The next quarter is crucial for South Africa’s political future, and therefore the trajectory of its economic policy. We’re now at the business end of the ANC’s leadership selection saga, with nominations open for the next two months. Each provincial ANC structure, plus other designated bodies, will send delegates to Mangaung (formerly Bloemfontein) where the ANC President and other critical positions for the next five years will be decided.

Currently the breakdown of voting delegates shows that the ANC is split right down the middle. Indications are that the vote will be too close to call. One of my sources reckons that, before the mining tragedy at Marikana, Motlantha enjoyed a 53 percent to 47 percent lead over Zuma. Since Marikana the cyclone around Zuma’s principle detractor, Julius Malema, has intensified. The tragedy also seemed to rally COSATU members, at their recent congress, around Zuma – at least temporarily. However, it is not clear how these two recent phenomena will affect how provincial delegates – who will have the most combined votes in Mangaung – will vote.

So either Jacob Zuma or Kgalema Motlanthe could emerge victorious. However, if Zuma wins in a close contest it will reinforce the point that the centre of gravity of the party has moved firmly to his home province, KwaZulu-Natal. Furthermore, his reliance on the SACP will have increased. Motlanthe’s support seems to be more widely spread in a geographic sense, albeit the ANC is weaker in the provinces that support him.

So is a ‘Lula moment’ likely? Some COSATU delegates at their recent congress argued that the former Brazilian President had pursued bold social reforms in his second term, and therefore Zuma should attempt to emulate him. For some the term is also code for more radical reforms aimed at revising the central bank’s mandate, for example, or reinstituting substantial protectionism as first Lula, and now his successor Dilma, have done.

However, it is not clear that COSATU has a strong grasp of Brazilian political economy dynamics. Whilst it is true that Lula consolidated and extended social policy reforms introduced by his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, it is also true that he preserved Cardoso’s key market reforms. The broader transferability of these reform episodes to South African circumstances is debatable, to say the least. It is also the subject of a recent CDE report reflecting a process I helped to organize.

Where is business in all this? As Mzukisi Qobo argues in a recent Business Day column, relations between South African business and the ANC government are rather poor. While this is not new, whoever takes the helm of the ANC after Mangaung has to pay attention to this matter. After all, it is business that invests and creates jobs. Currently business is sitting on large cash reserves. Accusing business leaders of engaging in an ‘investment strike’, as ANC politicians regularly do, does not help. Instead, business craves policy certainty and good investment opportunities. If those exist, investment will flow. Qobo offers a few prescriptions for creating the necessary environment of trust.