Read the preface and prologue of ‘Who Will Rule South Africa?’ by Adriaan Basson and Qaanitah Hunter

15 February 2024 - 12:45 By FLYLEAF PUBLISHING
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In 1994, Nelson Mandela powered the ANC to victory in South Africa’s first democratic election. Thirty years later, the ANC is fighting to escape political liquidation.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela powered the ANC to victory in South Africa’s first democratic election. Thirty years later, the ANC is fighting to escape political liquidation.
Image: Supplied

About the book:

In this gripping and fast-paced account of the state of the nation, 30 years after South Africa became a democracy, award-winning journalists Adriaan Basson and Qaanitah Hunter forensically track the demise of the ANC, from Mandela to Ramaphosa, and the rise of a new political class that will determine the next phase of South Africa’s democracy.

Drawing on years of reporting from the front line, Basson and Hunter highlight how corruption and greed subsumed a liberation movement by turning a party of freedom fighters into one of villains. They track the ANC’s involvement in corruption and underhand dealings, from the arms deal to state capture to the dollars-in-the-sofa Phala Phala scandal.

A close examination of Cyril Ramaphosa’s first term in office shows how his bold promises to turn around the ANC’s fortunes amounted to little. The book reveals previously unpublished material detailing Ramaphosa’s failures of governance and inability to address the party’s decline.

Basson and Hunter map out the likely scenarios for a coalition government after the 2024 election and what it will mean for the country if politicians such as John Steenhuisen, Julius Malema or Herman Mashaba gain access to the Union Buildings.

Who Will Rule South Africa? is a must-read for everyone who cares about the country’s future.



In 2024, South Africa will celebrate 30 years of democracy. The ANC-led government will spend millions of rands to tell the world how much better the country is than the one it inherited from the National Party in 1994. This will only be partly true.

Thirty years later, South Africa remains a country besieged by poverty, crime and unemployment. Despite significant strides made in the early years of democratic rule under Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, the party has fundamentally failed to transform the country into a thriving, peaceful and economically stable beacon.

Thirty years later, South Africa had become a dark place for those who couldn’t afford generators or solar panels. Water infrastructure had started to collapse and 81% of ten-year-old children in public schools couldn’t read for meaning. The elite, black and white, opted out of the state and increasingly privatised all aspects of their lives: education, security, infrastructure and energy.

Beset by inter-party squabbles, institutionalised corruption, a lack of competency and the political will to put the country before the party, the ANC was on track to be voted out of power, like many liberation movements before it that had failed to transform into functioning governing parties.

Kenneth Kaunda was ousted in Zambia after 27 years in power when the trade union leader Frederick Chiluba unseated him in the 1991 election. Robert Mugabe came to power in 1980 in Zimbabwe, and was voted out 28 years later, but stole the 2008 election from Morgan Tsvangirai, another trade unionist, and the Movement for Democratic Change. Mugabe was eventually deposed after 37 years in office by his own party, Zanu-PF, after a successful coup d’état in 2017.

When democratic South Africa turns 30, on 27 April 2024, the ANC will be scrambling to remain in power. Thirty years after the party of Nelson Mandela stunned the world by taking power after a negotiated transition, the ANC was facing electoral backlash.

How did we get here, and who will take the baton if the ANC is forced to share power or is pushed out of the Union Buildings?

As working journalists at South Africa’s largest news publication, for the past two decades we have covered the demise of the ANC and the rise of new political players who have managed to capture the imagination of a changing electorate.

This book attempts to explain in simple language how the ANC lost the plot by breaking key institutions of democracy for selfish gain, how Cyril Ramaphosa squandered a historic opportunity to turn things around, and who the new players are that could shape the next 30 years of South Africa’s democracy.

We are reminded by the Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in their brilliant and frightening book How Democracies Die, that democracies don’t die overnight but after a long period of dismantling institutions and opening the door to extremists and fascists. They write: ‘Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany. More often, though, democracies erode slowly, in barely visible steps.’

We have seen how key institutions of democracy were undermined, broken and captured under Jacob Zuma. Some of them have started to recover, but the ability to uphold democracy and the rule of law has become the exception, not the rule. We have also seen how the ANC has opened the door to a party steeped in fascist rhetoric, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), to co-govern some of the country’s largest cities. If this trend continues, a fundamentally anti-democratic political leader like Julius Malema could ascend to the Union Buildings.

We were greatly inspired by the late Allister Sparks’s seminal book Tomorrow Is Another Country, published in 1996, in which he told the story of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to majority rule in South Africa. Like Allister, and many other journalists who came before and after him, we wrote this book with an open mind and deep love and care for the country of our birth.

We are often asked how we remain hopeful for South Africa’s future despite having front-row seats to the collapse and destruction of the past two decades. Our answer is simple: if you want to keep the dream of a new, better South Africa alive, do something. There are millions of South Africans just like you who want to stay here and make a difference. Vote, protest, shout, sing, write, help or lead.

Don’t stand idly by when you have a chance to change the course of history. We hope that our book will help you navigate this watershed moment.

Adriaan Basson and Qaanitah Hunter


On a clear day in Fresnaye, as 1 December 2022 was, you have an almost perfect view of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching far beyond the little dark patch that is Robben Island, hundreds of uninterrupted blue kilometres up the west coast of Africa until the blue turns to a golden horizon. If you are lucky enough to own a piece of land in Head Road, the highest street in one of Cape Town’s most affluent neighbourhoods, you can choose between a splendid sea view or a stroll up Lion’s Head, a tapestry of green that is practically your back garden.

It is not clear which way Cyril Ramaphosa faced on that gorgeous Thursday morning as he sat down with his laptop to write his resignation speech as president of South Africa. ‘Fellow South Africans,’ he would have typed, his fingers sweating from the hundreds of calls and messages he had to take on his iPhone. Or he would have instructed his closest advisors to prepare a draft of his speech. The previous day, former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo had recommended that Ramaphosa should face an impeachment hearing for contravening the highest laws of the land. ‘We think that the President has a case to answer on the origin of the foreign currency that was stolen, as well as the underlying transaction for it,’ Ngcobo concluded in a report that seemed to cut short Ramaphosa’s presidential stint with a samurai sword.

Ramaphosa seemed finished. His attempt at emulating the saintly leadership of his mentor Nelson Mandela lay in tatters. Every headline in the country shouted his family name and the word ‘corruption’.

Before February 2020, the name ‘Phala Phala’ had brought great joy to Ramaphosa’s heart. His stressful life as a trade-unionist-turned-executive had taken him around the world, from the tough negotiating tables of war-torn Sudan to the Chicago headquarters of McDonald’s. But in those moments of high corporate stress, Ramaphosa could always close his eyes and imagine being back on the green savannah of his bushveld oasis, where buffalo, Ankole cattle, impala and sable graze in perfect harmony.

But now, as he sat down to pen his final goodbye to his fellow citizens, ‘Phala Phala’ had become a painful synonym for cover-up, scandal and deceit. The president could no longer continue to lead with moral authority after Ngcobo poked craters in his version of what had happened in the aftermath of the February 2020 burglary at the Ramaphosa family’s game farm.

How could he, with a clear conscience, continue to steer the governing party’s ‘renewal’ project after a former chief justice of the land had implicated him in corruption and contravening the Constitution?

Had he stared out at Robben Island as he struggled to find words for his final political speech, Ramaphosa might have thought about the suffering Mandela and fellow comrades such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada endured on the island in order to liberate South Africa, after years of struggle, in 1994.

It was almost 33 years since Mandela had walked out of Victor Verster prison, outside Paarl, a free man and a hero of the world. Instead of turning on his oppressors, Mandela reached out a hand of reconciliation to the beneficiaries of apartheid, and, against all odds, the ANC became synonymous with a peaceful transition.

The ANC had been in government for 29 of those years. Despite high hopes and expectations of uplifting millions of black South Africans out of poverty and unemployment, the party Ramaphosa led in 2022 was barely recognisable from the one that had accompanied Mandela out of prison. The ANC had failed at almost every level of governance and was now widely viewed as an incoherent network of provincial mafias hell-bent on looting the state of its last cent before being voted out of power. In 2020, after it was uncovered that ANC politicians and their business partners had looted state money meant to procure Covid-19 protective equipment, Ramaphosa said that the ANC was corruption ‘accused number one’.

Almost a year before Ramaphosa sat down to write his resignation speech, the ANC’s popular support dipped below 50% for the first time since the party became the first democratically elected government of South Africa in 1994.

In the November 2021 municipal elections, the ANC only managed to secure 46% of the national vote, losing a clear majority in six of the country’s eight metropolitan municipalities. The election produced the lowest voter turnout in democratic history: only 12 million of the 26 million registered voters bothered to go to the polls. Another 14 million adults didn’t even bother to register. Analysts concluded that, for the majority of non-voters, not voting was a protest and not a product of apathy.

The Phala Phala scandal was a further nail in the ANC’s coffin. Ramaphosa was supposed to be the proverbial knight in shining armour after the disastrous nine years of government under Jacob Zuma. He had promised to be the one who would lead the turnaround, quoting from South African jazz master Hugh Masekela’s song ‘Thuma Mina’ (Send Me) during his inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA) in February 2018. But those in the ANC who gleefully waited for Ramaphosa to put a foot wrong were celebrating when Ngcobo implicated the head of state in serious wrongdoing and crime, shortly before the ANC was due to hold its leadership conference at Johannesburg’s Nasrec in December 2022.

Ramaphosa could not see his way out of the Phala Phala scandal to significantly change the party’s electoral fortunes, and decided to step down. Until he didn’t. At some point during the early afternoon of Thursday 1 December, after he had given instructions for the SABC to be on standby for an address to the nation and his advisors had already started to dust off their CVs, Ramaphosa’s phone rang, again. ‘Zamani Saul’ read the name on the screen. The Northern Cape leader of the ANC pleaded with Ramaphosa not to resign. He was joined by other provincial ANC leaders, who assured the president of their support. Hang in there. The fight is not over.

Just after 1 pm, News24 sent a push notification to the mobile phones of 1.2 million South Africans. ‘President Cyril Ramaphosa “very likely” to resign’ read the headline. We quoted multiple sources who had spoken to the president and confirmed that he had made up his mind. It was time to go.

This set off a frenzy of calls to Ramaphosa’s overheating iPhone. Business called. London called. Please stay, you cannot hand over the country on a platter to the radical economic transformation (RET) brigade. Many feared that South Africa would follow the path of other African countries like Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, once beacons of African democracy before they slid into tyranny and bloodshed.

Eighteen days later, Ramaphosa was re-elected ANC president at Nasrec,beating his challenger, Zweli Mkhize, by a margin of 579 votes. At the same conference, the ANC’s internal pollsters announced that the party was tracking at 40% national support. This was devastating news for the liberation movement of Mandela, which had peaked at 66% support under Thabo Mbeki in 2004.

A few weeks later, at the beginning of 2023, Eskom resumed rolling load shedding, leaving the majority of South Africans without electricity for six to eight hours per day. ANC politicians started to publicly accuse Eskom’s management of being in opposition to the governing party and of sabotaging the ANC’s chances of re-election in 2024.

It was increasingly clear that the state was up for the taking in the watershed 2024 national election, but who would be up for the spoils? In 2023, the fault lines in the multiparty coalition that governed Gauteng’s two largest metropolitan municipalities, Johannesburg and Tshwane, were laid bare. To govern in Johannesburg, the ANC was finally forced to bring in the radical EFF and the opportunistic Patriotic Alliance (PA) through an eclectic coalition deal with small parties. Such arrangements suggested that danger lay ahead in 2024.

As the political tectonic plates started to shift, it wasn’t at all clear who would rule South Africa into the next 30 years of democracy after three decades of majority ANC rule. As the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote in the 1930s: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’ This is where South Africa found itself a few months before it celebrated 30 years of democracy.

We bore witness to the ANC’s demise and the painful, unstable birth of a new democracy that will shape our future. This is our best attempt to make sense of a turning point in South African history.


  • Extract provided by Flyleaf  Publishing

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