By Emma Ruiters, MSc Development Economics
On the 18th December 2017, the African National Congress (ANC) elected Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, as their president. Ramaphosa took charge of the party of Mandela after defeating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, ex-wife of current South African president Jacob Zuma. The ANC has been in power for over 23 years since the first democratic elections in 1994 following the end of Apartheid (the system of segregation on the basis of race that had defined in South Africa since the 1950s).
The election race marked a pivotal battle for the soul of the ANC and the future of South Africa after several years of political instability, corruption and scandals. Recent years have also seen a steady economic decline which saw the country, previously Africa’s largest and most industrialized economy, fall behind Nigeria and Egypt. The country continues to struggle with rampant unemployment, poverty and inequality. Critics accuse the ANC of failing the country’s people, particularly the poorer sections of South African society.
The win places Ramaphosa as a likely successor to the presidency of South Africa if the ANC wins the national elections in 2019. Ramaphosa replaces Jacob Zuma, a leader who has faced numerous corruption and criminal charges, including rape. He has also been accused of illegal dealings with the Gupta family – wealthy businessmen who have been alleged to hold undue influence over the South African government. Zuma is perceived by many as central to South Africa’s decline. Many observers were concerned that a victory by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would likely mean a continuation of the corruption that has become embedded in the government. Others were disappointed that South Africa would not yet see a female president. While Dlamini-Zuma is a respected figure, whose accomplishments extend to first female chair of the African Union, she has been criticised for her ties to the Gupta family.
It remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa will indeed reverse South Africa’s fortunes. He has promised an end to corruption and to ensure fundamental economic transformation for a country still ailed by its racist past. Ramaphosa was highly regarded by Nelson Mandela and was rumoured to become Mandela’s deputy in the 1990s, a role which ultimately went to Thabo Mbeki. Ramaphosa became a successful businessman after leaving politics in 1997. However, he has not escaped scandal. Ramaphosa was on the board of Lonmin mine, the platinum mine involved in the Marikana massacre in 2012 where 34 miners were killed by the South African police during a strike. He has also served as Jacob Zuma’s deputy president since 2014.
Since Ramaphosa’s election, the South African Rand has strengthened, signalling a renewed optimism from investors. However, there is little doubt that the country will require significant economic and social transformation to meaningfully change its fortunes.