On Monday , South Africans, wearied and depressed by endless electricity blackouts in the heart of winter, were offered by President Cyril Ramaphosa yet another solution — this time in the form of a “10-point power crisis plan”.
Most folk are caught between the hope that this time, against all odds and expectation, the plan will somehow be different, and a shoulder shrug that both the presidency and his plans are busted flushes.
Infamously, nearly seven years back, the same Ramaphosa assured parliament that in “another 18 months, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened”.
It seems almost cruel to remind ourselves that in 1879, more than 140 years ago, Thomas Edison devised the commercially viable electric light bulb and the first electric utility company. Or that in 1994, under the unlamented National Party government and for a population some 20-million smaller, Eskom was generating around 30% more electricity than it does today, at a relatively cheap cost to both generator and consumer.
Edison, an inventive genius and savvy businessman, offered a profound thought that applies to Ramaphosa’s latest offer to end the power cuts: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
If you want to watch some flights of fancy in action, a trip to the ANC policy conference at Nasrec this weekend might be useful. From the chemical castration of rapists to ramping up uncosted and unaffordable policies, from providing every household with free mobile data to seed capital for every retrenched state worker, there is no end to the hallucinations.
Venezuelan analyst Moisés Naim writes of “ideological necrophilia”, the blind fixation with dead ideas. He should pop into Nascrec today for an update.
However, like the Peronists in Argentina, who forever traded ideology and policy coherence on the alter of power retention, the one aspect of the ANC weekend conflab which deserves serious scrutiny is their view on the prospects of its opponents ousting it from office in 2024.
Buried in one section of its policy prospectus is this paragraph: “The ANC remains the biggest party in many [municipal ] councils, where it is not governing.
However, the bitter reality is that it has been kept out of government by the growing phenomenon of small opposition parties ganging up to keep the ANC out of office.
These coalitions, which have less in common than a crowd of drunkards in a beer hall, are on a crusade to obliterate the defining goals of our national transformation project.”
It is moot whether criminal corruption and patronage politics coupled with parasitic attachment to power are part of “the transformation project” which many voters now couple with ANC governance.
But the ANC is quite right about the “ganging up” of the opposition against it. Barely had the ink dried on this ANC document than on Thursday an announcement was made that a broad opposition coalition would oust the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay.
If this democratic putsch is achieved, the once mighty ANC will have lost — in just two years — control of every significant metro in the country bar Mangaung, or Bloemfontein, which is an advanced state of decay anyway.
Just how determined the opposition appears to be to achieve municipal power, whether ideologically drunk or sober, is revealed by the fact that in Nelson Mandela Bay two of the parties to the new coalition agreement, the DA and UDM, are the same pair whose fallout a few years back saw the opposition removed from power when the original coalition collapsed.
Just how intricate these coalition agreements are to achieve was offered by a less encouraging example this week of opposition efforts in KwaZulu-Natal to oust the ANC in the KwaDukuza municipality (North Coast).
There, a war of words between the DA and ActionSA scuppered prospects of opposition governance.
If the broad opposition takes the view that the country’s salvation depends on ousting the ANC from power in 2024 it needs to demonstrate to voters that it has the stomach to achieve an agreement on the means to do so and the will to make it a reality.
Each of the opposition parties has limits. ActionSA, for example — as shown by its recent by-election drubbing in Gqeberha — does not have vast reach beyond Gauteng.
The DA, possessed of a national infrastructure and brand recognition, has limited access to black voters. And apart from the EFF, which has no ideological affinity with the others, the remaining parties are either small or regional, or both.
Still, for the first time in 30 years, the result of the next general elections is not a foregone conclusion.
If the ANC ekes out a “win” above 45% of the national total, it will likely continue to govern by striking a deal with some of the same small parties that were happy to oust it from municipal power this week in Nelson Mandela Bay.
There is truth in the ANC pronouncement that some of the opposition coalition members are actuated by “careerism, wheeling and dealing and patronage”. That this is also a good description of the ANC does not invalidate its applicability to others.
However, if the blackouts persist and the joblessness continues to 2024 — and there is nothing in this week’s ANC policy phantasms to arrest either — there is some prospect of the ruling party cratering into the low 40% range. Then it becomes far more difficult for it to buy the allegiance of the smaller parties.
Events this week offer to the opposition and its voters both the prospect of future power and a reminder of how elusive its attainment can be.
Tony Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications. @TonyLeonSA