CLOUDS of confetti and pyrotechnics marked Mmusi Maimane’s re-election as leader of South Africa’s main opposition party on April 8th. The conference of the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) was well-organised, unlike those of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Journalists were welcomed into the main hall, not held at a distance by metal fences and thuggish guards. But the DA’s dreams of trouncing the ANC in next year’s general election have faded since Jacob Zuma was forced to resign as president in February.

Mr Zuma’s presidency was a disaster for South Africa. He undermined institutions and wrought havoc on the economy. On April 6th he appeared in a Durban court to face corruption charges. But his scandal-ridden tenure was a gift to the opposition. Support for the ANC, which Mr Zuma led, fell from 62% in the general election of 2014 to 54% in local polls two years later. The DA, meanwhile, used the help of smaller parties to push the ANC out of power in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, the capital, in 2016.

They won partly because many ANC supporters, repelled by Mr Zuma, stayed at home. But these voters may not have abandoned their beloved liberation party. Many will turn out again now that the genial Cyril Ramaphosa has succeeded Mr Zuma as ANC boss and South Africa’s president. Since taking office in February, Mr Ramaphosa has enjoyed broad support for his reform plans and strong stance against corruption. Without Mr Zuma to denounce, the opposition is struggling to remain relevant.

The Zuma years highlighted the importance of an energetic opposition. Mr Zuma is facing corruption charges only because the DA filed so many court actions to make it happen. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a far-left splinter from the ANC, brought the case that forced Mr Zuma to pay back public funds spent on gussying up his private estate.

Mr Maimane argues that with Mr Zuma gone, there can be a battle of ideas between the parties. His platform focuses on jobs, a no-brainer in a country with 36% unemployment. But the DA has been distracted by a nasty internal dispute over the mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, who has been accused of misconduct by the party leadership. It has tried to oust her.

Party bosses have adjusted their expectations for next year’s polls. Success, they say, would mean taking control of Gauteng province, the country’s economic hub. To go further the DA must win over more of the black majority. The party is planning a door-to-door campaign to counter perceptions that it is only for white people. It is also identifying and training young, racially diverse leaders—a marked contrast to the ageing ANC.

The EFF, led by Julius Malema, a former leader of the ANC’s youth wing, is also struggling. Desperate for attention, it is growing ever more radical. Its supporters have ransacked H&M clothing shops over an allegedly racist advert. Mr Malema has urged black South Africans to seize land. After the DA refused to back an EFF motion calling for the expropriation of land without compensation, Mr Malema announced that his party would vote out the DA mayor of Port Elizabeth, who is white. “Cutting the throat of whiteness,” is how he described the effort, which failed. Support for the EFF remains low.

The ANC, meanwhile, is still divided over Mr Zuma’s ouster. The ex-president has retreated to KwaZulu-Natal, his home province, where he is rallying supporters and grumbling about his comrades’ betrayal. That is making it harder for Mr Ramaphosa to reinvigorate the party. The DA’s federal chairman, James Selfe, says that “Ramaphoria” will fade as the new president finds it difficult to deliver on his promises. But the main threat to the ANC may come from within its own ranks.