South Africa: Ramaphosa’s triumph

Ramaphosa is a creature of the system, and an unlikely exponent of shock therapy. But he is South Africa’s best bet

 

Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory in the African National Congress (ANC) leadership election provides a glimmer of hope that his sclerotic and scandal-plagued party sees the need to overhaul itself. More importantly, it may hasten the departure from office of Jacob Zuma, under whose presidency corruption has thrived and South Africa’s democracy has been repeatedly undermined.

An anti-apartheid hero and one-time prominent trade unionist, Ramaphosa was Nelson Mandela’s choice to become deputy president and eventually his successor as the country’s leader. When the anti-apartheid leaders in exile installed Thabo Mbeki, however, Ramaphosa moved into the private sector and amassed a fortune.

Since returning to politics in 2012 – and as Zuma’s deputy since 2014 – Ramaphosa has distanced himself from the president and cast himself as a leading voice against corruption. He was supported by the unions and by business leaders. His opponent in the ANC leadership contest, 68-year-old Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former cabinet minister and ex-wife of President Zuma, made an unconvincing case for the radical economic transformation her former husband had promised and never delivered. Her loss is a defeat for Zuma, who supported her candidacy.

Ramaphosa won by fewer than 200 votes, underlining the divisions in the party. His first task is to shake up the ANC, which has become a byword for cronyism and incompetence, and improve its standing in time for the 2019 election. He will almost certainly become president when Zuma steps down in two years, but there is a strong case for moving against Zuma as soon as possible with a no-confidence vote in parliament.

South Africa’s problems need an urgent response. Growth is slow, unemployment is running at 28 per cent, institutions are weak and corruption is rife. Every day that Zuma remains in office is another day lost. Ramaphosa is a creature of the system, and an unlikely exponent of shock therapy. But he is South Africa’s best bet. The sooner he takes control the better.

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