In the heat of these difficult times, SA’s commentariat occasionally falls into magical thinking, a form of self-deception that insists things can only turn out well. Take, for instance, the analysis that followed the failed attempt to remove Jacob Zuma as ANC president at the party’s recent national executive committee meeting. Never mind, it was said, Zuma may remain for now but the ANC has sentenced itself to death; by keeping Zuma it has secured its defeat in the 2019 elections. We will have to wait another two years; after that, we can get on with things. That is how magical thinking works — it interprets any news as promising. Had the committee removed Zuma, this would have been good. But that the committee did not remove Zuma was also good, for it portended that all would work out in the end.This idle dreaming is surely a form of torture. If we have learnt anything by now, it is that what will happen next is bound to surprise us. To forecast where we will be two years hence i...

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