"I'm worried about our lurch towards radicalism . . . it's as if we're trying to outdo the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) . . . populism won't work," an obviously worried MP from the African National Congress (ANC) says.
"We have actually identified a number of MP's and senior leaders who will now start undergoing intensive training and learning in preparation for 2019 . . . we are starting to prepare to become ministers," an ebullient MP from the Democratic Alliance (DA) says.
"A number of us at the ANC and Cabinet lekgotlas thought that now things are coming apart . . . this is it, gosh, what's happening?" says another veteran and experienced ANC MP and political operative.
"What we're now doing is to look at our policies and discussing how to cost them, how to give detail to it and how to make it attractive. There is a very real possibility that we might have to implement some of these sooner than we thought," says a senior DA MP, a veteran party strategist.
The contrast this week between the governing ANC and the upstart DA has been the starkest in recent memory.
Energy has almost visibly flowed away from the benches of the ANC while its members have been huddling in groups in the corridors around the National Assembly, often talking in hushed tones and reluctant to engage in unwanted probes about the health of the governing party.
Physically, its leader was in chamber, but he has been resolute in his disengagement and removal from events in the House and criticism levelled against him and his government.
The ANC's speakers, bar perhaps Buti Manamela (minister in the presidency) were tired, uninspired and often unintelligible. It's backbenchers were boorish and its frontbenchers anonymous.
It was however away from the madding crowd, in exchanges with MP's from both parties, that the dividing lines became clear: the ANC is being consumed by a destructive leadership battle, the DA is preparing practically to take over government.
The opposition, stripped of Julius Malema and his EFF, was where things were really happening. The DA's benches were largely jampacked, its members engaged and it blooded a couple of new charges – young and black, it must be noted – to earn scar tissue in the drunken brawl which parliamentary debates have become.
It was however away from the madding crowd, in exchanges with MP's from both parties, that the dividing lines became clear: the ANC is being consumed by a destructive leadership battle, the DA has a dream of taking over government. One talks about internecine strife, the other about preparing to lead.
Some ANC MP's privately concede there is great worry about their leader's focus on "radical socio-economic transformation", which was the main issue during both the ANC and Cabinet lekgotlas. Zuma outlined his vision during his address last Thursday, referring to changes to ownership of capital and the "deconcentration" of certain sectors of the economy, but it's still unclear exactly what it means and if it's only being touted in reaction to the EFF.
The DA, on the other side of the house, seems giddy with idealism. It is revelling in the government's failures, using every opportunity to contrast its governance record with that of the ANC.
There is also worry ahead of next week's tabling of the budget by Pravin Gordhan, minister of finance, with a senior MP who has direct knowledge of the machinations, saying leaders like Gordhan and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are under immense political pressure. "A Cabinet shuffle is a card the president will keep us sleeve," one MP said.
The DA, on the other side of the house, seems giddy with idealism. It is revelling in the government's failures, using every opportunity to contrast its governance record with that of the ANC. For the first time the party's own research apparently also indicates that it might be in sight of toppling the ANC in 2019, along with coalition partners and if certain events during the next couple years break its way.
It has established a governance unit, designed to provide the party's government officials and elected representatives with skills and knowledge. It's also completely overhauling policy, trying to blend the necessity of broad policies with the reality of effective policy. And this while the ANC is battling its internal demons.
"We are now, actually, preparing ourselves to govern in 2019," a DA MP said, while an ANC MP admitted: "A shift is coming in this country's political landscape."Suggest a correction