ANC post-2019: A modernist or a reactionary President? – Tony Leon ponders.

Tony Leon

South African politics is in a such a volatile phase that it fits the astute observation ascribed to Lenin, that ‘there can be weeks when decades can happen”. The ANC’s cloistering and secrecy when it comes to the Presidential race and succession of the woeful Zuma (and all he’s come to represent), adds uncertainty to any predictions. However, should a modernist successor take over the mantle (Cyril Ramaphosa being the obvious front runner), and clean out the cesspit that has come to represent service delivery and government, we’ll accelerate so fast it’ll make our heads spin. That’s the core message in this canny assessment by former DA leader Tony Leon, in his address to a Cape Town audience recently. He doesn’t rate his own party’s chances of taking over government just yet, but says it’s distinctly possible (courtesy of a reactionary continuation that would leave Zuma powerful and the corrupt cadres further eroding our economy) in 2024, five years after the upcoming (2019) election. Analyses such as these nearly always say more about the analyst than they do about the actual situation, hence Leon’s downplaying the EFF’s chances, based on their subjectively low gains the last time around. Yet, how the opposition gains will be spread in the next two elections – and who will most benefit – will most likely decide what kind of country our children grow up in. – Chris Bateman

By Donwald Pressly*

“I would love (Mmusi) Maimane to become the president”, Tony Leon told business breakfasters at a function hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Amy (Biehl) Foundation. But he did not think that he would as early as 2019.

He suggested that the next South African president would still be an African National Congress candidate. Asked why he did not see Maimane playing this role after the 2019 national election, Leon said it was unlikely. The numbers – and the projections – just didn’t add up to Maimane for President. The electoral gap between the ANC – at over 60 percent – and the DA at 22 percent in the 2014 election was too great, he believed. “I am not saying it is impossible… anything is possible.”

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane looks on at the result center in Pretoria, South Africa August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Huge electoral surprises had occurred of late – the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the outcome of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. There was also speculation that Le Pen could win the upcoming French election. The Dutch prime minister, who was anti-Europe and was anti-immigration, looked strong in upcoming elections there.

Turning to South Africa he said the emergence of a Maimane presidency “is less likely” if you look at the figures. There was a 40 point gap between the parties, the ANC and the DA, in 2014 and in the municipal election of 2016 there was still a 25 percentage point gap between them.

Referring to surprise political and economic events happening in South Africa, he acknowledged that anything could happen. It was quite possible that the (ruling) African National Congress could “bust up… twenty five black swans can float across the river. Nothing is impossible”.

Looking at the electoral scoreboard, the municipal elections indicated that the DA could do well in the 2019 elections in Gauteng. “The gap in Gauteng has narrowed hugely…less than nine percent (between the ANC and DA).”

Julius Malema

No one could have predicted a year ago that the DA would snatch – with the help of coalition partners and political deals with the Economic Freedom Fighters – power in all the “significant” metropolitan councils outside of eThekwini/Durban. Indeed. The DA had taken power in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) and Tshwane (Pretoria). Who would have thought a year ago that would be the outcome, he reflected.

There are weeks when decades happen

It is not often that a liberal politician who favours the free market quotes Vladimir Lenin, the founding leader of the Soviet Union, but that is what Leon did. Leon quoted him saying: “There are decades when nothing happens, then there are weeks when decades happen.” Given the right circumstances the latter may well happen in South Africa and some good may come of it.

The ANC was stuck in Soviet-style secretive politics – banning talk of succession and announcement of presidential candidates for the December electoral conference – but it may spring a surprise. He could not predict who would win that battle, but suggested that President Jacob Zuma was pulling out all the stops to remain in power until 2019 – and an influential figure – through proxies – beyond that.

But a successful ANC candidate who could rescue the economic circumstances of the country and restore hope would have to be someone who had “zeal” for economic reforms “and the appetite to bring (about) the changes”. Someone who could tackle corruption at the core. A person who won, however, who owed too many too many debts was unlikely to lead the ANC – and the country – to success. The outcome of the election in the ANC could not be predicted. There were too many surprise events that could happen in the year ahead. It remained “bewilderingly” unclear in the context of the secretive politics of the ANC to predict whether the modernists in the movement would win in December or whether the status quo politicians –  whom he dubbed reactionaries – would hold onto power. “I, of course, would hope the modernists will win.” He noted that when former President FW de Klerk was elected as National Party leader, no one – including himself – had predicted that he would turn into a reformer of apartheid and change the country’s political course “by 360 degrees”. So that was a lesson about making predictions.

Economic woes would follow downgrade

Leon said that it was estimated by the rather appropriately named Nedbank economist Nicky Weimar that some R600 billion would leave South Africa if the country was given junk status by the rating agencies. South Africa had been warned to get its politics right – in the ruling party – by these agencies. Yet the World Economic Forum had rated the South African business and banking sector very high. A year ago it had been predicted – after the Nenegate incident – that the rand would be R19 to the dollar by the end of 2016. It is now in the R13 to R14 range, Leon noted.

Turning to the world to populism – both on the left and the right including the election of Donald Trump in the United States – he said that he would have expected the Economic Freedom Fighters to do a lot better than they did do in the municipal poll of 2016. They had moved from about  6 percent of the vote in 2014 parliamentary poll to about 8 percent. This did not represent a turbo-charge forward. “You would think that South Africa would be the most fertile place (for) a populist racially vehement (political) party.” For whatever reason, it did not make massive progress last year.

However, as a consequence of the fact that it held the balance of power – the kingmaker – role in key municipalities, its influence appeared to be significant.

  • Donwald Pressly is editor of Cape Messenger
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