The notion that millions of enthusiastic voters will return the ANC to power for a sixth consecutive term has become more snigger-worthy.
South Africa goes to the polls in 2024.
That is the core explanation for the evaporation of some party loyalists’ faith in President Cyril Ramaphosa and the strengthening of former president Jacob Zuma’s authority over some of the ANC splinter groups determined to challenge the current leadership in the polls.
Achieving party unity was not universally regarded as a given when the Ramaphosa party presidency began.
Back in 2017, it was possible to find many ANC optimists able to muster a case that the party renewal crusade touted in the Nasrec conference would heal the divisions by keeping in its fold corrupt factional leaders instead of rescinding their party deployment to influential government positions.
Many party members hoped Zuma’s influence over the anti-Ramaphosa factions would shrivel. The idea that Ramaphosa might have it in him to pull off an against-expectations rebound, avoiding party break-ups similar to those that led to the formation of Cope and the EFF, was much discussed.
However, the ANC will have to play their hand carefully following the public humiliation of the governing party by Zuma when last Saturday he urged ANC members to vote for the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe party in the 2024 national elections. He said his decision not to vote for the ANC was a move to try to rectify the party, which he claims has gone down a wayward path of ill-discipline.
This move appears to be Zuma’s latest provocation to the ANC to expel him from the party, as announcing that he will not vote for the ANC in 2024’s national election but remains a committed member of the governing party is a contradiction, a provocation, and an open transgression of party rules.
It’s a provocation that further breaks down a controversial relationship between Zuma and the party that has enjoyed ambivalence over the past five years. The message of Zuma’s poke-in-the-eye move has reinforced the launch of the uMkhonto weSizwe party.
There is overwhelming evidence that these latest attacks have pulverised the ANC, and it continues to lose political ground, with colossal anti-government swings. One recent victory, in the form of convincing party veteran Mavuso Msimang to withdraw his public resignation from the party, briefly rained on Ramaphosa’s parade of his efforts to keep the party together and brought a rare glimpse of sunshine to the ANC.
Following the launch of the party’s election manifesto review last September, I expressed my optimism that the ANC looked like a “dead cat bounce”, the phrase coined by Wall Street traders to describe a slight, temporary recovery in stock on a downward plunge.
However, I am again less optimistic about the future, given the fact that the silent killer disintegration in the ANC has corroded and appropriated so much of its legacy, including that of its glorious liberation army, uMkhonto weSizwe; the ANC now looks like an inhabitant of a convalescent home. The faction fights linked to the compilation of election candidate lists ahead of next year’s elections are another addition to a long list of issues threatening further morale-crushing events for the ANC.
It is no secret that some of the leading ANC members pressing for implementing anti-corruption measures in the Zondo Commission report on state capture are now the most unpopular members of the Cabinet and legislatures among the most influential party members. That is quite a feat when you look at some of the competition. It is a pity Ramaphosa will not release details of the executive performance agreements or this year’s Cabinet scorecards to the public for them to assess.
No wonder those who have been around long enough, like Msimang, are frustrated that nothing is working in the ANC and the government.
The sense that nothing works as it should do in what former DA leader Mmusi Maimane once called a “broken country” has deepened over the past 12 months, not least because of the revelation that many of the country’s political parties are crumbling and failing to lead coalition local governments because they are built out of popcorn.
For many years, until forced by civil society and courts, some of these parties have meddled with introducing inclusive electoral legislation to facilitate independent candidates to contest elections alongside political parties.
Yet, independent MPs are our hope to break the suffocating dominance of political parties in our politics, which has turned them into a liability to our democracy.
Given the toxic legacy inherited by Ramaphosa when he assumed the party presidency, you can make a case that even a political genius would be hard-pushed to turn things around for the ANC. Yet there are important respects in which he has not helped himself. At the beginning of his ANC presidency, he staked his reputation as a competent problem-solver on delivering hand-picked “priorities”.
He asked the country to judge his leadership of the party and in government on the results.
Unity being one of his emphases, the ANC leader will grasp that the unfolding events of disunity in the party and the country are not a scorecard he can brag about. Even the one ambition that he has met – securing a second term as ANC president – owes more to the concerns over the threat of a further reversal of the national developmental gains achieved over the past 29 years of democracy than it does to anything done by the ANC under his watch.
When asked for his thoughts on the possibility of Zuma joining a new political formation, Ramaphosa had this to say, “we note that, but what else can I do?”.
Politics is often a confidence game.
Success breeds success, and failure foments failure. The ANC leader, a man whose previous life had told him he was a winner, has struggled to put a brave face on experiencing being a loser. There does not have to be an early election before May. So Ramaphosa and the ANC still have time to improve the record.
* Nyembezi is a policy analyst, researcher and human rights activist