The recent convention of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa returned incumbent President Jacob Zuma as party president and potential flag-bearer at the forthcoming presidential elections, for which he will take a shot at a second term of five years. Zuma won convincingly at the ANC elective conference in Bloemfontein. He garnered 2,983 votes to defeat his challenger and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who got 991 votes.
Zuma's win, widely expected, places him in a strong position for a second term as the country's president. The convention itself was more of an anti-climax; just a whimper, as opposed to the 'bloody nose' for Zuma that the expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, had promised. Malema supported Motlanthe. In the event, neither the Malema threat or Zuma's own albatrosses - nagging corruption allegations and less-than-presidential intimate escapades that have dogged his political career - did any significant damage to Zuma's popularity.
However, the culture of deputies challenging their bosses seems to have gained momentum in South African politics - as introduced by Zuma himself when he challenged, and defeated, his former boss Thabo Mbeki. But perhaps the most newsworthy aspect of the convention was the election of black billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa - a prominent member of South Africa's emerging wealthy class - as deputy party leader, and a candidate for a possible future vice presidency.
Though recognised by party faithfuls, Zuma's leadership and personal style are seen by many critics as incongruous to the ANC ideals. However, as leader of ANC and of South Africa for the foreseeable future, Zuma has an uphill task of uniting the party and the country at large.
The convention was without the rancour characteristic of many African polities; Nigeria comes to mind. Perhaps because the ANC is a grand old party, now over 100 years, there was maturity in the conduct of its affairs at the conference. Many African political parties, and politicians, have a lot to learn and copy from this conduct.
The once-in-five-years convention threw up many issues that the ANC will need to contend with.
With his party position strengthened, Zuma must now address the Malema Dilemma. It would in fact be in Zuma's long-term political benefits to seek pardon for Malema. Though self-serving and boastful, Malema will be more useful within the fold of the ANC than outside. His nuisance value was tested during the recent mining strikes.
Another great challenge for South Africa, perhaps at this time the most important, is the touchy issue of land reform. Keeping a wary eye to similar problem in neighbouring Zimbabwe, the black-majority South African post-apartheid governments have promised restitution one way or another, and done nothing. The issue is now inevitable. Eighteen years down the line, many deprived families now look lovingly to the Zimbabwe model of forced land confiscation from white owners.
Another pressing problem Zuma needs to tackle is the growing violence in much of the South African society. Violent crime has made the country a top candidate for being crime headquarters in the world. Private security has taken over normal policing, and the sense of insecurity is palpable all over the country. The recent Marikane mining deaths seem to indicate that country's violent culture is far from over and needs to be tackled.
The ANC needs also to reconnect with its core supporters, the black majority, considered to be at the bottom of the economic ladder. During the ANC convention, there were calls for the party to return to this original moral compass, which assured it of overwhelming victories at past elections. Presently, the white-led opposition may be miniscule, but it is getting attractive, including for many disgruntled black politicians. That has spelt danger for the ANC at local elections, and could be replicated at the national level many years down the road if current trends are not reversed.