South Africa – Opposition parties on back foot as Ramaphosa revitalises ANC

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Gary van Staden | NKC African Economics

A week in politics is indeed a long time and the African National Congress (ANC) under the new leadership of national Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has managed to alter perceptions about the party to a degree that, if maintained, will see the ANC emerge as majority party in 2019.

Furthermore, the idea that the continued presence of national President Jacob Zuma will damage those electoral prospects is fading as fast as the influence of the now lame duck head of state.

The strategy to allow Mr Zuma to fade away and eventually be persuaded to step down with a deal in his pocket rather than adopt the rash and unpredictable option of rushing to impeach or force him out is paying dividends and marginalising what remains of his support base.

Work to remove Mr Zuma will continue and the negotiations will ebb and flow. There will be no political firing squad as the ANC carefully manages an exit the opposition parties, and many others, do not want to see, but which will provide electoral capital for the ANC and little for the opposition.

The influence of the new ANC leadership on national governance and events is undeniable and is despite the continuing presence of the president in the Union Buildings. It has generated the impression that the ANC is indeed revitalising itself, and if this impression gains credence and some solidity, then the opposition is in trouble and dreams of a coalition government come 2019 are disappearing.

The ANC cannot repair all the damage of the past 10 years and the ruling party will lose support come 2019, but perhaps not to the extent that the opposition hoped would be the case.

While this period could be classified as the ‘Ramaphosa Honeymoon’ and it will eventually surrender to the drudgery of everyday life, the main opposition parties have been unable to respond with any real clarity of purpose.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has got itself bogged down in internal wrangling and infighting in the Western Cape, but the fallout is wider and spreading. Of course, the DA can recover and begin to engage the ANC more forcefully, but if the ANC continues to impress, that job will become much harder.

As for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), its leadership has lost the plot completely. With Mr Zuma no longer able to provide the EFF with political ammunition and some focus, the party has resorted to politics by confrontation in the mistaken belief that violence will attract support (trashing stores in shopping malls, violent protests and showing clear disregard for laws and judgements they do not like).

Developments over the past few weeks have left the EFF with no real agenda and nothing but populist rhetoric and lofty speeches. In the absence of a real policy platform to offer the electorate and the shift to some populist rhetoric of its own by the ANC, the political ground has been swept from under the radical party’s feet.

We can expect this strategy to continue in the fallacious belief that Twitter support of its undemocratic behaviour reflects a broader base of support – 2019 will set that straight.

The ANC leadership wisely avoided the cries of those baying for Mr Zuma’s political blood, and the predictions and speculation of how the new leadership would react were largely spectacularly wrong. Mr Zuma’s exit will occur as soon as a deal can be struck that keeps him out of jail.

The ANC has made the early moves financial markets and investors wanted to see and it is important that this momentum be maintained. Furthermore, it has made choices that move the party forward and away from its rather sordid recent past without sacrificing unity.

It appears as though the party will not split and that the Zuma faction will be neutralised but not alienated.

It is early days and 2019 is some way down the line, but if the start made by the new leadership of the ANC is maintained and the momentum continues, then much of the dividend the opposition parties were expecting come 2019 will disappear. But that implies the ANC keeps up the momentum, and when the honeymoon wears off, that will get harder.