South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa faced wide-ranging challenges after being elected to lead South Africa’s ruling party as it grapples with corruption allegations and disunity. He narrowly won the vote to become head of the African National Congress (ANC) on Monday after a bruising race that exposed rifts within the organisation that led the fight against apartheid.
The victory puts Ramaphosa in line to succeed President Jacob Zuma, whose reign has been plagued by corruption scandals, a slowing economy and anger at the once-omnipotent ANC. Zuma, who faces prosecution for alleged fraud, is now predicted to step down as national president next year after ruling since 2009.
“He is unlikely to hold out until the end of his term… as this will damage the party ahead of the 2019 election,” political risk consultancy Eurasia said. “Zuma is thus likely to end his tenure sometime in the second half of 2018.”
Ramaphosa is set to enjoy a brief honeymoon period — the rand currency rose four per cent against the dollar, suggesting investor confidence in the wealthy former businessman, before pairing gains.
But he still faces unenviable challenges on public sector cuts to control the ballooning budget and how to battle Zuma-era corruption. Political analyst Richard Calland warned that Ramaphosa would be constrained by allies of Zuma who were also elected into top ANC positions. “The winner has inherited a mixed blessing, possibly a poisoned chalice,” he said.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him to manoeuvre, he’ll have to reach compromise at every step.” Ramaphosa, 65, is a former trade unionist leader who led talks to end white-minority rule in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.
He is often accused of failing to confront Zuma while serving as his deputy since 2014. The party recorded its worst-ever results in last year’s local elections and will face threats from the centre-right Democratic Alliance and radical left Economic Freedom Fighters parties at the 2019 poll. -AFP