The year 2018 has started, but its path has been in the making throughout 2017. Thus, 2017 gives a sense of how 2018 will most likely shape up when it comes to politics, the economy, and general social relations in South Africa.
It is going to be a very short year; packed with political activity, beginning with expectations of a change of guard at the Union Buildings in the first few months of the year. I think President Jacob Zuma will be gone before the first quarter. The transition from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa will be closely watched: particularly how the ANC will try to manage the process internally.
Of particular interest in 2018 is the strategy of the broader opposition parties. Once Zuma is gone, these parties will have to focus specifically on Ramaphosa's leadership to identify areas of criticism as part of their election campaigns. Ramaphosa has enjoyed a great deal of legitimacy in 2017, mostly because Zuma's blunders in government made Ramaphosa a very attractive replacement to save the nation from constant embarrassment.
Opposition parties will have to find a way to reconsider their strategies and decide how to deal with an ANC that has become institutionally weakened under Zuma, amid the national mood of cautious optimism that Ramaphosa could indeed make a difference. Under Zuma, it was a straightforward case whereby the president has compromised the party. Under Ramaphosa, the opposition would have to be cautious on how they deal with him; he is quite presidential and understands the complexity of a modern economy. Ramaphosa might just be the reasonable voice when it comes to pushing for moderation on radical economic transformation in the ANC.
If the opposition were to isolate Ramaphosa from the ANC and accord him respect, while at the same time intensifying criticisms against the ANC, this will make Ramaphosa's life difficult. He would come across as an ANC member who is being respected outside the party - that is treated with suspicion within the ANC. Most importantly, Ramaphosa will have to defend the ANC and, at times, he will have to do that against those who would prefer him more than the ANC.
One way or another, 2018 promises interesting political realignment within the ANC, and the way that the opposition parties relate to the new ANC leadership. It is a strange ANC that came out of Nasrec, as it will be clear in 2018. In the first days of 2018, I can say it is destination 2019!
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