The legacy of the Zuma years that will last longest is his stunting of our natural modernising process. Just as we started moving on from obsessing about the glorious armed struggle and the romanticism of being in exile, Zuma took us back there. Awuleth' Umshini Wami.
In stark contrast to Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, Zuma became a tribal president, an African strongman, a traditional king sitting on his gilded throne dishing out and receiving gifts. An anti-intellectual and a patriarch.
When civil society started pushing back hard, the Zuma/Gupta axis employed a British public relations firm to change the national discourse to deflect attention away from their thievery and start a new culture of cheap populism.
Bell Pottinger was astonishingly successful, and the effects of its campaign can still be detected all over our society: State capture became a praiseworthy exercise in black empowerment. All ills are to be blamed on white monopoly capital, and the quick fix is radical economic transformation and expropriation of property without compensation. The constitution is the product of evil white connivance. Mandela was a sellout.
And then Ramaphosa was, against all odds — and thanks partly to sleight-of-hand by DD Mabuza — elected as ANC president in December last year with a tiny margin of 178 out of well over 4,000 votes. With little fanfare or visible signs of triumphalism, he got Zuma to resign, fired most of the bad apples in the Zuma Cabinet and replaced them with some of the good apples fired by Zuma, and got the wheels of the criminal justice system rolling again, with immediate and quite spectacular results.
The boards of most of the failing state-owned enterprises have been replaced, and the heads of SARS and state security ousted, as was an obstructive and corrupt premier. A certain sovereign debt downgrade and mortal blow to the economy were avoided, the currency strengthened and investor and consumer confidence lifted significantly.
Parliament has largely been restored to its rightful place in our constitutional democracy. The Russian nuclear deal was finally scrapped.
For now, Ramaphosa's strategy seems to be to smother the EFF to death with affection, but in the process, he has probably done himself harm as being somewhat weak for sucking up to an 8 percent party of hotheads.
Not bad going, considering the environment, even if he still has to co-exist with a hostile party manager, secretary-general Ace Magashule.
But Zuma isn't dead. Again, unlike his presidential predecessors Mandela, Mbeki and Motlanthe, he is still conniving and sneaking around the dark corners of tribalism, opportunism and his old patronage network, exploiting hurt egos and resentments. Large chunks of provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and Free State are still hostile to Ramaphosa.
While the DA has gone through an episode of self-harm, the EFF is in full flight, exploiting the confusion in the ANC and capitalising on the populist zeitgeist.
For now, Ramaphosa's strategy seems to be to smother the EFF to death with affection, but in the process, he has probably done himself harm as being somewhat weak for sucking up to an 8 percent party of hotheads. He fears the EFF much more than he fears the DA come next year's election; the EFF has the potential to capture younger voters who would otherwise have bolstered the ANC.
Around midnight on December 20 last year, the Ramaphosa camp made a strategic decision that will reverberate through our politics for a long time: it decided to allow the ANC conference to formally change policy to accept land expropriation without compensation, the alternative being the break-up of the conference and the annulment of Ramaphosa's election as new president.
Ramaphosa has since made a point of being upbeat about something he fundamentally disagrees with — land expropriation will bring about a new Eden, the original sin will have been exorcised, everybody will be deliriously happy.
If the ANC were to get well over half the votes, Ramaphosa could consolidate his power, make his Cabinet smaller and purge the dead wood – and use the freedom of the next five years to turbocharge the economy.
He is correct that this is a good crisis to use to make rapid progress with land reform. But he cannot and will not allow a process that will undermine property rights and harm agriculture and the economy. Many South Africans cheering him on when he speaks in favour of expropriation actually believe hundreds of thousands of black people will be given farms and all those in urban areas will get free land to live on.
If Kgalema Motlanthe's report of the High-Level Panel of November last year is any indication, the end result of all the upcoming land summits, seminars and workshops will be that expropriation without compensation is indeed possible inside the parameters of the present constitution, and that the real problem of land reform is the lack of state capacity, bureaucratic weakness and corruption, and the utter lack of support given to new farmers already on the land.
What will happen when the penny eventually drops? The EFF will scream blue murder, many will feel betrayed, and the old Zuma networks will capitalise.
This is one of the most important considerations behind suggestions by some in the Ramaphosa camp that a snap election be held in October this year, rather than wait for mid-2019 — ride the wave of Ramaphoria and the relief that Zuma is gone while it lasts, and avoid owning up that the promise of large-scale land redistribution isn't going to happen until after you've been re-elected.
If the ANC were to get well over half the votes, Ramaphosa could consolidate his power, make his Cabinet smaller and purge the dead wood — and use the freedom of the next five years to turbocharge the economy.
The dirt about the Zuma camp's corruption coming out in several criminal trials and the Zondo commission on state capture over the coming months will, of course, help a great deal to establish Ramaphosa as the only alternative.
It would help his cause if he could initiate an ambitious project in the coming months to free up large tracts of urban land and make it available to those who are living in backyard shacks or temporary shelters.
It would also be the right thing to do. Urban land is a more burning question than agricultural land, as we have seen with the conflict and number of land invasions in the past few weeks.