Cyril is the man to watch
They're funny things, second terms. At the end of your first, you fight and fight; you turn enemies into friends and friends into enemies, just to get a second term.
Then, despite the odds being stacked against you, you miraculously win.
This is the story of Barack Obama, again president of the US.
Brought in on the wings of hope and a message of change four years ago, he looked unlikely for a second term this year. But he fought, and fought hard, and he won. He has not even been inaugurated into his second term but everyone is already speculating about who will take over from him.
There's no doubt about it. New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick recently wrote "Hillary Clinton is running for president."
So it goes. At the ANC's Mangaung conference, President Jacob Zuma did not just win a second term as party president, he did it so convincingly and so emphatically that he left his opponents not only on the floor, but virtually out of the ANC for a long while to come. He is smiling from ear to ear today.
He did not come into the battle smelling of roses. The stench of Nkandlagate, SABCgate, Spygate and numerous other scandals engulfed him. He had the support of branch delegates, for sure, but his personal problems did not seem to guarantee that he would walk it at the ballot box. But he did it, and did it stylishly and convincingly. Not everyone manages a 75% majority in a party as divided as the ANC.
But even as he walked out of the five-day extravaganza that had been the centre of action at the University of the Free State, Zuma must surely have realised that he is yesterday's man.
The future is no longer in his hands. He is a man with just five years in his hands, and five years is nothing in politics. Zuma is the ANC's past.
The focus is now on the party's future and the next set of leaders who will lead the movement of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.
The spotlight now shines on Cyril Ramaphosa, the multimillionaire former trade unionist, United Democratic Front activist and leader of the process that gave us the remarkable constitution we now enjoy.
Is he the man to succeed Zuma and lift the country out of the slough of despond that it finds itself in while under the man from Nkandla? Is he the man who will set the ANC back on the high road built by Albert Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela?
There is no doubt that South African business has been buoyed by news of Ramaphosa's ascendancy. A huge portion of the electorate also see Ramaphosa as the silver lining on a pretty dark cloud. The ANC's leaders have been compromised by repeated scandals and their moral ambivalence towards corruption and lawlessness.
There will now be intense scrutiny of Ramaphosa's every move.
Will he place his business interests in a blind trust in preparation for his move into the government? Will he assume a higher profile in ANC activities as deputy president?
Will he become the face of the ANC campaign for re-election in 2014 instead of the scandal-wracked Zuma?
Scrutiny of Ramaphosa's actions will be accompanied by questions about other players' actions.
As early as 2002 ANC leaders were speaking about Zweli Mkhize, the KwaZulu-Natal premier who is now treasurer-general of the ANC, as a possible leader of the party. Interestingly, even back then the target date for Mkhize to ascend to the presidency of the party was the ANC's 2017 national conference.
Now that the KwaZulu-Natal structures of the party have become so powerful, whoever wants to rise to the top will need that province to back him.
Ramaphosa, to win the prize in 2017, had better start campaigning decisively now to get KwaZulu-Natal behind him
If he does not, many will be watching to see whether Mkhize does. Though Ramaphosa is admired in the province, if he is seen to be indecisive on running for the big job the tide will quickly turn to an alternative candidate. Mkhize will be waiting.
Leadership speculation will once again be the big game in town. Zuma will increasingly fall into the shadows.
This is the tragedy of winning a second term. You have reached your sell-by date even as you start.
Zuma begins the long, lonely walk that many before him have walked. He is becoming a lame duck.