Cyril Ramaphosa must lead ANC on tricky road ahead
In wake of Zuma, new president faces party factionalism, and social and economic blight
Cyril Ramaphosa: does he have the leadership qualities that can inspire ANC members to join in his efforts to renew the movement and build the country? Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
With less than 18 months to go to a general election that many believe will be the most tightly contested in the post-apartheid era, Ramaphosa has little time to show voters he can reverse South Africa’s recent economic and social decline.
If the billionaire businessman fails to make a meaningful impact on unemployment and government corruption in the months before the 2019 election, it could cost the African National Congress (ANC) dearly at the ballot box.
But this will not be easy given that unemployment is officially running at almost 30 per cent and crime is endemic in the public and private sectors.
To inspire the type of investor confidence that will secure the billions of euro needed to kick-start South Africa’s economy, Ramaphosa must at least address the corruption festering at the heart of government.
He also needs to introduce reforms that create policy certainty in areas ranging from crime and education to healthcare and the labour market. To achieve this with any degree of haste he will need the support of a party that is beset by factionalism.
So unsurprisingly, the need for party unity has been one of Ramaphosa’s key messages to ANC members in the two months that have passed since he was elected president of the movement.
Nevertheless, in the weeks ahead South Africans are likely to see significant changes to the cabinet’s make-up, and it would be surprising if Zuma loyalists in government were not among the first to be relieved of their positions.
What effect this action would have on Ramaphosa’s aim of fostering unity in the ANC remains to be seen, but it could backfire spectacularly and lead to a split in the movement.
Despite this risk, many say Ramaphosa has the type of leadership qualities that can inspire ANC members to join in his efforts to renew the movement and build the country.
In addition, he has faced seemingly insurmountable tasks in the past that he has successfully completed. In 1982 he established the National Union of Mineworkers, which mobilised extensively against the oppressive apartheid regime.
He then rose to national prominence through his role as head of the ANC delegation that negotiated the end of apartheid with the white minority government in November 1991.
In the years after 1994, he was credited with being one of the key contributors to the creation of South Africa’s new constitution, which is hailed as one of the most progressive in the world.
Ramaphosa even played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process as an inspector of the IRA’s secret weapons dumps during the decommissioning process.
With all of this experience behind him, he at the very least has a fighting chance of achieving his goals.