“2019? That’s such an ugly number. It doesn’t inspire much hope in me,” shuddered one woman at the New Year’s bash.
“No, nonsense!”, insisted the inevitable contrarian. “It’s a prime number, strong, and 19 at least marks the end of the turbulent teen years.”
As with every new year, we embark upon this annual new chronology with both hope and trepidation. The proportions of those two factors depends not so much on knowledge and analysis but on our personal cocktail’s blend of optimism and pessimism.
In contrast to futilely seeking omens for our own future, the numerology is clearer for SA as an entity. This is the 25th year of our democracy. January 8 is also the 106th anniversary of the ANC and marks the campaign launch of the party’s sixth general election.
Most grown-up political organisations celebrate only the big dates. But the ANC makes as much of its “birthday” every year as does the average self-involved toddler. It wants balloons, cake and lots of adulation.
This year its party will kick off at the 16 000-seat Absa Stadium in East London, where President Cyril Ramaphosa will outline the roadmap towards the 2019 polls. There will be messages of support from its alliance partners and an eclectic collection of international allies – Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, Sinn Fein in Ireland, the Communist Party of Cuba – as well as the dubious drawcard of an appearance by ex-president Jacob Zuma.
At this stage, it would seem that the ANC will be going into the May election in a far better state than it deserves on a sober assessment. The Zuma years, especially, have left the country economy ravaged, with state institutions eviscerated of capacity and teetering on bankruptcy.
Despite Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” unfolding to reveal a landscape littered with the same old populist ploys that characterised the dark Zuma night, he remains remarkably popular among many who would traditionally have been sure opposition votes.
There has been no shortage of commentators calling on Democratic Alliance voters to rally to the ANC’s side, in order to give him a personal vote of confidence and in so doing, supposedly to strengthen within the ANC, the Ramaphosa revivalists against the Zuma zombies.
The sentiments are understandable. Undoubtedly, it would be better for SA if Ramaphosa’s somewhat precarious factional victory was rewarded at the polls, given that ANC fortunes had been waning steadily for more a decade.
But it’s a specious argument. There is no such thing as tactical voting in a pure proportional representation system, such as ours.
Voters don’t get to choose between Ramaphosa-supporting candidates or Zuma-supporting candidates. They simply put their trust in the party as an entity.
The fluctuation in ANC fortunes can be attributed mainly to ANC voters failing to turn out. Ramaphosa merely has to convince the many existing ANC voters who had become disenchanted, to end their electoral boycott.
Whether 2019 is a good year or a bad year, to some extent, depends on ourselves.
We have in May, with a quarter of a century of ANC government behind us, at least another opportunity to influence the course of events.