Ramaphosa's hand has been strengthened, now he must use it to slap down corruption
On a continent where a change of government has too often come about through bloodshed, or led to it, SA - still new in the game - has thus far bucked the trend. Elections always bring out the best in us. We not only put our best foot forward; we have almost come to take the spectacle for granted.
The elections this week were no different. By and large people turned out in their numbers peacefully, the mood in the queues was jovial and some were even able to make friends. People made their marks and the outcome is a true reflection of their collective will.
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This is despite the best efforts of some political nonentities, flaunting manufactured rage in front of the cameras, who tried to rain on the people's parade. Some people are just meant to be wrecking balls. They're wired that way. They had thought running for election would be a walk in the park, a guaranteed pay cheque for the next five years.What has been gratifying about the election results is that all the toxicity, the bile and the racism injected into the campaign in an attempt to divide the population for short-term political gain seem to have gone unrewarded. The right and left fringes also have little to show for their efforts. The majority of the electorate, despite the diverse nature of their interests, occupy the political centre.
There was an expectation that parties pushing expropriation of land without compensation would reap rich rewards - which may have swayed the ANC to join that bandwagon - but that doesn't seem to be borne out by the outcome. There's been no evidence of black voters excitedly flocking to proponents of amending the constitution with the sole purpose of grabbing other people's property.
It is, however, ironic that the DA, which has strongly opposed the idea, seems to have suffered some haemorrhaging of support. A significant chunk of its white backers fled into the grateful embrace of the right wing.
Maybe Mmusi Maimane, in his opposition to expropriation, was judged not to have been sufficiently gung-ho. But Maimane is a pastor. He can't preach compassion on Sunday and hatred every other day. He also doesn't seem to have a nasty bone in his body, which appears to be a prerequisite in politics these days. Slaan terug would not sit well in his studio.
The ANC victory will again give rise to the perennial question: why do the majority of black voters keep voting for such a corrupt bunch? Some of those posing the question with such incredulity kept apartheid humming nicely along for a good half-century. So there's hypocrisy there.
Most people obviously would want to see the ANC punished for the enormous damage it has done to the country. But politics is about self-interest. Maybe the majority of black voters see dealing with their abject conditions as far more important than any concern about corruption.
It could also be that for the first time in their lives they have a government in power that does not have making their lives a misery as its sole mission.
The elections are behind us and it's now time for President Cyril Ramaphosa to stop fiddling at the edges. He needs to get down to work immediately; he needs to strike while the iron is still hot.
The campaign has enabled him to travel the length and breadth of the country. He has walked into people's homes, pressed the flesh, talked to them, listened to their needs, to their grievances and to their utter frustration at the incompetence and corruption of the past decade. He has thus felt the pulse of the nation, and has a better understanding of the electorate that gave him and his party another mandate.
The campaign has allowed him to connect directly with the people. True, the ANC was on the ballot, but he was the face of the party. In that sense, the election has been like a presidential plebiscite for him. The party's performance in the elections largely depended on him.
The process has allowed him to come into his own, to at last banish the public perception hanging like an albatross around his neck that he was Jacob Zuma's obsequious deputy. He's finally unsheathed himself from that straitjacket. He's his own man now. That Zuma didn't want him as his successor has also worked in his favour. One understands that word has even finally reached deep into the recesses of rural KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's loyal backyard, that Ramaphosa - and not Zuma - calls the shots now, and villagers seem at last to be warming to him.
Despite their unhappiness, the voters in their wisdom have decided to give him and his party another chance. There's no doubt the party would have been evicted from power had Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma been at the helm. Ramaphosa's foes in the party know it is his popularity that dragged the ANC over the line. They're therefore indebted to him for the positions they hold. He's in pole position.There's a phrase that used to be on the lips of many ANC types during the Zuma years: that the hiring and firing of the executive is a presidential prerogative. Ramaphosa needs to crack the whip, mercilessly if necessary.He has given the country two firm undertakings: that he will drastically reduce the size of his cabinet, and that corrupt individuals won't serve in it. He needs to abide by his pledges.The country wants to know that its president is a man of his word.