If we had Ladbrokes in South Africa, it would by now have been offering odds on the likely outcome of the ANC elective conference in December, and as each fresh twist in our disconcertingly unpredictable politics plays out, the odds would be shifting.
Were I a betting man – which I am not – I’d be watching those odds carefully, to see where sentiment is headed, to inform my betting choices.
So far, the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, and most recently, the Western Cape, have come out in support of Cyril Ramaphosa, which right now, makes him the odds-on favourite.
The rest have come out in support of Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma, but it does not end there.
With 18 days to go before 4000-odd branch delegates arrive at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Gauteng for the ANC’s 54th national conference, a great deal more political water must flow under the bridge, and as we saw in Zimbabwe recently, there is no such thing as an unassailable position in politics.
The public at large are little other than observers as events unfold in the lead-up to the conference, and one could be forgiven for likening it to watching tennis at Wimbledon. As much as we might find it entertaining, and have our favourites, there is nothing we can do to influence the outcome.
Day one and two of the conference are taken up by the usual flowery welcomes and the business of registration and accreditation of delegates, and the spectre of dissidence and even violence is a very real concern, if what transpired in the Eastern Cape recently is anything to go by.
In an organisation riven by factional battles, dirty politics becomes the order of the day.
Although the official conference programme is not yet freely available, the critical day which will decide our future trajectory for the next five years, is day three, on which the election of ANC office bearers takes place.
Assuming that the accreditation process goes off without too many hitches the top six posts – president, deputy president, treasurer general, secretary general, chairperson, and deputy secretary general will be elected.
How that will play out is still shrouded in conjecture, and calling all six positions now is virtually impossible.
The battle for the presidency has captured our imagination, but entirely for the wrong reasons. President Jacob Zuma has assiduously exposed a glaring flaw in our otherwise internationally revered democratic constitution: the virtually unfettered powers accorded the executive.
In the hands of somebody whose self-interest is paramount and always put ahead of country and party, the result is catastrophic, witnessed by the state in which the country presently finds itself.
Mr Zuma and the ANC’s constant refrain that the triple evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality are deeply rooted in our apartheid past notwithstanding, the fact remains that, had the ANC done from day one after its landslide 1994 victory, precisely what it promised to do, we would be in a very different space today.
Hindsight, they say, is the most precise of sciences, but what is undeniable, is that years of policy uncertainty, compounded by a stubborn disinclination to execute any of the numerous programmes of action dreamed up by various ANC policy conferences, and most recently, disgraceful pillaging of the public purse for the benefit of a toxic cabal, to the detriment of the entire country, have led us to where we now find ourselves.
Whoever inherits this mess will have hell’s own job trying to make even a tiny dent, and as difficult as it is to predict who that unfortunate individual might be, one thing is certain: whoever wins must do so with a sizeable majority in both the national executive committee (NEC) and the national working committee (NWC), without which the new incumbent will be hamstrung by continued factional battles over access to resources and control of the levers of state power.
More importantly, a marginal win will bedevil any initiative to clean out the rot that infests the ANC, from the state institutions that are supposed to protect us from the hyenas that are devouring the carcass of what is left of our economy, to the state-owned enterprises that – if properly run and managed – have the potential to be significant engines of sorely needed growth and employment.
That Cyril Ramaphosa is the best of a bad bunch, is axiomatic. He did, after all, support Mr Zuma through every one of his excesses, until he developed presidential ambitions.
Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma is the other principal contender in what is essentially a two horse race, anointed by Mr Zuma as his preferred successor, which has alarming parallels with what recently played out in Zimbabwe.
Zweli Mkhize is touted as a possible compromise candidate, if the war between the two main contenders threatens to split the ANC, and the also-rans are likely to withdraw from the race, and declare for one or other of the main contenders, in an effort to bolster their chances.
All of this presupposes that day three of the conference will actually happen, because if it doesn’t, Mr Zuma remains in control for the foreseeable future, and his nuclear ambitions may have a chance after all.