Opinion / 5 January 2019, 11:30am / William Saunderson Meyer
“2019? That’s such an ugly number. It doesn’t inspire much hope in me,” shuddered one woman at the New Year’s bash. “No, nonsense!” insisted the inevitable contrarian. “It’s a prime number, strong, and 19 at least marks the end of the turbulent teen years.”
As with every new year, we embark upon this annual new chronology with both hope and trepidation. The proportions of those two factors depend not so much on knowledge and analysis - we should know by now that Fate excels at bowling us googlies - but on our personal cocktail’s mix of optimism.
In contrast to futilely seeking omens for our own future, the numerology is clearer for South Africa as an entity. This is the 25th year of our democracy. January 8 is also the 107th anniversary of the African National Congress and marks the campaign launch of the party’s sixth general election, which in turn will determine the tenor of the next five years.
Most grown-up political organisations celebrate only the big dates: the anniversary of the 191-year-old existence of the Democratic Party in the United States will go unheralded. The 185th anniversary of Britain’s governing Conservative Party will, given the chaos of Brexit, at best elicit an ironic cheer.
But the ANC makes as much of its “birthday” every year as does the average self-involved toddler. It wants balloons, cake and lots of adulation.
This year its party will kick off at Durban's Moses Mabhida, where President Cyril Ramaphosa will outline the roadmap towards the 2019 polls. There will be messages of support from its alliance partners and an eclectic collection of international allies - Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, Sinn Fein in Ireland, the Communist Party of Cuba, and the Polisario Front of Western Sahara - as well as the dubious drawcard of an appearance by fired president Jacob Zuma.
At this stage, it would seem that the ANC will be going into the May election in a far better state than it deserves on a sober assessment of the facts. The Zuma years, especially, have left the economy ravaged, with state institutions eviscerated of capacity and teetering on bankruptcy.
Despite Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” unfolding to reveal a landscape littered with the same old populist ploys that characterised the dark Zuma night, he remains remarkably popular among many who would traditionally have been sure opposition votes. There has been no shortage of commentators, including former Business Day editor Peter Bruce, calling on Democratic Alliance voters to rally to the ANC’s side, in order to give him a personal vote of confidence and in so doing, supposedly to strengthen within the ANC the Ramaphosa revivalists against the Zuma zombies.
The sentiments are understandable. Undoubtedly, it would be better for SA if Ramaphosa’s somewhat precarious factional victory was rewarded at the polls, given that ANC fortunes had been waning steadily for more a decade.
But it’s a specious argument.
There is no such thing as “splitting the vote” or a tactical voting in a pure proportional representation system such as ours.
Voters don’t get to choose between Ramaphosa-supporting candidates or Zuma-supporting candidates. They simply put their trust in the party as a single entity.
In any case, Ramaphosa doesn’t need opposition votes to reverse the ANC decline at the polls. In absolute numbers of votes cast, the opposition tally hasn’t improved much over 25 years. The fluctuation in ANC fortunes, such that it has been, can be attributed mainly to ANC voters failing to turn out. Ramaphosa merely has to convince the many existing ANC voters who had become disenchanted with the Zuma era’s shenanigans to end their electoral boycott.
An additional factor in Ramaphosa’s favour is the weakness of the oppositional forces.
Whether 2019 is a good year or a bad year, to some extent, depends on ourselves. We have in May, with a quarter of a century of ANC government behind us, at least another opportunity to influence the course of events.
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