So now we know, the ANC’s decisive Mangaung conference last month and President Jacob Zuma’s triumphant re-election did not change the party’s intolerance of criticism nor its populist rhetoric.

Now we’re going into electioneering mode and it will most certainly get worse.

Luthuli House is very nervous about the 2014 election. Not because there is any remote chance of losing, but because there is a possibility that the ANC could for the first time get less than 60 percent of the vote.

They’re nervous, because 2019 is just five years away from 2014, and that’s the date opposition parties have targeted to reduce ANC electoral support to below 50 percent.

The ANC knows it is not a growing party. Its last injection in votes came when large numbers of Zulu-speakers in KwaZulu-Natal abandoned their traditional parties to vote for their own Jacob Zuma.

A lot can happen in South African politics in six years. In fact a lot will happen.

The official opposition, the DA, is slowly morphing into a different animal as more and more black leaders are elected to the top structures. This will most likely make it more attractive to black voters, especially in urban areas and the growing middle class, without losing significant support from minority groups. In the period between the 2014 and 2019 elections the DA will most probably have a black leader replacing Helen Zille.

And now there is talk that the formidable Mamphela Ramphele is planning to enter the party political arena, possibly even with a new party. If she finds much traction and smaller parties like Cope, the UDM and the ACDP can hold their own ground, it is just possible that the ANC could face a narrow defeat in six years time.

That’s what is focusing the minds at Luthuli House right now. A slip in 2014 could become a slide in 2019, especially if Zuma remains president for his full second term. To the ANC’s ageing leadership, losing power is too ghastly to contemplate. The ANC was supposed to rule until Jesus comes, remember?

Much will have to change in our political culture to have an atmosphere where the ANC will acknowledge defeat and peacefully hand over power. Civil society’s job to change that culture should start now.

But next year’s general election demands our attention right now.

Marikana, De Doorns, Sasolburg and a thousand smaller versions of this kind of violent uprising in the last year or two give us a graphic demonstration of how fragile our democracy and stability have become as the poor, unemployed and under-employed increasingly lose faith in the new order.

I don’t see this improving in the short term.

The last thing we need in this atmosphere is reckless populist rhetoric, political opportunism or plots to discredit political opponents.

ANC leaders like Gwede Mantashe and Jackson Mthembu showed us during the Zuma Spear episode that they will stop at nothing, not even fanning racial resentment and conflict, to discredit critics of the party. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has repeatedly used inflammatory anti-white sentiments to rally support behind the ANC.

The ANC’s vitriolic responses to the closing of platinum mine shafts and to the FNB brand-building videos prove that restraint and maturity are not values they espouse.

I have no doubt that many workers in the agricultural sector have reason to be very angry at their plight. But I also don’t doubt that the fact that the farmworkers’ uprising only happened in the Western Cape has something to do with the ANC’s plans to undermine and embarrass the ruling party in the province.

The DA, as the ANC’s biggest opponent, must face the reality that it will become the main target of the ANC’s reckless talk and political dirty tricks in the months ahead.

This means the DA will have to keep its nose very clean, govern the Western Cape and the local authorities where they are in charge impeccably and be very careful about its leaders’ public utterances.

I’m afraid the ANC will be more and more tempted to do what Robert Mugabe did when his own people stood up to him: resurrect the white minority as the common enemy and declare that if you’re not against them, you’re unpatriotic or even a traitor.

We’ve already seen this in the inflammatory rhetoric used by the ANC’s Western Cape leader, Marius Fransman, and by Tony Ehrenreich, office bearer of the ANC and Cosatu in the province.

Paint the whites as the enemy, declare the DA a party of racist whites and neo-apartheid and insult all those who are not white that support the DA as quislings and sell-outs.

The media needs to take note of the threat to calm debate in the months ahead and needs to resist the temptation to exploit the excitement of the political confrontations.