Overview 2014

A year that leaves SA and the world at a crossroads

Goodbye 2014.jpg

As the sun is setting over 2014 and we are wishing our readers a peaceful Christmas and joyful new year in our last edition of this year, we do so in the conviction that both South Africa and the world will be facing the start of 2015 at a crossroads on multiple fronts.

In January 2014, with South Africa heading for general elections, we wrote: “Election 2014 is likely to be a watershed moment in the political history of South Africa, not so much in respect of what the outcome of the election may be for the competing political parties, but more so in respect of the new political environment it will usher in.

“This new political environment may be very different from the one that existed up till now in the first twenty years of democracy and ANC rule in South Africa.”

Even before the May election arrived, two other developments strengthened our sense that the country was heading for a watershed moment:

• In February, as the strike in the platinum sector was dragging on, it became clear to us that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a key member of the ANC-led governing alliance has moved to the brink of an inevitable split; and

• In March the ANC’s immediate reaction to the release of the public protector’s report on the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence had us writing “South Africa seems to be heading towards its first really major constitutional crisis in the twenty years since the dawn of its democracy in 1994 …”

Before the end of the year the split in COSATU and the prospect of a new political formation to the left of the ANC have become a reality. Nkandla, in turn, came to dominate proceedings in parliament, creating all sorts of pressure on the institution, seeming set to do so for at least the immediate future and heading for the courts.

In fact, shortly before the May election took place it was becoming clear the country’s courts were set to become one of the most important battlegrounds for the future of democracy in the country. On 30 April we wrote: “South Africa’s 2014 election campaign may become known in history as the ‘Battle in the Courts’. And, if the African National Congress should win its targeted two-thirds majority, provide a preview of what can be expected over the next at least five years.”

In the May election the ANC got a strong mandate, but not its targeted two-thirds majority. With the EFF entering parliament it was on the cards that the dynamics of the institution were to change. With the Nkandla affair providing the fuel, parliament ended the year in turmoil and seemed set to start off with more of that in 2015.

As already foreseen in an article on the 13th of April Mr Zuma became a lame duck and absent leader with no signs of the clouds over his head disappearing.

In July we warned that a crisis was building around ESKOM and electricity supply in the country. In December, as the crisis was building to a crescendo and other members of his cabinet were establishing a five year plan and “war room” to deal with it, Mr Zuma’s only contribution was to blame it on the now tired excuse that is all apartheid’s fault.

He also placed the issue of corruption in the country at a crossroads in September by describing it as a “Western paradigm”. In the meantime the internal resistance to his style of leadership, that had already surfaced during the election campaign in a no “vote” call, seems to be gaining momentum.

From early on in the post-election time one started picking up on power struggles in the governing alliance in terms of both leadership and policy issues, with the South African Communist Party exploiting the situation.

Immediately after the May election we wrote that it was “… not the watershed moment many commentators expected early on during the campaign period. That moment might come next time South African voters go to the ballot box in 2016.”

This notion has since become very much a central issue of the broader political narrative in the country around a sense that the country has again entered a “post-liberation” transition phase in the third decade since the 1994 transition to full inclusive democracy.

At the dawn of this next transition the country is facing the following dilemmas:

• Will the ANC handle the danger of losing political power peacefully and constitutionally?

• Will the constitution be able to deal with fracturing of the existing power relations in the country?

The opening of parliament in February 2015, with Mr Zuma not having yet answered opposition questions relating to Nkandla, could become a crisis.

The power struggles within the ANC in the build-up to its National General Council in June next year could be crucial in setting the political tone in the country as the build-up to the now all-important 2016 municipal elections starts.

Then there is Nkandla that is far from over. The ESKOM crisis is unlikely to disappear, the economy is unlikely to turn around soon against a background of global uncertainties and the pressures associated with rampant urbanisation and service delivery are unlikely to abate soon.

To this can be added: the turmoil on the domestic labour front, an uptick in the new global Cold War, which took shape during 2014, the uncertainties hanging over the global economy and the normal quota of surprises that every year brings.
It is time to enjoy as much of a break as one can muster over the festive season, because the only thing that is sure is that it is not going to last much into 2015.

by Piet Coetzer

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