The Irish Times view on South Africa’s election: the ANC’s last chance

Cyril Ramaphosa must use his mandate to root out corruption and cronyism

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a speech outside Lithuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg, on Sunday. Photograph: Wikus de Wet/AFP/Getty Images

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa delivers a speech outside Lithuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg, on Sunday. Photograph: Wikus de Wet/AFP/Getty Images

 

The African National Congress (ANC) has retained its majority in South Africa’s parliament, but the election result cannot obscure the existential problems facing the scandal-plagued party that has dominated the country’s politics since the end of apartheid.

Fixing those problems is vital if the ANC is to have any hope of addressing South Africa’s economic and social ills.

Official results show President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling party won 57.7 per cent of the vote, its lowest share since the country’s first free elections 25 years ago. It could have been worse: Ramaphosa, the trade unionist turned tycoon who was once identified by Nelson Mandela as his preferred successor, is significantly more popular than his party and has undoubtedly lifted its support since replacing the discredited Jacob Zuma in 2017.

That should give Ramaphosa the internal legitimacy he needs to make good on his pledge to root out the corruption that has plagued the ANC – and South Africa – for far too long. To do so, he will need to take on those in the ANC who have most to lose from a crackdown on graft. His post-election promise to purge the party of “bad and deviant tendencies”, a reference to corruption in the ranks, is a start. Now he must move against enemies of progress in the party and empwer prosecutors to pursue even the most sensitive cases.

But the ANC’s administrative incompetence has also cost South Africa dear: a decade of economic mismanagement has resulted in an unemployment rate of around 27 per cent, creaking public services and a sluggish economy. For many South Africans, the ANC has done nothing to reduce crime or lift living standards.

Ramaphosa only narrowly won the party leadership in 2017, underlining the deep divisions in the party, but he now has a fresh national mandate to restore capable and accountable government.

The ANC has been dealt a warning by the people but it also has one last chance. It must seize it.

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