Nearly twenty-seven million South Africans trekked to the polls this week but they all know that this election is really about just one man – Their current President Cyril Ramaphosa who came to power last year pledging to get to grips with the industrial scale corruption that has so damaged their country’s economy and international reputation.
Rarely has so much faith been invested in one man. Even in the days of Nelson Mandela, his charismatic predecessor, the ANC was a broad movement with many talented political leaders who led South Africa out of the dark decades of apartheid.
Now the hopes of the nation rest on the shoulders of a sixty-something year old millionaire who came out of political retirement as livestock farmer to clean out the stables after the stench of corruption threatened to destroy his party.
The key question is can he achieve what millions are hoping for or is a vote for the ANC with Mr Ramaphosa at the helm simply a re-endorsement of the party's corrupt legacy.
The stakes are high. During the nine wasted years under President Zuma, billions of dollars were stolen by corrupt officials and criminal businesses. State Enterprises like the power giant Escom and the national airline SAA were allowed to run up massive debts to the point of collapse as corruption ran riot.
Money that could have gone towards addressing South Africa’s failing education system and its persistently high levels of unemployment was eaten up by corruption. The country remains plagued by inequality and a sluggish economy, high levels of crime and corruption have made for an angry and restless nation.
Crucially that has had a detrimental impact on South Africa’s international reputation. What was once a shining example of reconciliation and the “gateway to Africa” for investors has become tarnished.
The ANC’s tragedy is that the great gains it has made in the past twenty-five years in power have become over-shadowed by the scale of the corruption. Millions of houses have been built for the poor, electricity, clean running water and toilets have been brought to rural areas. Delivery has often been slower than people would have wished but undoubtedly many black South Africans have a better life now than under apartheid.
The challenge for President Ramaphosa is that the very people who trashed South Africa’s reputation and who stole from the people are still sitting comfortably on the ANC’s candidates’ list. Even the discredited Jacob Zuma was out canvassing for the ANC last week.
And the threat to Ramaphosa is that the Zuma faction within the ANC is alive and kicking and threatening to recall him from office if he stumbles. Their dilemma is that although they may hate Ramaphosa they also know that he is the only person who can save them from electoral disaster.
That’s why all eyes are on this one man - Cyril Ramaphosa. That’s why the Economist newspaper this week called him “South Africa’s Best Bet” and why foreign investors and ordinary South Africans alike are willing him to succeed to secure a mandate to deliver and implement his promised reforms.
The markets will tell us if he has succeeded when the results are announced this weekend. If he secures the magic 60% of the votes we can expect loud cheers from investors. This would be a ringing endorsement of his leadership and people will expect him to use this vote of confidence to crack on with his stated aims of economic reform and an anti-corruption drive.
However should the ANC vote fall below around 55% then investors will be nervous that Ramaphosa has failed to save the ANC from the stink of the Zuma years and he could well face challenges from his rivals within the party.
Waiting to profit from a Ramaphosa “underwhelming” victory are the official opposition the Democratic Alliance and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters led by the charismatic Julius Malema.
Will the DA break through and achieve the votes take over provincial governments including the economic powerhouse of Gauteng and Johannesburg? 27% would be a great result for the DA.
Likewise a rising EFF is hoping for 14-15% which would allow it to become king-makers in provinces where there is no clear winner.
If that happens will South Africa conform to the so-called “Thirty Year Rule” in which the party of liberation gets thirty years in power before the electorate starts to seek alternatives? That happened to Congress in India and it happened to PRI in Mexico.
Will these next five years determine the fate of the ANC? The answer to that lies firmly in the hands of Cyril Ramaphosa.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7Dnews.