By this time next week, our general dismal assessment of 2017 will either have been confirmed, or entirely overhauled.
If Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) has been elected African National Congress (ANC) president, the national mood will be one of anxiety and depression, notwithstanding the euphoria of a fast-shrinking political elite. Newspaper and news website opinion pages will be ablaze with analysis as to whether NDZ has what it takes to hold Africa’s oldest liberation movement together. Will she turn the party’s declining electoral fortunes around or is she simply the main pallbearer at the ANC’s political funeral. The Twitterati will be wondering how it is that the future of South Africa can be left in the hands just a few thousand conference delegates and whether these delegates weren’t handed wads of cash to stave off NDZ’s opponent. There will be a frenzy of new hashtags calling for a political realignment to bring about ‘real change’ in 2019. The currency will be on the back foot and the economic outlook for 2018 will appear weaker than ever.
Should Cyril Ramaphosa (CR17) emerge victorious, the mood will be sprightly and hopeful and as festive as the season. The currency, which has emerged as a proxy for how South Africa is viewed internationally and domestically, will be trending firmer, despite the mixed economic outlook. An atmosphere of renewed confidence will prevail, as the social partners show a genuine willingness to cooperate again. The opinion pages will, no doubt, analyse in detail just how CR17 prevailed. Did he, for instance, win an unfettered democratic victory, or was it the outcome of an unholy compromise. If it’s the former, there will be a feeling that CR17 can indeed oversee the much-spoken-about ‘self correction’ of the ANC. If it’s the latter, there will be serious questions about what compromises have already been made and will still have to be made under the banner of so-called ‘unity’.
A key proxy for whether CR17 has real power to make the necessary reforms will be his approach to the two Zumas – NDZ herself and President Jacob Zuma. If the former emerges as a member of an expanded ‘top-six-plus’ structure, it could signal that ANC renewal and a societal ‘new deal’ are likely to be sacrificed on the altar of false unity. As for the President, will it be an unceremonious recall in the absence of any immunity plan, or will he be allowed to see out his term (an unlikely scenario), or be given a Robert Mugabe-like soft and gilded landing?
What is certainly clear is that, should NDZ prevail, 2017 will go down as a ‘bad and ugly year’. She will have no honeymoon period and a strongly revived State-capture albatross will hang ominously round her neck. That said, her election will most likely trigger a fundamental political realignment – one that, in the long arc of history (or, more accurately, the very, very long arc of history), may even result in 2017 being rebranded a ‘good year’.
Should CR17 succeed, South Africans will be in a position, immediately, to celebrate 2017 as a ‘good year’, despite the 11 months preceding the ANC conference being the worst of the democratic era. That’s not to say the country and the ANC will be firmly on the road to recovery. However, at least the car will be pointing in the right direction.