Cyril Ramaphosa wins ANC presidential election

South African deputy president, a former trade unionist, takes over from Jacob Zuma

South Africa's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa won the race to become the new leader of the African National Congress on Monday, after a bruising election battle that was billed as a fight for the heart and soul of the ruling party.

The contest between Mr Ramaphosa and his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, had been too close to call for most observers in the weeks leading up to the election, and in the end the margin of victory was only 179 votes.

Mr Ramaphosa received 2,440 votes from delegates who cast a ballot in the ANC’s 54th national conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, Gauteng Province, compared to Ms Dlamini Zuma’s 2,261.

Tensions at the conference were high ahead of the announcement of the ruling party’s top six new leaders for the next five years, with the process delayed by more than an hour. As the delegates waited for the officials to announce the result, supporters of both candidates sang and danced.


Sources at the conference said that the hold-up was because Ms Dlamini Zuma’s camp had called for a vote recount due to the closeness of the contest.

A total of 4,708 out of 4,776 delegates who were registered to vote in the election cast their ballots, according to the ANC.

Mr Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist who became a billionaire businessman in post-apartheid South Africa before returning to active politics in 2012, replaces outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma, who has held the position since 2007.

Visibly shocked

Mr Zuma had backed Ms Dlamini Zuma, a former government minister who is also his ex-wife, to be his successor, and the South African president appeared visibly shocked when the election result did not go her way.

But the money markets saw the result as a positive development, with South Africa’s currency jumping to a five-month high of 14.87 rand to the euro within minutes of the announcement.

Mr Ramaphosa (65) is the 104-year-old ANC’s 14th president and much is expected of the man who will be the party’s presidential candidate for the 2019 general election. After 23 years in power, the ANC’s popularity with voters is on the decline, and there are fears it might not win in 2019.

During his election campaign Mr Ramaphosa promised to tackle the endemic corruption that has taken hold of the ANC and government under Mr Zuma, which appears to put him on a collision course with his predecessor.

Mr Ramaphosa’s victory will come as a huge relief to those in South Africa who feared a victory for his opponent would mean that corruption in the ANC would be allowed to continue, and that Mr Zuma would be protected from criminal prosecution.

Officially, Mr Zuma is scheduled to remain as South Africa’s president until 2019. However, he must now fear for his future, as many observers believe the ANC under Mr Ramaphosa will recall him from office early because of his poor standing with the voting public.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa