It will help opposition if Zuma remains in power

THERE is a view that has gained currency in many circles in recent weeks, that politics in South Africa will be significantly different after Tuesday's vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, especially if the vote is being held in secret. Some people believe a secret vote against the president will generate a majority.

I hate to disappoint the eternal optimists, but this is not about to happen. Apart from those who have already made their views known, I don't see many other ANC MPs going against the party line.

The malaise in the ANC is much bigger than one person and removing one person will not make a significant difference. This is one thing, surely, on which the ANC and the opposition agree.

What the vote of confidence does - as have the six or seven previous ones - is to present the opposition with a wonderful opportunity to tell voters and potential voters where the ANC has failed and where they would be able to do a better job, if they should be voted into power.

While those in the opposition to the ANC’s current leadership - and they include many ANC members - are hoping to convince some ANC MPs to vote against the president, the official opposition (the DA) and their allies, the EFF, must be quietly hoping they will fail.

After all, Zuma is the opposition's most potent weapon and it would not serve their purpose to remove him at this point, because it would give the ANC at least a year and a bit to recover some of the ground it has lost.

It will be much more difficult for the opposition to campaign against an ANC under a new leadership which promises clean governance, an end to corruption and improved living conditions for the majority of South Africans.

I know the ANC has always promised this, from the time of the “better life for all” slogan in 1994, but South Africans, desperate for any hope, might just believe a new ANC leadership, even in the interim, would be able to deliver. They might be persuaded to make their crosses next to the party's logo in 2019.

But politics is all about using your opportunities to exploit your enemy's weaknesses and to mobilise.

The current ANC is perceived to be weak, so they present a good opportunity to the opposition, one which they have gladly grabbed with both hands.

We have already seen the DA presenting the office of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa with what they say are a million signatures from South Africans asking him and other ANC MPs to vote against the president in the motion of no confidence.

Mobilisation is also going on frenetically behind the scenes to ensure that there are several protests over the next few days, culminating in a huge march to Parliament ahead of Tuesday's vote.

The ANC, which used to have a monopoly on mass protests in the old days, have responded by calling a march of their own - in support of the president. Good on them, the opposition can't have all the fun.

But, seriously, whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, our democracy is in good shape.

When we voted for the first time in democratic elections in 1994, many of us who had been involved in the Struggle, thought that this would in future be our only contribution to democracy.

We would go and vote every couple of years and, hopefully, the party which we voted into power, would make sure that the lives of South Africans improve.

After all, our opposition to apartheid meant that we wanted a society where the majority would be able to improve their lives through equal access to job opportunities, better education, health care, housing, etcetera.

We had a blind belief that the ANC, because of its record in opposing apartheid, would do a good job of changing the lives of South Africans in a meaningful way. As time went by, we realised your political pedigree and Struggle credentials do not necessarily translate into a desire to improve people's lives, except your own.

Democracy is so much more than exercising your vote. Democracy means getting involved in organisations and forums where decisions are made about your community and society in general. Democracy means that, if you see bad behaviour by politicians, you should let them know about it and warn them that they are not guaranteed your vote the next time.

I am so excited about what is happening in politics. Ordinary people are saying they want their voices to be heard beyond making a cross at election time.

The likelihood is those in power will not listen immediately - and the president will remain in power - and that is why the pressure needs to continue, ultimately impacting on where we put our mark in the next election.

Not much will change politically after Tuesday, but this is not necessarily bad. It provides more opportunities to engage on the nature of our democracy and what we expect from our political leaders. It is not about what we expect from Zuma, but from all political leaders, including those in the opposition.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argust on Saturday 5 August 2017)