SAM MKOKELI: Ramaphosa's flanks are under attack
There isn't much good news for the African National Congress (ANC). The sand is slowly shifting under its feet and survival is not guaranteed. The party has a National General Council in the second half of next year, a gathering that is historically a Rubicon for its presidents, or a cesspool.
The ANC has been summersaulting a lot of late when it comes to its ideological position and policy offering. Its general incompetence in government, grand-scale corruption and downright flat nature were exposed in last week's elections. It still cannot run a professional campaign based on solid research.
Its newly-found situation requires that it pays more attention to its strategic approach and the heroes of its campaign, the Fikile Mbalulas and the Zizi Kodwas, will need to have more capable people around them if even worse results are to be averted in the near future.
The political landscape has become more crisp, and the ANC more exposed.
As head of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa's flanks are both under attack.
On his left, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are eating the ANC's lunch, having taken their parliamentary seats to 44, from 25. Despite many questions about flash lifestyles, unexplained wealth etc, the party has assembled a team of young and talented people who, unlike the ANC's youngish politicians, are not afraid to read books (okay, we can argue about the kind they choose to read) and earn degrees.
And on the ANC's right, the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) is no longer just a party of father and son duo Connie and Pieter Mulder. It now has 10 seats, and not merely three.
This counts, a lot. It means more speaking time for these parties that are diametrically opposed in terms of ideology, style, appearance and just about all ways imaginable.
Probably in the middle of this political spectrum is the ANC - since the Democratic Alliance has not mattered in the bigger scheme of our politics for the past two years. It is not difficult to understand why these two extremist parties are on the up. Besides the global phenomenon of the rise of populists parties, South Africa has a powder keg in the form of stubbornly high unemployment. The ANC's administration has been generally incompetent, with shocking incidents of corruption, as demonstrated in the state capture fiasco.
The EEF leaders know which buttons to press for the public to comprehend that South Africa's political and economic structures just no longer work. Its politics are a threat to the status quo, and that is more palpable to the likes of those who support the FF Plus.
Under normal situations, the EFF and the FF Plus would not bother the ANC. Its majority of 57% is still strong enough for it to govern effectively. But it has never been here before and the 50s will feel like an uncomfortable place for a party that was once a "Zonke Bonke" (everyone is welcome), and got 70% in 2004 to even gobble up the National Party.
It has an opportunity of branding itself a bit more honestly instead of its deceptive pretence as a liberation movement. It remains a moderate political party that favours a mixed economy, with strong social democratic tendencies.
The ANC is likely to continue harbouring the fallacious ambitions of being everything to everyone. The centre can still be a lucrative place for the ANC. It needs to improve its management of the economy and ensure that a serious number of jobs could be created. So it needs to be serious about rooting out corruption. It has to find its moral compass. In addition to all that, it must attract smart people back to the party.
In the past decade the ANC thrust low-calibre appointments to serious positions, in the process cementing its brand as an anti-intellectual, corrupt and under-delivering party. That repelled sensible and smart people. A lot of work has to be done to repair that. And being the ham in the sandwich. In many ways, the task is too huge, and the damage too bad. The momentum is strongly against it and the 2021 local government elections too close for it to achieve meaningful change.
Sam Mkokeli is a journalist and freelance contributor for Eyewitness News.