By Emma Ruiters, MSc Development Economics
After his election as president of the African National Congress (ANC) on December 18, 2017, Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president of the Republic of South Africa on February 15 this year. Ramaphosa succeeds Jacob Zuma after the latter’s nine years in the presidency. His election has renewed hope and optimism amongst South Africans, who have suffered under an ailing economy, increasing unemployment and rising poverty levels with many criticising Zuma’s poor leadership.
The transition, however, was hampered by Zuma’s reluctance to step down as leader of South Africa. Zuma’s five year second term had been due to terminate in 2019, after South Africa’s general elections. However, public sentiment, declining popularity, a presidency plagued by scandal and accusations of corruption urged his party to speed up his departure. In the face of open calls for his resignation, the threat of a vote of no confidence in Parliament, widespread criticism, and extensive negotiation, Zuma stepped down on February 14. He said he had done so while disagreeing with the ANC’s decision, adding: “I have come to the decision to resign as president of the Republic with immediate effect, even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organization, I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC.”
Zuma’s recall paved the way for his deputy president Ramaphosa to become acting president until the general election in 2019. This marks the second time in recent history that a sitting president has been recalled by the ANC. Former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled in 2008.
On February 16, Ramaphosa gave his maiden State of the Nation address. Ranging from issues of job creation to tackling corruption and land redistribution, the speech called for renewal and unity.
Addressing South Africans, Ramaphosa said: “Together we are going to make history. We have done it before and we will do it again – bonded by our common love for our country, resolute in our determination to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and convinced that by working together we will build the fair and just and decent society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.” Additionally, Ramaphosa invoked the recently deceased Hugh Masekela, South Africa’s ‘Father of Jazz’ who sang ‘Thuma Mina (Send Me)’, a song that anticipates a new South Africa untroubled by poverty, AIDS, and other challenges.
For the first time in years, the state of the nation address proceeded uninterrupted by opposition parties. The speech was well received from all quarters. However, the topic of land redistribution without compensation has caused some discussion. Affected groups have argued that it is unconstitutional. Moreover, Ramaphosa was anticipated to carry out a cabinet reshuffle to root out corrupt and ineffective ministers. The new cabinet was revealed this week with such significant appointments as: David Mabuza as deputy president, Nhlanhla Nene as returning minister of finance and Pravin Gordhan as minister of public enterprises. South Africa is hungry for change after years of economic decline. Ramaphosa is expected to exhibit strong leadership to deliver on his campaign