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Challenges ahead for ANC’s new president Ramaphosa

© Gulshan Khan, AFP | Cyril Ramaphosa looks on as he attends a plenary meeting at the NASREC Expo Centre during the 54th ANC national congress on December 17, 2017 in Johannesburg.

Text by Claire MUFSON

Latest update : 2017-12-19

Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress (ANC) Monday after a contentious race that saw him beat his sole rival, Jacob Zuma's ex-wife, making him a likely contender for head of state in 2019.

Ramaphosa, 65, a union organiser-turned-businessman and one of South Africa’s wealthiest men, campaigned as a reformer who would steer the country away from the corruption scandals that marred Jacob Zuma’s tenure. But Ramaphosa has his work cut out if he wants to restore the ANC’s floundering reputation.

The ANC, which celebrated its 105th anniversary this year, led the fight against apartheid and has governed continuously since Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. Home to the anti-apartheid movement’s most legendary leaders, it has since developed a reputation for crony capitalism and patronage. Since Zuma took power in 2009, unemployment has soared to 28 percent while economic growth has slumped. The party’s majority fell below 60 percent for the first time after a poor performance in 2016 municipal elections.

“It’s the conduct of the ANC leaders that has caused them to lose support. The problem with the ANC is not Jacob Zuma. It’s the entire organisation as a whole,” said Makashule Gana, member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature for the opposition Democratic Alliance. “We are very confident about 2019. We are talking to South Africans and they are waking up.”

The ANC grassroots largely backed Ramaphosa, while Zuma’s staunchest supporters backed his ex-wife and ex-chairwoman of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Critics of Dlamini-Zuma worried that she would pursue her husband’s economic policies which have failed to address the housing shortages, inadequate education and racial inequality that have continued to plague millions of poor black South Africans. Ramaphosa’s detractors see him as a pawn of corporate capitalism and see no reason to believe that he will be any harder on corruption as president than as deputy president.

In his farewell speech at the ANC convention on Monday, Jacob Zuma called for party unity. But the next largest opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are poised to exploit the ANC’s woes. If members of the losing faction break away, the party could fracture and struggle to maintain its grip on power in the 2019 elections, forcing it into its first ever governing coalition.

Cécile Perrot, a researcher at Paris-Decartes University, predicts that three major issues will dominate the 2019 elections: land distribution, housing and education. She pointed out that “70-80 percent of land is still owned by white farmers or corporations".

“Over the past 23 years since the end of apartheid, there have been a lot of attempts at reform … but those reforms have all failed,” she told FRANCE 24.

The challenges awaiting the new leader of South Africa's ANC

In her campaign for the ANC presidency, Dlamini-Zuma put land distribution back at the centre of South African politics with promises to redistribute land without compensation. “Obviously this has led to a certain number of fears, especially among the white farmer population,” said Perrot.

Dlamini-Zuma's proposed “radical economic policy” bore some resemblance to the policies of the EFF, South Africa’s third-largest political party. The EFF describes itself as “a radical, leftist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement with an internationalist outlook", and calls for the nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation. The group’s 2013 founding manifesto refers to the ANC's failure to deliver on the promises of post-apartheid government: “The EFF note and appreciate the role played by generations of political freedom fighters ... The reality, nonetheless, is that the political freedom attained symbolically in 1994 through inclusive elections has not translated into economic freedom.”

The centrist DA has a different rhetoric, but a similar focus on jobs and the economy. “If you don’t get the economy right, then there is no money for housing. If we don’t get the economy right, then there will be no money for education. If investors aren’t investing then we won’t have money to fight crime. We need to get it right so we have the money to do these things,” said Gana.

Date created : 2017-12-19

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