For the first time in our young democracy many people will be confronted with a crisis of conscience as they enter the voting booth on May 8.
This is because all voters are keenly aware that South Africa desperately needs a new direction that can provide hope for a better future for all to put an end to what they have endured up to now.
At a basic level it is a question of identifying a leader they can trust.
And given the current crop of political leaders, it will be very difficult to argue against a majority conviction that Cyril Ramaphosa stands head and shoulders above the rest.
This is indeed backed by credible perception surveys.
In a presidential system Ramaphosa would without doubt walk away with a very large majority vote.
But this is not possible under our electoral system.
Former president Thabo Mbeki has just made a surprise appearance on the public platform to express his renewed sense of confidence, comfort and hope in the renewal prospects for the ANC under the leadership of Ramaphosa.
The basis of his change of heart is no doubt founded on the leadership characteristics that Ramaphosa projects and his pedigree. This is consistent with the majority perception.
The conundrum we all face is that indeed Ramaphosa is considered a safe pair of hands now when South Africa faces the decision making crossroads.
Yet he is confined to a party organisational structure that has power-assisted disc brakes ready to stop any urgent corrective moves that he might desire to make in the interest of the party and country.
If the voters decide firmly to put its trust in him notwithstanding the hateful structural patronage and corruption that defines the ANC, they will expect actions and results that he might not reasonably be able to deliver because of the constraining governance structure of his party.
The combination of this structure and the culture of the ANC have historically promoted joint leadership and decision making and inhibited and limited excessive individual decision making.
A frightening reality he has to contend with is that very few members of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) and the top six are untainted by the corruption scandals that continue to emerge at the commissions of inquiry that he authorised.
The tenure of these governing structures extends until 2022.
What this means is that we can at best expect to continue with the precarious balancing act and tentative decision-making pattern we have seen, and must reasonably expect, since he assumed the leadership of the party that he won by a historically very narrow margin.
This is the essence of the conundrum.
The most important decision he must make after the elections (which the ANC can reasonably be expected to win) is on the composition and size of his Cabinet.
Whereas he will doubtlessly insist and fight for executive freedom on who he appoints to the economic cluster departments, he will be forced to make unpalatable compromises on the rest of the positions and indeed on the size of the Cabinet.
Patronage obligations start here.
It should therefore not be surprising that some of the miscreants in the Cabinet now will find their way back.
They occupy prominent positions on the party list and will rightfully exert influence in the NEC for inclusion in the Cabinet.
The notion that the integrity committee has the power and authority to clean the list of potential candidates after the election is without foundation.
The NEC has no obligation to accept its decision or recommendations. The only avenue for cleansing the ANC governance structures will come via the actions of the criminal justice system that has been disabled for the past decade.
It is obvious that a vigorous system can easily catch a good number of these corrupt characters in its net.
It is an uncontested fact that the ANC is fatally divided along faction lines that are firmly founded on the patronage network perfected by its previous president Jacob Zuma.
Any effort by Ramaphosa to untangle and uproot this network within the NEC will be vigorously resisted because the beneficiaries are deeply invested as recent revelations have demonstrated.
The next three years until 2022 are bound to be the most turbulent within the ANC.
Ramaphosa’s strength of leadership and negotiation skills will face another critical test and pressure during this period.
He also faces the danger, as others have postulated, of fighting the real possibility of a recall as more leaders in the NEC fall victim to the invigorated National Prosecuting Authority that is determined to restore and promote law and order.
For the sake of his legacy he must be unwavering and undeterred.
Organisational history shows that in business, the demise and disappearance of brands occurs all the time irrespective of how strong they were.
For corporations, creative destruction is a means to restructure and transform to stay congruent with the dynamic market shifts.
In the case of political parties, it is all about the need for overhauling leadership to renew and reinvent itself.
This can be managed through strategic attrition of creative collapse of the party to recreate it.
How then can Ramaphosa balance the pressure from our sceptical international and domestic lenders while managing these real internal party threats?
There is also the restive populace that correctly believes that they have been robbed of a future while the political elite and their close circles and friends have gorged at the overflowing state trough.
The countrywide protests are a manifestation of this hopelessness and anger.
A Ugandan friend made a prescient remark in 1993 as he observed the unfolding transition negotiations.
He said the biggest challenge we would face in the next few decades will come from the temptation to abuse the state procurement system because of its size and footprint and the fact that the new incoming leadership of the democratic state would have no previous experience in government.
We had done very well up to 2008 but since then it has been a slippery slide downhill.
The credible ongoing revelations of state capture for selfish purposes are profound and unprecedented.
Options available to Ramaphosa are dangerously limited. The principal task on which he must focus all his energies must be the strategic creation of a capable state and its delivery mechanism at all spheres of government and state-owned enterprises.
He must be firm on ensuring the best and most competent people are at the helm in all critical sectors.
This will be a critical and decisive confidence builder for the domestic and international markets.
In the light of the aforementioned, we need to temper our exuberant optimism about what Ramaphosa might and can deliver at least up to 2022.
Circumstances that will unfold beyond that might be kind to him and open opportunities for a second and an even more transformative term.
Ultimately he is the master of his fate.
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