Stand and deliver, Cyril

Norman McFarlane

It should come as little surprise, that the ANC won a majority in the National Assembly and in eight of the nine provinces.

It may have done so with a reduced majority, but it triumphed nonetheless.

It wasn’t by any measure an easy win. On the contrary, President Cyril Ramaphosa must have been a worried man as the various polling districts results arrived at the national results operations centre, and the giant screens updated as the percentages shifted, ticking imperceptibly upwards.

The 2019 election was billed as the most important since the dawning of our democracy, and in many respects it was, for all the major parties.

It was a watershed for the ANC, because winning anything below 54% of the national vote, which was the ANC’s notional tally in 2016, would have sounded the death-knell of Mr Ramaphosa’s presidency. He may well not have completed his first term.

ANC elections head, Fikile Mbalula, put this in perspective when he commented in a press briefing over the weekend that Mr Ramaphosa had been a veritable “game changer” for the ANC, and that had Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma triumphed at Nasrec in 2017, “it is not clear where the ANC would be today”.

The difference between tallies in Gauteng of provinical votes for the ANC and national votes for the ANC – 245 450 – makes it clear that people voted for Mr Ramaphosa nationally, and a different party provincially. His strategy worked.

The counter balance to the EFF’s massive growth – almost double its 2014 tally of 6.35% – is the equally impressive, and for some, disconcerting growth, of the Vryheids Front Plus (FV+) from 0.90% in 2014, to 2.38% in 2019, two and a half times its 2014 support nationally.

These two parties epitomise the shift in our politics, which is a mirror of what is happening internationally with the rise of populism and in many instances, virulent identity politics.

The ANC and the DA both lost support, not only because of their respective internal frays, but because of the confused message of the middle, mired as it is in ill-differentiated policy platforms – the DA is oft characterised as an ANC lite.

The populist left and right both, on the other hand, sing a beguiling siren song, promising everything with the clear understanding they will have to deliver nothing, because they know certainly they will never be in government.

The ANC’s losses were largely to the EFF, which has crafted such a beguiling message, knowing full well it will never have to deliver. Instead, it will blame the ANC government for not delivering on EFF campaign promises, ably assisted by the goldfish memory of the electorate.

The DA’s losses were largely to the VF+, a loss, which if you can get someone in the DA to actually admit it, is a blessing in disguise, since it rids the DA of the conservative millstone it willingly adopted under Tony Leon’s leadership after his disastrous 2004 election fight back campaign, when that which the ANC would not take under its wing, ended up in the DA.

Whatever the ANC might say to the contrary, this was not an out and out victory. The harsh reality is that since its highpoint of almost 70% in 2004, the ANC has lost 12% in support, which equates to 4% in each subsequent election. The trend is clearly downward, and the ANC is set to poll below 50% in 2024, unless Mr Ramaphosa is able to turn the wheel on this lumbering giant that is the ANC.

It remains now for the ANC and Mr Ramaphosa, to live up to both his election promises, and the various December elective conference resolutions: an end to corruption, an end to state capture, a slimmer more capable cabinet, staffed by competent technocrats who can deliver in accordance with the electoral mandate of the ANC.

This presupposes a cabinet shorn of dead wood and which does not include any of the deeply compromised cadres from Mr Zuma’s era.

His cabinet choices will also be an early indication of his – and the ANC’s – policy trajectory. Will he continue to pander to the populists – the radical economic transformation and expropriation without compensation faction – or will he build a cabinet that can take the hard decisions needed to fix what is broken, by pursuing practical, achievable policy initiatives that will ensure growth and stability?

The world on which we rely for our existence and growth, like it or not, values policy certainty in an environment of democratic centralism. As much as the communists in the ANC rail against the “unfairness” of the world economic order, it is what it is, and the “evil West” will continue to demand accountability and pragmatism in return for investment, trade and bilateral cooperation.

This, of course, speaks to the broader issue of growing the economy, which he is incapable of doing without the support of the private sector, the very white monopoly capitalists invented by Bell-Pottinger, who have at their disposal the capital needed to kickstart economic growth.

And the ANC’s victory may well be phyric if it does not rapidly address inequality. For the majority of South Africans, very little has changed in 25 years, except the opportunity to make a cross on a ballot paper.

It is this stubborn inertia in the improvement of the material well-being of the majority which affords the extremists at either end of the political spectrum; the populists, the facists, the purveyors of pernicious identity politics; the opportunity to gain traction at the expense of the political centre.

This is Mr Ramaphosa, and the ANC’s, greatest challenge.