THE countdown to the 2019 general elections has begun.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the new ANC president, has his work cut out for him. Imperfect as it is, the ANC's new 'Greek salad' leadership will keep the governing party together for a while, even though no one can tell for sure how long this cohabitation of the good, the bad and the horrific will last, nor what it will take for the fissures to start showing; but they will, in time.
At some point, Ramaphosa will have to start taking a series of concrete actions that will send the right messages to stakeholders outside the ANC - the broader South African electorate, local and international markets, analysts, ratings agencies, and other communities of South Africa watchers in the diaspora - to win back their trust.
Thus far, his advent into the highest party position has been met with a general sigh of relief because there is broad consensus that he is the least of all evils.
A Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma victory would have spelled disaster for all the obvious reasons, starting with the fear that her triumph would have meant Jacob Zuma would continue giggling at our cost, knowing that he would never be hauled before the courts of our land - he and his troops of state capture and corruption enablers - to answer to a whole basket of criminal charges which began before he became president, and continued to pile up even after the ANC entrusted him with the reputational treasure chest it had amassed over many decades.
While it would have been relatively easy to conduct some horse trading behind the scenes to keep the party together, it will take much more than song, dance, and comradely hugs reminiscing over past glory, pain and the exploits of Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu to convince people outside the ANC that real change will happen.
Zuma and toxic Cabinet ministers must go
First, Ramaphosa must find a way to convince his colleagues in the party leadership that the bright lights that went on when he was elected will start to dim with each day Zuma remains in office. He must fire Zuma, or recall him if that makes him feel better.
He must then take over as interim president leading to 2019 and immediately reshuffle the Cabinet; South Africans outside the ANC and the markets will not mind a reshuffle by him. In fact, they expect it to happen soon. He can even rest assured that any reshuffle he makes will with met by a possible ratings boost, not further relegation to junk status.
The current Cabinet is full of toxic individuals who were not appointed because of their expertise, leadership qualities and ethical qualities. They were appointed, mostly by the Guptas, because they have no backbone and could easily be used to enable the grand state capture programme to roll out unhindered, defend the indefensible and generally act against the interests of our republic.
Ramaphosa would have to be naïve to expect his party to start riding the reputational high wave again while important positions in the Cabinet, boards of state-owned enterprises and executive management, the diplomatic corps, etc are filled by ill-suited and ethically compromised people.
Can SA really afford free higher education?
He will also urgently – in fact, all the recommended steps he must take are urgent – tell the country whether government can afford to roll out free tertiary education, as cynically announced by Zuma, in 2018.
If it is not feasible, as reported by the Commission of Inquiry into the Feasibility of making High Education and Training Fee-Free in South Africa, Ramaphosa should confirm this finding and roll out a dedicated communication and information programme to explain why it cannot be done.
If, contrary to the finding of the commission, free higher education is indeed possible, he must also appoint a team of experts to help get all the ducks in a row to plan, assign budgets, align relevant institutional mandates and roll out an implementation plan.
If he fails to address this matter convincingly, populist opportunists to the political left of the ANC will gladly take it up.
Ironically, Ramaphosa’s victory at Nasrec is bad news for opposition parties, but only for now. It will only remain bad news if Ramaphosa fails to act as indicated above, believing that he only needs to place plasters over the deep, festering wounds brought about by Jacob Zuma’s leadership to the well-being of the ANC and, by extension, South Africa.
So, what plans will the DA, the EFF, the UDM, COPE and others put in place to remain relevant and raise the stakes ahead of the 2019 general elections if Ramaphosa removes Zuma, credibly reshuffles the Cabinet, appoints a credible national director of public prosecutions of good standing, and allows relevant state institutions – led by men and women of good standing – to thoroughly investigate reported incidents of corruption and the Zupta-led state capture?
If Ramaphosa manages to tick all of the above boxes, the road to 2019 will be treacherous for the country's opposition parties. In the absence of gaping weaknesses in the governing party and its leadership of state institutions, opposition parties - collectively or individually - will have to up the ante and propose a different South Africa to the electorate.
It will have to be a South Africa that, unlike the one led by Jacob Zuma, would return to the basics of its founding documents; one that embraces all its people, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, political views, etc; and in which the principles of equality before our courts and the rule of law are held high.
But it must also be a South Africa that continues to be mindful of the lasting legacies of apartheid rule and the need to deal with them, without alienating or collectively punishing any group of South Africans for crimes committed by others in the past.
It will take the contribution of all South Africans to make our country great again. With good, mature, ethical, empathetic and emotionally intelligent leaders in place, our challenges can be met head on without the need to tear our nation apart.
If the ANC fails to credibly deal with the mess caused by Zuma and existing opposition parties fail to free themselves from the negative perceptions attached to their political brands, perhaps the time is ripe for the birth of a new, all-inclusive, citizens' movement to take South Africa forward.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.