Unity in dance: ANC president Jacob Zuma, left, and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, second right, dance with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the end of the ANC national policy conference held at Nasrec, Johannesburg, in August. Picture: MASI LOSI
Unity in dance: ANC president Jacob Zuma, left, and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, second right, dance with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the end of the ANC national policy conference held at Nasrec, Johannesburg, in August. Picture: MASI LOSI

SA has lost its moral authority and soft power. With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the democratic breakthrough in 1994 came the expectation that the country would become the moral compass that points the way for all of humankind.

Mandela and his beloved country embodied the hopes and aspirations of the oppressed in Africa and the world. However, Mandela did not invent the values that inspired these hopes and aspirations.

He was born into them and so was the ANC. Both he and those who led the ANC with him were moved by the heroism and selflessness of those who came before them. Their mortal remains must be turning in their graves as they behold what has become of what was once a revolutionary movement.

Is the current leadership of the ANC living proof of the curse of King Shaka ka Senzangakhona who as he breathed his last said, "Ngeke nilibuse. Lobuswa amankengane." Other oral historians reported that King Shaka said to his murderers, "Ngeke nilibuse. Lobuswa izinkonjane zezulu". The two versions of the curse amount to the same thing.

King Shaka who, according to some historical accounts was a prophet, was referring to either his killers, their descendants or his people.

We must not rule out the possibility that his conception of what constituted his people was wider than what constituted the Zulu nation at the time.

Whatever he meant, the literal translation of the curse is that his killers will not be rulers because their land will be ruled by foreigners. In the second version of the curse, these foreigners would fly into their land like swallows from the heavens.

My interpretation is that black people will be in government but not in power.

As some of you might know prophecies, curses and warnings from the ancestors are not always cast in stone. Whether they become the truth of our human condition depends, in part, on what we do as individuals and collectives.

Because there is free will in these matters, that free will extends also to our political behaviour and the political decisions we make. Some of those who betrayed King Shaka were his closest allies and advisers — the enemy within.

The enemy within is the greatest enemy of the ANC. The enemy within has turned the ANC into a vehicle for rent-seeking, state capture, the looting of state resources and ambivalence towards democratic values — a place where brother kills brother. The enemy within has compromised our national sovereignty and national security.

Because of political and economic mismanagement and the uncertainty it has caused, SA is going through a deep crisis of confidence, trust and legitimacy. Because of our economic crisis, we have become susceptible to the imposition of foreign interests and policy measures from outside the country and the revolutionary movement.

The country has become the playing ground for international criminal syndicates, foreign intelligence actors representing private and state intelligence interests of transnational companies and foreign governments as well as peddlers of Orwellian manipulation. All of them are undermining national security in both the narrow and broad sense.

In the narrow sense, portions of the security establishment have been rented out to private interests inside and outside the ANC. In the broader sense, national security is being compromised by the underperformance of the state and the economy, youth underdevelopment, inequality and food insecurity.

While these problems are not completely reducible to the leadership failures of President Jacob Zuma, his contribution to our national crisis has magnified them. The question is whether the national conference will not magnify them even further.

Is this the national conference that will start the process of arresting the reversal of the gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough? To the extent that leaders in politics, business and elsewhere must manage complexity, uncertainty and black swan scenarios in the international and domestic spheres, the question is whether at its national conference the ANC will elect a leader and a cohort of leaders who are equal to these tasks.

Because these tasks must extend to a strategic appreciation of the fact that neither history nor organisational development is linear, will the ANC elect leaders who appreciate the fact that the quality of decisions made during a period of decline determines whether a golden period is in the offing?

Whoever will be wearing the crown at the end of the conference will do so from a position of insecurity

Because the quality of leadership that will be elected at the national conference will, in no small measure, be shaped by factional considerations, one of the by-products of this festival of factionalism will be the further suppression of talent, quality leadership, intellectual capacity and strategic thinking.

SA must think beyond this conference, or beyond the ANC. In turn, ANC members must do the same.

This, among other actions, entails two things: ANC members and supporters must accept that there may come a point when revolutionary goals must supersede their organisational manifestation.

And they must accept that two kinds of the ANC will be doing battle at the national conference. The conflict will be between the conservative impulse that has imposed a false consensus about the economy and the country’s politics and the populist streak behind ill-defined conceptions of radical economic transformation.

The populist and conservative impulses have some characteristics in common.

They are both conservative and reactionary to the extent that they exist to defend different and opposing elements of the status quo.

The populists will be fighting on the side of patronage and decline, while the conservatives will be on the side of post-politics — the assumption that the neoliberal way is the only way to organise society and  the economy.

In short, the conservative impulse is on the side of the cultural majority while, like their opponents, the populists pretend to be on the side of the same numerical majority from whom they steal.

SA and the ANC must be rescued from both impulses. Therefore, neither Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma nor Cyril Ramaphosa — the candidates of the two impulses — is the answer. But an election the ANC may have and one of them is the next president of the governing party.

Whoever will be wearing the crown at the end of the conference will do so from a position of insecurity.

If the presidential race is as close as some of us have predicted, it really does not matter who will be victorious because, with a weak mandate, the winner will not be able to preside over the ANC in its entirety.

The portion of the party that does not support Ramaphosa or Dlamini-Zuma will reject his or her leadership, especially given the fact that, in support of either candidate, there has been a lot of doping and manipulation. In all probability, the ANC will be a more, not less, unstable space after the conference.

Three things may become the source of the instability: if the conference collapses, the ANC will be forced to manage the effects when it should be preparing for the 2019 national elections; attempts to recall Zuma; and attempts to tackle state capture if Ramaphosa wins will cause conflict.

• Matshiqi is an independent political analyst.