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ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI/THE SUNDAY TIMES

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to spend a bit more time in front of the mirror. He needs to take a hard look at himself – and see the ANC’s performance in Monday’s elections as his scorecard. He has been the head of the party for four years and is failing to reverse the downward spiral. He was Jacob Zuma’s deputy for five years – and blaming only the Prince of Nkandla and the “nine wasted years” is only half the story.

It is evident that the ANC will fall below 50% in 2024 and will need a coalition partner to retain control of SA. This week’s elections confirmed that the ANC is a rural party, and has lost appeal in urban SA. (There are more voters in the cities.)

Fortunately for him, his credibility and mass appeal will save his bacon at the 2022 ANC elective conference. There is nobody else the ANC can put up as a presidential candidate and still have a decent showing at the 2024 elections. Worse, it will for the first time be possible for an independent to stand for president in 2024 – so the ANC’s leadership choices in December next year have to consider that. In effect, the ANC, as it did at Nasrec in December 2017, will likely choose Ramaphosa as the best in a sea of bad options.

NEW DAWN

Ramaphosa delivered a speech full of promise and gusto in November 2017 – a month before he became head of the ANC – promising “a new deal for jobs, growth and transformation”. It was effectively his manifesto for the ANC elections. Like many political speeches, delivering on the promise has been hard. So hard that, four years later, there’s no substantive proof of the “new dawn”.

The results of these local government elections paint a horrifying picture for him and the ANC. The ANC will fall below 50% in 2024. There is evidence of a correlation between what a party gets in local elections and what it gets in national polls. That has been the trend in SA for more than a decade now.

This week’s results will force Ramaphosa into a different kind of deal. He has to make deals with either the DA or the EFF, so that the ANC can control key metros.

We saw this week the solid continuation of a trend where the ANC loses votes in the cities. SA is a rapidly urbanising country, with throngs of arrivals in cities weekly. The movers are people leaving the hinterland for better opportunities – but in reality economic crumbs on the outskirts of big centres like Joburg. They build shacks and eke out an impossible living in squalid conditions. We do not have to tell them about poverty and unemployment, and the decided lack of government plans to change their lives. They feel it every minute of the day. They are voting with their feet – either staying away or turning up their noses at gimmicks like the “new dawn”. 

COALITION NEGOTIATIONS

Ramaphosa’s ANC will scamper this week to strike deals – it will most likely talk to the DA first. This is going to be Ramaphosa’s easiest round of negotiations. On the other hand, the EFF leaders are brutal negotiators, hungry for power and tenders. They will make it very difficult for the ANC. EFF leader Julius Malema’s late lunch with ANC national executive committee member Fikile Mbalula in Pretoria on Thursday could not have been just a catch-up between two old friends. Also, I hear the DA’s benefactors are piling the pressure on party leader John Steenhuisen to choose the ANC. 

The parties have worked together in councils in the Western Cape before. But a wholesale DA-ANC pact will be a bit of a public relations headache for Ramaphosa, who already struggles to shake off the white monopoly capital monkey from his shoulder. In real terms, though, a DA-ANC arrangement in the majority of the 66 hung councils could herald a huge shift in SA’s politics.

That will, however, depend on the personality factor – how politicians in the various councils get along to make a success of the coalitions. But it won’t be a simple national agreement where the ANC chooses the DA, or vice versa.

For example, the ANC’s leaders in Ekurhuleni are close to the leading figures in the EFF. ANC regional chair and Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina is a longtime friend of Malema (and Mbalula). In a political climate like ours, where conspicuous consumption rather than clear political programmes are the basis of alliances, Masina will want to work with the EFF. This will complicate the ANC’s central negotiations with the DA. 

IRREVERSIBLE TREND

This phase of ubiquitous coalitions is an irreversible trend as SA evolves and prepares in slow motion for a future without the ANC.

Ramaphosa cannot reverse the downward spiral. That is because there is no wave or critical mass of disciples to preach the “new dawn”, let alone bring about its actual implementation. SA’s structural problems are overwhelmingly against Ramaphosa and the ANC. He is very slow and lacks the backbone to take on his political enemies in the ANC and create room to structurally change the economy. He hides behind “due process” and the criminal justice system and quasi-judicial processes like the Zondo commission, which is an abysmally slow and expensive event. 

November 1 confirmed that SA’s political landscape has changed. We are likely to see more chaos like the July unrest. Officially below 50% in local influence, the ANC is no longer the dominant factor in our politics. This situation requires a lot of leadership dexterity and zeal.

But it’s not something Ramaphosa can do from his Hyde Park cocoon and through speeches from the Union Buildings. He needs critical mass, balls, blessings, luck and miracle to succeed. Otherwise, he will just stay in office, and not in power, while the inevitable death of the ANC is a question of when. He will earn a second term but fail to deliver on his “new dawn”, as the pace of political fragmentation and economic disintegration is far more determined than his one-man mission. This is no time for insipid leadership and feel-good speeches.

Mkokeli is lead partner at Mkokeli Advisory

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