subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

‘Tis polling season, and surveys are 10 a penny. All are focused on whether the ANC — whose domination of the political scene has brought stability but also corruption and inequality — will maintain power in the face of economic problems and social unrest.

If the ANC loses its dominance, there are concerns that this could lead to fragmentation and polarisation in politics. All the polls are essentially focused on how the fortunes of the ANC will play out at the end of May, and the question is whether the bells will toll as per Hemingway’s novel, telling a tale of some courage, endeavour and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. 

That’s only half the story though. Forming stable governing coalitions could become challenging, leading to further economic instability and the mushrooming of insurmountable social issues. 

For all the continued inclusion of a motley bunch of hooligans, miscreants and malefactors, the ANC is well versed in the mechanics of governing, even if it is largely for its own account. Mechanics apart, a lurch to the right and a descent into tribal and minority placation — as a victory for the multiparty charter is likely to entail — may not provide the panacea the country needs. 

Being caught between the Scylla of ANC and the Charybdis of the multiparty charter is an unenviable place to be. In Greek mythology it took the might of Hercules to kill the monstrous Scylla and a thunderbolt from Zeus to banish Charybdis to the whirlpools. In the absence of a demigod with superhuman strength or an all-powerful Olympian deity who vanquished the Titans, are we destined perhaps to navigate the perils between the proverbial rock and a hard place? 

The question is what this would mean in real terms. In the event of political uncertainty stemming from either a potentially unstable multiparty coalition or a diminished ANC majority reliant on compromise arrangements with dubious and dangerous bedfellows, our economic prospects would be destined to face several challenges unleashed by diminished investor confidence, policy gridlock, fiscal discipline, market volatility, policy reversals, social unrest and reputational damage. 

Addressing these challenges will require strong leadership that is capable of consensus-building, and effective governance to restore confidence, implement reforms and stimulate sustainable economic growth. Sadly, these requisites appear unlikely to be met. 

The last thing one wants is a fragmented political landscape — over 100 of the more than 300 parties that have registered, as well as 15 independent candidates, now sit on the ballot sheet. Thirty of these registered with the Electoral Commission in the last quarter of 2023 alone. But fragmentation is also destined to separate the wheat from the chaff: there’s a proverb that says “smooth seas do not make skilful sailors”. It’s the hard knocks in life that level the rough edges and shape us into something more refined and resilient. 

The trajectory of the past has not delivered refinement and resilience. We are plagued instead by issues such as huge debt service costs, hollowed-out state-owned enterprises, burgeoning crime and eye-watering levels of unemployment. Moreover, the reliance on bailouts and the potential for shocks such as the proposed National Health Insurance scheme could further strain the fiscal outlook and any ability to address systemic challenges. 

Add to this the deeply embedded reliance on graft, a breakdown at almost all levels in society of responsible norms and standards, and an education system that is all but broken, and you have little choice but to brace yourself for a rough ride in the hope of fair winds and following seas.

While hope, as it is said, springs eternal, it would be wise to heed Antonio Gramsci’s prescient phrase from his 1930 statement in the Prison Notebooks  that “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

Alas, this is where we find ourselves in the current political juncture and the jury is out as to what will emerge. 

• Cachalia is a former DA MP and public enterprises spokesperson.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.