The ANC secured 63% in the local government elections of 2011 and 53.91% in 2016.Picture: ANA Archive

There is considerable turbulence in our political situation in South Africa today.

This is essentially due to the contestation for leadership positions in the ANC in the run-up to its election conference in December, coupled with the inordinate controversy caused by, inter alia, state capture and the issues of rampant and endemic corruption that the Zuma presidency has spawned.

Within the ANC, there is unprecedented instability and a real danger of some kind of political implosion. Furthermore it must be borne in mind that our political situation has been changing for some time.

To a greater or lesser extent, this is illustrated by the fact that South Africa before the local government elections on August 3 last year could have been accurately described as a dominant party state democracy. This flowed from the fact that the ANC secured 63% in the local government elections of 2011.

In the 2016 election, its support diminished to 53.91%.

A paradigmatic change has occurred with its support having dwindled to not merely less than 60%, but below 55%.

It is cogently submitted that the results of these local elections indicate unequivocally that a change in political paradigm has occurred.

The results illustrate in no uncertain terms that the days of ANC hegemony in South African politics are over and that what is emerging is a system of strong multiparty democracy.

This was accompanied by the loss of three important metros and the need for coalition governments in these.

The emergence of a strong multiparty system in place of ANC hegemony in our political system is due in part to the growth of the DA and the EFF.

With the debilitating instability in the ANC as a result of the contestation for leadership positions at the December conference, it is interesting and fascinating to consider and deliberate on the political prognosis for our future.

In an incisive, bold and thought-provoking study, Jakkie Cilliers, an informed political commentator and founder of the Institute for Security Studies, in his book Fate of the Nation: 3 Scenarios for South Africa’s Future, endeavours to analyse our problematic political scene and give a reasoned prognosis.

In this regard he categorises and analyses three scenarios.

First, the partial triumph of the so-called traditionalists. This option he designates “Bafana-Bafana”, and it the mere continuation of the existing political set-up, based on patronage and corruption, facilitated an artificial unity and by no split in the ANC - and with Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma elected as Ppesident of the ANC and Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy at the December conference, or the other way round.

This would continue to lead us as a nation and country on a downward trend.

Secondly, there is the reformist tradition with a victory for constitutionalists, and Ramaphosa elected as president in December and the routing of the traditionalists and the Zuma faction, defeated by Ramaphosa. This, Cilliers indicates, would be the most favourable for South Africa.

Thirdly, there’s the unequivocal triumph of traditionalists, with Dlamini Zuma elected president and the Ramaphosa faction defeated and completely sidelined or alienated. This Cilliers designates the “divided nation” scenario and he views it as disastrous for South Africa.

Obviously Cilliers has presented us with reasoned speculation. In a radio interview he has however indicated that the present intense turmoil in the ANC could bring about unintended and very different consequences.

In an equally interesting book by Theuns Eloff called 'Turning Point', the author makes out a cogent case for a government of national unity.

This would bring together the most competent and honest politicians to start afresh, who would set us on the correct path to political and economic rehabilitation and urgently address the problems of endemic corruption, economic inequality and poverty. The vital issue is how could this come about?

What is clear from the results of the local government election of 2016 and from the emergence of coalition governments in the urban metros of Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Metropole and Johannesburg is that the party political scene is in significant transition and flux.

This is a beneficial development and there is a real possibility that in the general election of 2019, the ANC may not secure more than 50% of the national vote and could lose the province of Gauteng.

Our multiparty political system would then require the formation of a coalition government at a national level and possibly in Gauteng as well.

This, it is submitted, would be no magic solution as coalition governments are by their very nature inherently unstable, as the problems with the existing coalition government in the Nelson Mandela Metropole indicates. Nevertheless, they can work and open up political opportunities for sagacious and courageous leadership.

Furthermore, with the emergence and operation of coalition governments in the metros and other cognate issues, such as the probable fracturing of the tripartite alliance, as is taking place at present, this could bring about a re-orientation of political parties based on economic policy rather than race, political allegiance and personalities.

Such a state of affairs could indeed result in the option of a government of national unity as proposed by Eloff, involving the constitutionalists in Cilliers’ second option, discussed above, and like-minded politicians in DA, that is likely to obtain considerably more electoral support in 2019 at the cost of the ANC, and the other smaller opposition parties, depending on the circumstances and election results.

South Africa and its people have infinite potential and the present crisis of credibility and confidence in the ANC and the country could be a prelude for great political opportunities.

What is required is inspired, competent and bold political leadership that will take our country on a high road to political success and economic equality for all its people.

* Devenish is emeritus professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the interim constitution in 1993.