ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa waves to supporters. The first real test of his leadership is how he will prevail over Jacob Zuma in the short and medium term, says the writer. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

As the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) meets, few in society are holding their breath about anything dramatic coming out of that meeting. The secretary-general has already pre-empted that meeting by stating categorically that Zuma will deliver the SONA.

All indications are that Zuma, and his desperate supporters who want him to cling to power, could not care less about what his standing there to address the nation will do to the ANC’s electoral fortunes in 2019. The truth is that it won’t send a great message about whether people should still give the ANC a chance to redeem itself, or about restoring the ANC brand.

All of this happens with the backdrop of Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt to stamp his new-found authority at home and abroad. It is clear that the power base has shifted, and Zuma’s insistence to deliver the SONA is a desperate attempt to pour scorn on such a shift of authority. The reality is, however, that the ANC has a dilemma of having two centres of power in full swing, despite the bland denials of there being only one centre of power. Zuma’s actions since December quite frankly contradict this assertion.

Just last week, Eskom was a flag of hope after the new board was named, while South Africa was once more in the news as the international community hit it with another downgrade. The state of our nation is, however, full of hope following Ramaphosa’s election to the ANC presidency. The country waits with bated breath to see what he’ll do with his new-found power.

The first real test of his leadership is how he will prevail over Zuma in the short and medium term. In the short term, he will have to rein him in on decisions that may damage the future; and in the medium term, he needs to ensure that Zuma exits with as minimal damage to the ANC support base as possible.

Ramaphosa’s rise in political capital will also be the pain of the official opposition, which has not dressed itself with glory - the shenanigans of the DA in the Western Cape will damage the party’s chances of ascending to power soon, if not arrested with speed. Mmusi Maimane is caught between a rock and a hard place as he must navigate white interests and black aspirations. This ironically sounds like Mandela’s dilemma 28 years ago as he walked out of prison.

Ramaphosa is also between the devil and the deep blue sea - does he get rid of Zuma and annoy a constituency in the party that supports him, or does he forge ahead and get rid of Zuma at today’s NWC meeting in order to please civil society and a huge support base that is fed up with Zuma?

In many ways, these leaders have to ponder these questions in the context of the current state of our nation. What permutation of leadership in Cape Town will assist in stabilising life in that city - is the DA of sound mind to focus on its internal politics while the city is facing its biggest crisis ever? How is the DA to be trusted with the state of South Africa when it can’t solve the state of Cape Town? Or is this an unfair question; a question that assumes the DA is somehow immune to the infighting that is consuming all other parties around it?

Similarly, should the ANC be obsessing so much about party unity at the expense of the unity of South Africa to emerge out of the terrible mess of the Zuma years? These are the horns of a dilemma that characterise the state of the nation across the political spectrum.

The EFF can find new relevance if it can demonstrate a higher IQ about a more external, rather than internal, focus on its own challenges. This may well attract some voters who are going to walk away from both the DA and ANC. The question is whether the EFF has the appetite to change its tone to appeal to the middle ground, or will it stick with its extremist tone and posture, especially where its approach to the economy is concerned?

That posture has, so far, not resonated with the majority of people, if the last local government elections are anything to go by. The truth that annoys the EFF leaders and supporters is that, out of hundreds of municipalities across the country, not a single community trusted the EFF enough to give it a majority allowing it to govern. To its credit, though, the EFF has managed to arrest any internal ructions and focused everyone on its broader external mission to make the ANC’s life a misery.

The party seems to be endowed with strategists, if their response to their election losses in 2016 is anything to go by. These strategies are going to come in handy next year if the EFF find themselves in the pound seats again. What they do this year to deal with Zuma and take advantage of a distracted DA will determine their own political position beyond 2019.

Indeed, the state of the nation has changed and the political fortunes are shifting drastically by the day. One thing is for sure: Zuma’s last SONA this Thursday is a big deal for the ANC’s redemption and a big test for Ramaphosa’s new-found power. By merely standing there as a poster boy of the past, Zuma will give one more goal to the opposition and nudge the ANC closer to the opposition benches.

But a year is a long time in politics, and the ANC can still recover when Zuma eventually goes silently to retire into his Nkandla monument to graft.

* Tabane is the new host of Frankly Speaking, a television show on SABC 3 and SABC 404 that launches on Sunday, February 11 at 8.30pm . He is host of Power Perspective on Power 987 Mondays to Thursdays at 9.30pm. Follow him on Twitter @JJTabane

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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