Graphic: DOROTHY KGOSI
Graphic: DOROTHY KGOSI

The year 2017 was an unsettling one for South Africans. It was the year of Jacob Zuma – of his landmark loss in the Constitutional Court and his subsequent April Fools’ Day non-apology. It was the year of the State of Capture report, the Gupta Leaks and the fall of British PR saboteurs Bell Pottinger.

As this turbulent year unfolded and our country reeled from one Zuma upheaval to the next, many South Africans had their eyes and hopes fixed on one possible salvation: the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president at the party’s December conference.

The business community was particularly desperate for this outcome. Ramaphosa was one of them, after all. He spoke their language. They had trust and rapport. The hope that Ramaphosa represented after the disaster that was eight years of Zuma was intoxicating.

If Ramaphosa could defeat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at Nasrec, so the story went, our nation’s creeping despair would be washed away. The rand would be "picked up", corruption would be rooted out, investors would queue up to cash in on this rising tide and they would bring with them the holiest of holy grails: jobs.

Thanks to a Faustian pact with the compromised premier of Mpumalanga and soon-to-be deputy president, David Mabuza, the "good guy" prevailed and our browbeaten nation embraced the tidal wave of Ramaphoria that followed. This is largely because we really like a simple, binary story. We so desperately wanted to believe that evil had been replaced by good that we were willing to erase, overnight, the truth about the ANC government and everyone in it who played a part in bringing us to the brink of ruin. Including the president himself.

Nowhere was this binary storytelling more prevalent than in our mainstream media. Just as all opposition to Zuma had been good, any opposition to Ramaphosa was now considered unspeakable. If you didn’t publicly express your own personal Ramaphoria, you were practically accused of treason.

In February, upon the delivery of Ramaphosa’s first state of the nation address, this euphoria blossomed into what would become known as the New Dawn, a term that perfectly captured the hope of a nation.

But where I travel across SA, I see a lived reality at odds with this New Dawn. I see communities increasingly engaged in angry protest against this government. I see many people, already stretched to breaking point, hit by increases in VAT, fuel, electricity and the awful domino effect that these increases have on food, public transport, clothing and services.

I speak to parents who ask me why their children must still bother going to school when they will only end up staying home with no hope of finding jobs. I spoke with a businessman who said that in 48 years in manufacturing he’s never seen it so bad. I’ve spoken to workers on the platinum belt and on our gold mines who don’t know where the jobs bloodbath will end. Nor do any of us.

Our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are a permanent threat to our investment rating, and our government’s only answer to this is bailout after bailout, with money we simply do not have. Even more worrying is that we’re now taking a loan from China to stall the demise of these failed SOEs. As we all know, when you can no longer borrow money from the reputable institutions, you turn to loan sharks.

Outside of the media bubble, the New Dawn doesn’t exist. For millions of people in our cities and towns corruption continues unabated at grassroots. It’s the councillor manipulating the housing list, it’s unfair expanded public works programme job allocation, it’s stolen municipal money that brings service delivery to a halt. Residents are still poor, hungry and unemployed. Ramaphoria did nothing to change any of this.

Still the evangelists of the New Dawn cling to their story. Only now they want more time for it to unfold. It used to be "wait until he’s president", now it’s "wait until the elections". But the idea that 2019 will empower Ramaphosa to bring about reform is false. He is the ANC, and the ANC is him.

Every resolution that was passed at the ANC congress happened under his leadership. Land expropriation, nationalising the Reserve Bank, nationalising healthcare through National Health Insurance, state control of the media through the media ombudsman – this is the ANC’s grand plan. None of this will be changed by a successful election. It will only embolden the ANC.

The biggest mistake desperate South Africans can make is to think that a vote for the ANC is a vote for Ramaphosa. Because it’s the other way round. A vote for Ramaphosa is a vote for the ANC and its disastrous job-killing policies.

The fundamental insight the political commentariat misses is that our country’s present malaise is not just a result of a Zuma aberration. It is the inevitable consequence and the only possible manifestation of what the ANC is: the obsession with power and control, the addiction to the crack cocaine of state resources, the aversion to accountability.

But still our commentators battle to imagine an SA beyond the ANC. The reality is that liberation will only come when we enter a postliberation politics era. When we can admit that policies of redistribution are not enough to combat poverty, and that it will take sustained and inclusive economic growth to achieve this. Yes, growth alone will not solve all our problems, but without it we won’t solve any of them.

The truth is that we do not need to change the constitution, we need to change our government. As uncomfortable as this makes commentators, it is inescapable. We will not build a prosperous future so long as the ANC is in government. That is why the DA stands alone in offering the potential of an alternative government, underpinned by an entirely different approach to governance.

We are a growing party trying to build a strong centre in a diverse and fractured country. Where we govern, money isn’t stolen, jobs are created and we remain the only party that can honestly say it governs for all South Africans – a fact borne out in our party lists and in our governments.

What now needs to happen is for the ANC to split along its natural fault-line. Labour must stand on its own so that it can put forward its own policies to voters. We can’t have unions marching against unemployment, and at the same time voting at ANC conferences for policies that protect the employed at the expense of the unemployed. We can’t have unions taking to the streets to protest VAT and fuel increases when they are part of the government introducing these increases.

Once they split, we will work with those who believe real redress is possible without amending the constitution. We will work with those who believe in privatising certain SOEs, starting with SAA and Eskom. We will also work closely with the private sector, because it is private companies that have kept SA going in spite of this failing ANC government. We must enhance these and let the state provide a safety net for the poor.

But for any of this to happen South Africans must first realise that there is an alternative future in which the ANC does not govern in perpetuity. That is the real new dawn towards which we are working passionately and tirelessly.

Maimane is DA leader.

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