It's simple for the ANC: Fight corruption or lose power
Sort out corruption or we will vote you out! This is the stern message from voters to the ANC as it meets in Johannesburg this weekend to produce policies that will guide the government for the next five years. The party will also elect a new leader to replace the increasingly unpopular President Jacob Zuma.
A recent survey conducted by Ask Afrika for the University of Pretoria reveals that corruption is the number one issue troubling South Africans, irrespective of race or social status. More to the point, over 90% of those polled say corruption will impact the way they vote in 2019.
Citizens tired of corruption see elections as the best option to rid the state of corrupt leaders. Two-thirds prefer registering to vote as an option, compared to only a quarter who would approach the public protector to report graft.
The second issue bothering voters is the apparent impunity of those accused of corruption and state capture. The punishment they prefer for the corrupt is imprisonment. Voters also want to see corrupt government officials fired from their jobs, and being made to suffer financial penalties for their crimes.There could be two explanations for this. It could be that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's message on the campaign trail against looters has landed. He often vowed that monies stolen from the public would have to be paid back and the thieves held accountable. It could also be that his campaign discerned the sentiment among voters and crafted his messages to capitalise on it.
The NPA, which once housed the corruption-busting Scorpions, has lost a lot of public trust - although it is still seen as better than the police, which voters see as second only to President Zuma in terms of corruption and state capture.
It is very clear that to many voters corruption is no longer an abstract thing. It has become tangible for them. They think corruption contributes to the high unemployment rate, just as it has an impact on service delivery.
This suggests that the change of messaging by opposition parties and some nongovernmental organisations is having an impact. Lately the DA and other parties have been quantifying the money lost through corruption in terms of what it could have been spent on, such as programmes to alleviate the suffering of the poor.As patience for poor service delivery diminishes among citizens, they blame corrupt officials. This poses a risk for the government, which will always have financial constraints when attending to the needs of citizens, even if no money is lost to maladministration and corruption.
It is clear that if the ANC wants to avoid a bloodbath at the polls in 2019, it has to come up with firm policies and action plans on how it will fight corruption and undo the damage done to its reputation.
Ironically, it was at its Polokwane conference a decade ago that the party decided to abolish the Scorpions. It may live to rue that decision. In 2004 the ANC achieved a record 69.7% in the general election. One of its messages then was that it had "established the Scorpions to fight organised crime and corruption".
Corruption appears to be the main driver in reducing public confidence in the government. As the courts increasingly get involved in political disputes, making findings against the government in many cases, confidence in the judiciary goes up. It is the most trusted branch of the state, with confidence in parliament and its MPs also on the decline.
Currently the EFF appears to be the main beneficiary of the declining fortunes of the ANC. Julius Malema's red berets have invested a lot in the support of young people who are otherwise not interested in the politics of the country, and of the ANC in particular.
Often young people flunk quizzes on political personalities. Some do not even know who Ramaphosa is. This may explain the findings of the survey suggesting that the majority of young people think the country is headed in the right direction or simply do not care.This is in sharp contrast to voters who are 40 and older, the overwhelming majority of whom think South Africa is headed in the wrong direction.
However, the majority of young people have great confidence in Malema and his party. It is possible that after an election cycle or two they may sweep him to power.
The DA does not seem to benefit much from declining ANC popularity. The province with the most dissatisfied residents is the Western Cape, which is governed by the DA. People of that province are unhappy with all tiers of government, and their premier, Helen Zille, is the second-most unpopular premier in the country after her Northern Cape counterpart, Sylvia Lucas.
The ANC faces a simple choice: sort out corruption or begin discussions on adapting to an opposition role in national politics.
• Nkosi is the founder of the Nation's Voice campaign and a former spokesman for the Lindiwe Sisulu presidential campaign