The Zondo commission has finally got out of the starting blocks and already some interesting skeletons have begun to tumble out of the proverbial closet of State capture. Explosive testimony by former deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, has exposed the brazenness of the Gupta smash and grab on our economy. It remains to be seen if anybody will actually be held accountable but in true South African tradition, we hope for the best but expect the worse. As the Zondo commission unfolds, the slowing economy, petrol price increases and escalations in the cost of living have started to bite, citizens have begun to count the real cost of the scourge of state capture. Looking at state owned enterprises alone, R161 billion has been wasted on bailouts, subsidies and capital injections since 2008. Over at SARS, state capture has hollowed R140 billion in lost revenues. Together that is over R300 billion or 22% of the national revenue budget for 2017/18.
And of course all this takes place with the 2019 election moving swiftly towards us on the political horizon. This important election will take place in May next year and the run up to the poll will no doubt be woven with heightened invective and stirred-up emotions as key issues such as land reform, jobs and the economy, crime and corruption take centre stage. The political dynamic remains fluid with many different permutations for the future of the country in the mix.
As the outbreak of “Ramaphoria” of the last few months has been shudderingly brought to earth with the shrinking first quarter GDP results, growing unemployment figures and slowdowns in key areas of manufacturing, construction and agriculture; allied with the highly charged debate and public hearings on expropriation without compensation, the electoral prospects for the ruling ANC are not looking as fertile as they were in January. The ANC remains deeply divided in key provinces, most notably KwaZulu-Natal, where the spectre of the deposed and brooding Jacob Zuma still looms large. A low turnout for the ANC in their most vote-rich province will undoubtedly affect their share of the national vote. Smaller skirmishes in the Eastern Cape, Northwest and the Free State could have a similar effect.
Why is this important you may ask? Well Cyril Ramaphosa pegged his marketability at the ANC’s Nasrec conference as the “not Zuma” candidate. Presenting himself as the magic elixir to resolve the ANC’s flagging electoral fortunes that saw them lose control of three key metros in the local elections. If he is unable to match the 62.15 percent the ANC received in the last national elections under Zuma he could well find himself in some trouble internally within his own party. With the blood of a fair to middling election result in the water, the sharks, mainly represented by the ambitious Deputy President DD Mabuza, will undoubtedly start to circle, making it even harder for Ramaphosa to stamp his authority on an already fractious party, move decisively against the ANC rent seekers and implement the reforms he must know are needed to get South Africa back on track.
A dynamic that will also be interesting to watch is the evolution of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who appear to be moving ever closer to the ANC. This is demonstrated by their overt attempts to shield Deputy President DD Mabuza from parliamentary scrutiny and their volte face in the opposition metro coalition arrangements. Julius Malema is an astute politician, he must by now have realised that his red overalls are not going to get him to the Union Buildings. An analysis of the trends of the last year of by-election results around the country in both rural and urban wards show that the EFF’s votes have stagnated and in some cases declined. Clearly the radical and populist Chavez style policies, whilst able to fill halls and stadiums, have not found significant electoral traction amongst voters. At this stage it seems unlikely that the EFF will break past the 10% mark as South African voters embrace centrist parties and policies. It will be important to watch how the nexus, particularly between the EFF and the ANC faction around DD Mabuza, develops in the coming months.
It’s also been a rockyroad for the main opposition party with the De Lille saga and some setbacks in the Metro’s with fragile coalition government dynamics. It is essential for the party to get its message back on track and be in a position to capitalise on the weaknesses in the governing party and maximise opportunities opening up in the electoral landscape. More than ever before, it’s going to be essential for a clear and compelling counter-offer to the citizens of South Africa to be made. The days of Zuma-bashing are gone and voters are demanding alternatives and policy solutions to the situation they find themselves in. It is essential for the opposition to retain the Western Cape, grow its vote share and also to make significant inroads in the key battleground state of Gauteng.
With little over 8 months to go until the election, lots could change, there is still some significant electoral road to travel. And as uncertainty and nervousness continues to rage over fundamental issues that face us as a nation; and as our democracy looks like a messy muddle, we are well reminded of what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr cautioned that: ‘mans’ capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but mans’ inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary’.