President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa during the party's 54th elective conference. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/ANA
Now that the ANC elective conference has come and gone, we can henceforth look into the future without the trepidation of the weeks and days leading to the event.

Happily, in true ANC tradition, the contending candidates have accepted the conference’s outcomes and thrown their weight behind the newly elected leadership - there are neither winners nor losers: the ANC is the only victor.

Given its historical place in the collective imagination of our people, the consonance of its policy platform with their hopes and aspirations and its position as a governing party, the outcome of the conference has been embraced by much of the population as collective national property.

All eyes are now on the custodians of the ANC, the newly-elected leadership and in particular Cyril Ramaphosa, the president, to steer the organisation back on an even keel.

As with his colleagues in the leadership, Ramaphosa is surely mindful of the national mood, the expectations from the masses of the people and the urgency with which these have to be addressed. His output will, however, have to be judged against the reality of a plethora of competing demands relative to limited resources especially at a time of local and global economic morbidity, a party posture and practice which has, over the last decade, tended to militate against the self and a continuing tendency by government, business and labour to speak at cross purposes.

In its own self-interest, the ANC will have to engage in a process of self-renewal to which its successive conferences have over the years committed the organisation. An essential ingredient in this regard will, no doubt, be the need to quarantine the organisation of ghost branches, the unhealthy practice of gate keeping and a membership system that is, for all intents and purposes, archaic and ill suited for a 21st century world.

For example, would an electronic membership system not be the answer to much of the cannibalism to which many well-intentioned members of the organisation have been victim over the years?

History will undoubtedly record the last 10 years as a decade in which the ANC sunk to its lowest, part of the misfortune of which manifested in the lowering of the bar for a movement which has, for much of its history, been led by some of the best sons and daughters of the motherland.

A contentious but unavoidable issue will no doubt be the need for raising the bar for leadership, starting at the branch level.

So, put crudely, should we not be aiming for a situation in which, over time, the ANC Youth League becomes a locus of the most educated brains in various fields of the arts and sciences, an entity which enjoys pride of place in the collective imagination of young South Africans?

In a social setting in which the state is the main source of income for much of the party’s membership, should a renewal process not address the development of members into the professions so as to provide individuals with alternatives to the state? In a sense, this is more than just an ANC problem - it is a society-wide challenge which also bears on a private sector whose subliminal mind-set and practice is insufficiently hospitable to the concept and practice of diversity in its broadest sense.

Ramaphosa’s dual labour and business backgrounds place him at a strategic advantage to wrestle with this issue, including the difficult but necessary discussion which the country requires about a meaningful social contract between government, business and labour; a point to which I will return below.

As deputy president and party leader, Ramaphosa will have to take urgent steps to restore public faith in the sanctity of the public sector. Recent court judgments concerning the national directorate of public prosecutions and parliamentary inquiries into the affairs of the SABC and Eskom. point to the ill health - in some cases acute and chronic - of the public sector.

One is tempted to think that nothing short of a Presidential Commission aimed at ridding the public sector of corruption, a stifling and stultifying bureaucratic indolence and inertia, and positioning it to respond optimally to objectives such as the National Development Plan will do the trick.

In this respect, unions would be well-advised to begin a difficult and yet unavoidable discussion about their role in strengthening the public service in the interest of their members and society as a whole.

An important issue to bear in mind is that an impotent public service provides ammunition - in reality a fictitious justification - to ideology-based narratives for the privitisation of public goods in the same way that an ANC that becomes a hive of corruption breathes life into age-old Afro-pessimist caricatures of the Africans.

The forthcoming public sector wage bargaining cycle will be a critical litmus test to unions’ appraisal and appreciation of our current economic climate, what is possible under the circumstances, the dangers that present levels of government debt pose to the welfare of public sector workers and society as a whole; that is to say, the threat to that most treasured possession and ultimate shield of any nation - national sovereignty!

Similarly, business will have to appreciate that current levels of poverty and unemployment constitute perhaps the single biggest threat to their interest and provide justification for ideology-based narratives against the system of capitalism by the genuine and not-so-genuine left.

Our historical evolution so has it that the unravelling of the capitalist economic system must logically be accompanied by the disentanglement of the nation-building project which would put paid to rest, the assumptions on which our constitutional order - “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” - is based.

However one appraises the ructions in the political market place - which have also affected the ANC - business must,sooner rather than later, come to terms with the fact that as owners of productive capital, they have a duty, in theirs and the national interest, to help government to deliver tangible dividends of freedom to the masses of an excluded and increasingly restless majority.

Anglo American PLC, Mark Cutifani, raised this issue in 2015 when he implored government, business and labour to work together. “Government,” he said, “has a vital role to play in leading, facilitating and encouraging dialogue to accelerate the National Development Plan’s implementation.

We must build bridges and find common ground.

"The time is right for a national conversation to map out the way forward for SA and to provide its people with greater opportunity for a better life by becoming a more mature, modern, competitive, just and prosperous democracy”

Cutifani observed that “Our current deep suspicion of each other is simply not sustainable and is evidence to the world that the miracle of the Rainbow Nation is floundering, as it cannot get past self-interest and outdated ideological mantras.”

Earlier in 2013, Cutifani said that “the job of those who have stewardship of capital is to support society

"South Africa could meet its challenges once government and the private sector stopped talking past each other.”

To be successful, the social contract implicit in Cutifani’s remarks on those two different occasions should include civil society and the population as a whole. Undoubtedly, Ramaphosa will maintain a systematic and dynamic contact with the people, business, government and labour as partners in a common national developmental project.

Another not so easy challenge for Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership is the urgent need to restore South Africa’s standing and influence on the continent and the rest of the world.

If there is an important lesson to be drawn from the experience of the last decade, it must be that our misdemeanours at home earn us not a modicum of respectability. Once more, Ramaphosa will have to pay attention to the pedigree of our foreign salesmen and women, ambassadors and high commissioners posted abroad.

Wake me up at three o’clock tomorrow morning and ask me if he is equal to the task.

My answer then and now is: Yes.

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

The Sunday Independent