South Africa

South Africa

2015: Darkness, blind curves and potholes in the political road ahead

2015: Darkness, blind curves and potholes in the political road ahead

Even by South Africa’s highly politicised standards, 2014 was a year unusually dominated by politicians, foremost among them our Number One Politician – or should we call him our Number One Chaos Maker? 2015 is unlikely to be much different. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On balance, it is probably going to be more chaotic, rougher, and perhaps even harder to predict than 2014. The various political models we’re used to are beginning to erode, and the post-94 political consensus, where black people voted ANC and white, then coloured and then Indian and middle-class black people voted DA, is splintering. But one prediction that could probably be made with confidence is that the struggle for power this year is likely to focus specifically on the lack of power when, in just a few weeks’ time, load-shedding exerts its grip properly.

As usual, the political year will be kicked off by Number One himself, when he gives his set-piece speech at the ANC’s 8 January Statement, this Saturday in Cape Town. Almost the first question to be answered is how he will look. Zuma’s health is still going to be the big unknown, the only variable (it seems) that could lead to his early exit from power. It’s a good opportunity for Zuma and the ANC to both stamp their grip on politics. He could look large and in charge, and give the kind of performance that only he can produce (just eight months ago he rocked the FNB Stadium better than Bono). He is more likely to do that through the singing and dancing that follows his speech, though, than through the speech itself. If you’re looking for an exciting oratory and huge dollops of policy proposals to analyse, look elsewhere.

For the ANC itself, this event is going to be a bigger challenge than usual. Due to its politically touching but financially draining policy of moving the event around the various provinces, it has finally become the turn of the Western Cape to host it. Last year, the ANC held the event in Mpumalanga, a place where 90% of voters once cast their ballot for the party. The Western Cape ANC has fewer members than it would take to fill the stadium earmarked for the event itself. Which means that the bussing operation employed to bring members from other provinces will have to be bigger than usual. Expect heavy traffic from the Eastern Cape into Cape Town this week.

Almost immediately after that event, in what would normally be the time when the country settles down into its normal routine, the question on anyone’s lips will be when load-shedding will start. It’s quite amazing that up until now, the ANC has not appeared to pay much of a price for making the serious mistake of not being able to keep the lights on, the kind of routine governance issue that is so crucially important to voters in well-developed democracies. Once the lights start to go out, and there’s a Consol solar light in every kitchen, the ANC’s competence is likely to be questioned like never before.

It is a golden opportunity for the opposition parties to make their mark, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. In a way, the ANC has so far been protected somewhat because we’ve all been through it before, back in 2008. Arguably, this didn’t have much of an impact on the election results of 2009. But things have changed since then, and the Local Government Elections of next year could be determined more by service delivery than any other elections up until this point. So the lack of power could, with a little bit of careful management by opposition parties, become the dominant political issue of 2015. Certainly, the billboard “Load shedding: Brought to you by the ANC” should be a powerful message.

If Julius Malema set the agenda for most, or at least a big part of 2014, 2015 is going to be the year in which he has to prove he can sustain it. His first big opportunity will come in February, during the State of the Nation address. While the Economic Freedom Fighters have suggested that they will disrupt President Jacob Zuma’s address, the politics of that decision are not very simple. Firstly, it is likely that all the other opposition parties will stay silent, and will not participate in such a disruption. This would isolate the EFF, and possibly damage the fragile coalition of opposition parties. It would also make it very easy for the ANC to paint the EFF as children who cannot be trusted with the serious business of Parliament.

Malema himself is also going to be vulnerable to the charge that it is he who should pay back the money, once his corruption trial finally gets going. It’s been a long time coming, but it does appear the state has a strong case to the claim that he manipulated tenders in Limpopo for his personal gain. If the claim is then supported that he and his supporters did sabotage the distribution of textbooks in Limpopo, his public image could shatter: the very idea that he sabotaged education, and the life-chances of children in his own province, could well damage him below the water-line. It’s a big “if”, though.

Within the ANC itself, the big event is obviously the National General Council, the gathering of members that marks the half-way point between conferences, scheduled for the end of June. No matter what policies issue are on the agenda, barring something massive happening to Zuma’s health, the real question is going to be who gets more applause, Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa, lacking a natural constituency of his own (but probably guaranteed the support of the Gauteng ANC) has been given all the hard jobs by Zuma at the moment. That could be a sign Zuma sees him as a threat. Dlamini-Zuma is probably guaranteed the support of at least the ANC Women’s League, which means someone is able to publicly show their support for her (by saying simply that the ANC is ready for a female leader) while not breaking any rules about talking openly of “succession”.

The conduct of Ramaphosa, and how he tries to behave within a fairly constrained space, is going to be important political game to watch. For now, the indications are that he has proper ambitions. But it’s how he finds a way to express those – create some sort of support base, while at the same time not irritating Zuma, and/or alarming Zuma’s allies too much – that is going to be a truly fascinating spectacle.

There are, of course, many other issues that will come up this political year. In the courts, the case brought by the DA to review the decision to withdraw the corruption charges against Zuma will start, and could lead to the first judicial finding that the National Prosecuting Authority was “captured” by Zuma. Parliament is still going to be very busy, and it’s clear the opposition parties still want to fight, and that the ANC doesn’t necessarily yet have a successful strategy in dealing with them. And then, of course, what we could call the “unknown unknowns”, the incidents and issues that just cannot be predicted. Those can turn out to be the most interesting, and sometimes the most important political issues in a given year.

South Africa being South Africa, there is almost zero chance that there won’t be any of those. DM

Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking about the SoNA at the New Age Business Briefing breakfast at Grandwest in Cape Town. 18/06/2014 Kopano Tlape GCIS


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