANC: one led by the party’s secretary-general, the clearly unstoppable Ace Magashule; and another coalescing around President Ramaphosa.

The former faction is widely described as consisting of people we should be wary of, but whom many still support, despite this. As former president Jacob Zuma’s close lieutenants, many of them were linked to the devastating state capture economy from which we’re still struggling to emerge.

From its Saxonwold headquarters, the state capture economy ran satellite centres in places like Bloemfontein, Nkandla, eThekwini, Polokwane, Nelspruit, Mahikeng, and elsewhere in the country, where there were once public funds aimed at helping our country grow the material gulf separating its apartheid past from its future.

The governing ANC’s ‘cadre deployment’ machinery had also been moved to Saxonwold during the state capture economy, as that is where politically connected and malleable individuals were assigned roles and deployed to sow destruction in strategic institutions of the captive state.

The people coalesced around Ramaphosa, meanwhile, are presumed, even desperately hoped, to be good. They were expected to emerge strengthened, following the 2019 general elections, able to lay down the law and tell the others where the buck stops.

Ramaphosa, too, was expected to emerge, to find his voice, and to flex serious, yet benevolent, presidential muscles, having gained a better appreciation of the powers bestowed upon him by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

He was expected to be less ambiguous in his public statements – less dreamy – and more assuring to all South Africans that he understands their lingering pains and fears, and that the roll-out of his proposed New Dawn would speak to the realities of today, not those of a South Africa too far into the future to matter.

We expected to see him lead from the front. The era of second-guessing him was supposed to end at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, where he took an oath to be president of all South Africans.

Back to reality

Instead, we hear that he remains under siege and vulnerable in his party as the Magashule faction pretends to stand behind him when we all know it doesn’t.

Having managed to get his key foot soldiers into leading Parliamentary oversight committee roles, Magashule should sleep slightly better at night.

The rest of us shouldn’t, and neither should Ramaphosa; unless, of course, all of this is part of a bigger plan, an internal party give-and-take deal whose aim will benefit the bad guys more than it will enhance the interests of our country, which is hungry for healing; hungry for certainty.

Everything is linked. While all of the above continues, the economy weakens further, largely due to an eroding domestic and foreign investor morale and confidence. Retrenchments continue as businesses struggle to make ends meet, some SOEs face prospects of salary uncertainty; anger levels rise, even racist anger, as people find easy scapegoats for the troubles we face.

In a strange way, angry demonstrators find it easier to blame apartheid – the ship that sank long ago – for the troubles we face today, while they either defend or tolerate the indefensible looters who still occupy positions of public influence and are the main causes of the listing of the ship we’re all still sailing in. Some have even taken the madness a step further, in eThekwini, by insisting that an executive mayor, who is facing serious criminal charges linked to corruption, remain in her position.

“If thieves elsewhere can be kept in their positions, or re-employed before their names are cleared”, the demonstrators argue, “why can’t the thieves we love also benefit from the same largesse?”

Elsewhere, a senior diplomat – at least a person occupying a senior diplomatic post – goes on a racist rant on social media while in her host country and, instead of rebuking her for her misplaced conduct, she is defended on the basis that she is black. The same conduct would not have been tolerated had she been white.

So, we live in an era of the unpredictable, where standards have been lowered and where, in the absence of firm leadership from the front to determine tone, everything goes. The tables have turned; victims of past racism are increasingly becoming today’s racists even as they deny it, with some advancing the ridiculous notion that black humans are incapable of being racist.

If everything we’re seeing around us constitute the signs of what lies ahead, the next five years will be very long indeed; long and treacherous. And if President Ramaphosa doesn’t find his presidential voice, our country is heading into sure uncertain times. We’re like frogs in slowly boiling water and will wake up – if ever we do – in a place none of us recognise. Something has to give.