Just over a year ago, before the ANC’s 2017 elective conference that helped us start seeing the back of Zuma – well, more or less – and usher-in a ‘New Dawn’ of sorts, many South Africans were a lot more certain about whom they’d vote against and for than they seem to be today.
DA voters were still as convinced that Mmusi Maimane stood a good chance of becoming the country’s next president as EFF supporters were that their on-and-off cantankerous Commander-In-Chief would take over the reins. Thanks to Zuma, the ANC was a goner in those days, with its back against wall, even if they would never admit to it.
The arrival of Cyril Ramaphosa, drumming his “Thuma Mina” chant into every microphone he could approach, heralded havoc for many. The word ‘euphoria’ made its way back into the national political discourse again, with some labelling Ramaphosa the political son late president Mandela had wished to have.
Like a diphthong, no one found the tongue slide from ‘euphoria’ to Ramaphoria a hard one to accomplish. But for many in the so-called “Black Middle Class” – especially those who had either stayed at home or strategically voted for the EFF in the 2016 Local Government Elections (a jump from ANC to DA remained a hard feat for many to achieve or to publicly admit having accomplished) – the time for reckoning had come much earlier than expected.
Ramaphosa promised to be a different man and leader, they argued at braais and dinner parties, initially far from microphones, almost trying to convince themselves more than anyone else. For them, it was more important that he was not in Zuma’s camp and that he had promised a new way, than wanting to know what he had heard, seen or consented to during his five years as Zuma’s number two man, willingly or under duress.
Fast-forward a year after Ramaphosa assumed the country’s interim presidency, ahead of the 2019 general elections, his impact on the minds of many South Africans is as confusing as ever; and the questions are many.
Is he for real? What if something comes out of one of the Inquiry currently underway seriously implicating him in wrongdoing, deliberate or inadvertent? Will he really provide the new NDPP with the political cover she will need, no matter what, and ensure that the NPA is adequately equipped to carry out its mandate without fear or favour?
What about growing rumours that his family ties with Patrice Motsepe and Jeff Radebe might lead him to make political decisions with a bias or favouring Motsepe’s energy business? And, finally, how powerful, really, is Ramaphosa within the ANC and how determined are those of his comrades – the Zuma coalition of the panicking and scared – to do everything they can to torpedo his recovery plans, especially where they concern strengthening the might of the criminal justice system?
The key question for many is this: Will a vote for the ANC with Ramaphosa at its helm (we do not vote for individuals in South Africa) really give Ramaphosa the power many imagine he needs to help South Africa recover from the past ten years of criminal madness – especially with the removal of criminally implicated individuals from the Cabinet and all ANC structures – or will a vote for the ANC strengthen only the ANC to do what the ANC does best, i.e. to keep on keeping on?
No credible alternative
It is clear that opposition parties cannot simply rely on voters being disappointed in the ANC in order for such voters to simply place their valuable crosses next to them. They too have work to do to effectively sell themselves and attract new support.
They must show more political thigh than they have been, to date. The EFF will not admit to it, but its leaders have been seriously rattled by accusations – still to be tested in a court of law – of complicity in the staggering VBS heist.
Their strange support of SARS’ wrecking ball, Tom Moyane, against all evidence that has come out on the role he played for Zuma and his friends in weakening our valuable state revenue collection authority, as well as further allegations of unethical benefits from lucrative municipal tenders in Tshwane and Johannesburg, have robbed them of the “anti-corruption crusaders” badge they so much wanted to claim.
The DA is in no better position. Increasing numbers of its supporters have not been shy, in recent months, of stating their disappointment in the party. Its ‘alternative policy package’ offering seems hesitant as its leader has come under criticism for lacking the assertiveness and independence of mind required to lead an ambitious opposition party.
Several intraparty squabbles that led to very public slam-door departures in the past year have also not helped the DA retain the confidence of some of its members. Moreover, the ‘halo’ of clean governance under the DA has meanwhile accumulated its share of blemishes.
COPE, the UDM, the ACDP and other smaller parties are unlikely to replace any of the big three in the coming elections, but the strong voices of reason that often come out of their leaders in the national assembly are valuable in our multiparty democracy, as the space to “speak truth to power” is something we should continue to cherish, in South Africa, as it becomes increasingly threatened in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, the Middle-East, China, and Russia. And the UDM’s Chief Whip, Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, is a rising political star to keep watching.
Amidst all the pre-electoral voter confusion, President Cyril Ramaphosa must never underestimate the depth of desperation that many South Africans inside and outside the ANC harbour for him to succeed.
He remains, for many, the least of the devils for now; and many feel a strange sense of guilt if they do not give him a chance, however they define chance.
But this hope is packaged more for him than it is for the party he leads – still heavily infested with all the crooks of our times. He must find ways to remain as clean, as credible, as different, and as honest with South Africans as he can. This is all many ask of him.
He is their electoral Eskom; if he fails – everything remaining equal in our political power balance – South Africa will also fall.