Shortly before Cyril Ramaphosa (right) was presented as the new leader of the African National Congress, outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma (left) took the stage in front of thousands of delegates attending the party conference in Johannesburg. Singing in Zulu, he hammered out a song about attaining freedom.
But Zuma, despite still being South Africa’s president, might well be counting his days as a free man. He currently faces more than 700 charges of fraud and corruption. More may well be pending if Ramaphosa makes good on his promise to clean up the ANC and put a stop to state capture – as the systematic plundering of state resources by the politically powerful Gupta family and other Zuma loyalists is called in South Africa.
Economists estimate than more than 100 billion rand ($10 billion) of taxpayers money have been stolen since Jacob Zuma became South Africa’s president in 2008.
Now eyes are on 65-year-old Ramaphosa, one of South Africa’s richest men and the country’s deputy president, in the hope he will make good on his promises to clean up the ANC and South Africa.
“He has to show some real courage and demonstrate to all of us that he is willing to charge Jacob Zuma … and ultimately recall him as [South Africa’s] president,” said Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party.
Solly Mapaila, a senior member of the South African Communist Party, said his party would continue to bring up the matter of an investigation into state capture by Zuma and his cronies. “The buck stops with [Ramaphosa],” he said.
Stopping South Africa’s economic decline
The ANC’s reputation isn’t just tarred by corruption and cronyism, it’s also tainted by its inability to get the country out of its economic doldrums.
Unemployment in South Africa is hovering around a third, and youth unemployment is 56 percent. The country is one of the world’s most unequal, and economic growth in decline.
This means South Africans are impatient for change. With elections scheduled for 2019, Ramaphosa needs to “get some quick gains,” said Ivor Saransky, a political scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“He’s made promises in his new deal and he’s got to get them done,” he said. “Or least show serious momentum in the first six months. His credibility is on the line.”
Markets have already reacted positively to Ramaphosa’s election. But Ramaphosa has to work closely with the new ANC executive, some of whom have described him as “a stooge of white monopoly capital.” Therefore, it remains to be seen if he will be able to change the ANC’s economic direction as quickly as many hope for.
Good for stability, bad for women’s representation
Ramaphosa’s victory has been hailed as a vote for stability and moderation. But many women were hoping for his main challenger, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to win.
“We all wanted to make history of the first woman in 104 years [as ANC president],” said Lindiwe Zulu, a female minister in Zuma’s government.
Only one of the ANC’s newly elected top officials is a woman, deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, which is a blow to women pushing for greater representation.