Reputational damage

Sudan President Omar Al Bashir

In his book Coalition Country: Life after the ANC political commentator and researcher, Dr Leon Schreiber, sketches three possible political futures for South Africa post 2019.

He presents a compelling argument for the emergence of a coalition government after the upcoming 2019 national and provincial election.

His analysis of the declining fortunes of the ANC underpins his postulation that the ruling party is likely to fall below the 50% plus one margin nationally, which will deprive it of the hegemony it has enjoyed in the National Assembly since 1994.

Although he asserts that the proportional representation system of governance was intentionally designed to foster coalition government in order to ensure the widest possible representation of the various socio-political groups, he does acknowledge that it has resulted in subversion of accountability to party bosses because of the dominance of the ANC at the ballot box.

But as the ANC’s electoral fortunes have declined over the years, the possibility of future coalition governments at all three levels – national, provincial and local government – becomes ever more likely.

He sketches three possible scenarios: a DA-EFF led majority coalition, a DA-led minority government, and an ANC-EFF majority coalition in the National Assembly.

Interestingly, these three scenarios approximate those postulated by Clem Sunter in his ground-breaking book The World and South Africa in the 1990s: high-road, low-road and wasteland.

Predictably perhaps, Dr Schreiber postulates that only the first scenario has any likelihood of success, with the other two leading to stagnation and catastrophic national decline respectively.

A great deal of his analysis of why the ANC finds itself politically where it does, focuses on the largely self-inflicted reputational damage that it has suffered over the last 23 years, and it is difficult to discount his conclusions.

The Travelgate scandal, the arms deal and its aftermath, the Marikana Massacre, the Gupta wedding party landing illegaly at Waterkloof Air Force Base, the Omar Al-Bashir saga, Nkandlagate, the ongoing state capture debacle, Jacob Zuma’s ruinous nine-year tenure characterised by suborning of critical organs of state, damaging cabinet reshuffles, and capricious governance, have all contributed to that reputational damage.

Enter President Cyril Ramaphosa who snatched the ANC crown from Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in December with a fearfully narrow margin.

His masterful removal from power of Jacob Zuma, was reminiscent of PW Botha’s deposing of John Vorster, and FW De Klerk’s subsequent axing of the “Groot krokodil” himself some years later.

The Cyril Spring, or as it became known, Ramaphoria, rapidly infected the broader South African society, and in short order, a new hope was born, so much so, that it dramatically impacted the financial markets.

The rand firmed, business confidence began to creep upwards, and the likelihood of a rating agency downgrade began to recede, as Mr Ramaphosa proceeded with his charm offensive across the nation.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the broader South African society tentatively grasped at the straw of hope that this remarkable turnaround offered.

Bu the seeds that were planted so many years ago, that bore the poisonous fruit plucked and eaten by the ANC, came back to haunt Mr Ramaphosa.

As so many commentators have rightly pointed out, the halo effect of Mr Ramaphosa’s charm offensive is beginning to wear thin, as the albatross of the ANC’s past refuses to go away.

The damage wrought over the years cannot be fixed overnight, and despite an initial cleaning out of some of the toxic deadwood in the cabinet, and the appointment of competent technocrats who are beginning to address the numerous inherited shortcomings in the Ramaphosa administration, it’s going to take decades to fix what has been so spectacularly broken in the last 23 years.

Inasmuch as it is entirely ludicrous to suggest that apartheid is dead and it is time to move on, it is equally ridiculous to expect that because Jacob Zuma no longer has the country by the throat, Mr Ramaphosa’s magic wand will fix everything, including the ANC’s reputation.

Even the ANC good guys like Mr Ramapahosa, Pravin Gordhan, Derek Hanekom, Nhlanhla Nene and Dr Blade Nzimande are tainted by association with Mr Zuma, because although they belatedly began to criticise Mr Zuma’s ruinous leadership, they remained silent during so many of the scandals that defined his administration.

But it goes deeper than that, because although Mr Zuma is no longer in power, it is abundantly clear that he is not without power, as anybody who has watched either of the jamborees that played out in front of the Durban High Court after Mr Zuma’s court appearances on Friday April 6 and Friday June 8 will have seen.

The line-up on the stage included non-entities like Carl Niehaus and Hlaudi Motsoeneng, but Supra Mahumapelo, ex-premier of the North West Province was also there, and he still wields considerable power as chairperson of the provincial executive committee.

He, along with Deputy President DD Mabuza and ANC seceretary general Ace Magashule, constituted the shadowy but powerful Premier League that worked so hard – and thankfully failed – to get Dr Dlamini Zuma elected as president of the ANC in December.

There have been rumours – rapidly quashed – of the emergence of a Zuma-led breakaway party from the ANC, in preparation for the 2019 election, which if it were to happen, would efectively split the party down the middle, something that Mr Ramaphosa cannot afford to have happen, if he is to hold on to even a slim majority in the National Assembly next year.

This raises the tantalising possibility of one of the coalitions emerging of which Dr Schreiber writes, but the DA is grappling with its own reputational challenges, so which is more likely?