IT SEEMS like South Africans will soon need to wake up to the truth that Cyril Ramaphosa and his confusing top six leadership team were elected for two things, and two things only: the first is to prevent the ANC from splitting at any cost, and the second is to ensure that it retains political power after the 2019 general elections, also seemingly at any cost.
If, in the process of achieving these two aims, they also manage to reassure broader South African society and regain market and investor confidence, that would be good, but it's seemingly not a priority.
ANC delegates at the December conference did not argue among themselves about how to make South Africa great again; they argued about the two aims mentioned above.
We did not see any media reports or analyst discussions focused on how angry they were at what Jacob Zuma’s leadership has done to our country, or how they threw plastic chairs at Ace Magashule for having allegedly been the chief conduit, with Mosebenzi Zwane as his runner, for the channelling of hundreds of millions of rand budgeted for funding emerging black farmers into, eventually, the offshore bank accounts of the Guptas.
We also know that an estimated R30m of the money siphoned from the coffers of the Free State provincial government was used to fund the Gupta wedding at Sun City, following the unprecedented landing of the aircraft transporting wedding guests from India at one of the country’s national key points - all without any consequences.
The ANC delegates did not complain about the weakening and repurposing of key state institutions, especially the South African Revenue Service (SARS), to facilitate alleged grand theft and tax evasion by their president and his suspected partners in crime.
That SARS, run by the very problematic Tom Moyane, has lost much taxpayer confidence and can no longer achieve the revenue collection targets needed to help government deliver services to the people of South Africa was also seemingly of no concern to them.
When Zuma led them in song, they merrily followed, and when Magashule, David Mabuza and Jessie Duarte were successfully elected, they rejoiced.
Cost of Zuma leadership still undocumented
The opportunity costs to South Africa of Zuma’s leadership are yet to be accurately documented.
Stuck in its archaic tradition of obeying leaders even when they are abusive, combined with what I can only describe as irrational pride, the ANC has rejected dozens of opportunities to call Zuma to order or to fire him.
The party consistently pushed back against all criticism of Zuma, rejecting it with even more vigour when it came from the Democratic Alliance, a party the ANC likes to describe as nothing but racist and interested only in serving the interests of the white minority.
When addressing rural communities in the vernacular, some ANC leaders are said to have entertained the misplaced fear that the DA is a white party whose main aim is to undo key corrective policies introduced since the end of apartheid, notably B-BBEE and affirmative action, and to bring back apartheid.
Over time, Zuma’s leadership of the ANC - buttressed by his alleged central involvement in the state capture criminal syndicate, his reported refusal to pay taxes and other links to the criminal underworld - has eroded a great deal of trust in the ANC and, consequently, the country.
As a result, the ANC has long lost the moral high ground and blind trust it used to enjoy as a party that would lead South Africa from the divisive decades of apartheid to a future of national unity.
Of late, and in an attempt to renew its relevance and prevent the Economic Freedom Fighters from fully occupying the space to its political left, it even seems prepared to repeat what Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe did when he feared losing elections to the opposition MDC: he introduced populist business indigenisation and land-grab policies that only helped to fast track the destruction of a once-thriving African economy.
Where does it all leave South Africa?
The country’s main opposition parties have issues of their own to deal with. While the EFF seems to thrive on appealing to the fears and anger of (mostly) poor young black South Africans, who feel alienated from the mainstream of the economy, the DA continues to struggle to shed the persistent and often unjustified racist tag hoisted on its political brand by its enemies - a tag that nevertheless often receives credence from racist outbursts by some of its supporters.
The Inkatha Freedom Party, the Congress of the People (COPE), the United Democratic Movement, the Christian Democrats and other smaller parties seem condemned to remain too small to make a notable difference in the affairs of the country.
This is despite some of them, especially the UDM and COPE, occasionally managing to punch above their weight on many issues of national significance.
Going by its rhetoric and the regular immature outbursts of its commander-in-chief, the EFF’s entire raison d’être seems to be aimed primarily at young, poor, black South Africans, and blacks in general, at the expense of all other groups of South Africans. On its own, it is not a natural fit for national leadership of the country.
COPE's formation in the aftermath of former president Thabo Mbeki’s recall from office initially elicited widespread excitement around the country, with many hoping it would be one to revive the spirit of the once all-inclusive United Democratic Front. However, COPE soon became a damp squid when Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, both of them former close Mbeki lieutenants, engaged in a very public, dirty, and protracted battle for its leadership.
Cope is unlikely to recover reputationally from that skirmish.
The IFP has a long and chequered history in South Africa, much of it bloody, very bloody. To many South Africans, it will remain a primarily KZN-based party, despite its attempts over the years to establish relevance in other parts of the country. It is never going to be the party to lead a united South Africa.
General Holomisa’s UDM seems to exist only because of him. Despite lacking charisma, Holomisa is a widely respected politician who will always be trusted to say the right things, but his party is unlikely to grow to the level of country leadership anytime soon.
So, instead of relying only on existing parties to provide the solutions we seek, especially an ANC whose priorities are no longer those of a united and prosperous South Africa, we should continue to reach out and forge unity across historic divides and develop new vehicles to reclaim the journey we began in the early 1990s.
That is what it will take for South Africa to be a winning country brand again.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.