South Africa's New President - Cyril Ramaphosa, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Marykate Monaghan

Following President Zuma’s resignation last Wednesday, South Africa has a new leader in the form of Cyril Ramaphosa. The former businessman now returns to his political roots in hope of leading his country through some of the most challenging conditions it has faced in the post-apartheid era. This article will explore Ramaphosa’s background and policies, alongside the issues he will inherit from the previous government, to outline what the new President may bring to a troubled South Africa.

Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? 

Ramaphosa is no stranger to the political sphere. Throughout his early years, he fought against the discrimination of apartheid, and was arrested twice under the then ‘Terrorism Act’ for his involvement in rallies and continued activism with the organisation 'Black People’s Convention'. Similarly, Ramaphosa became involved with the National Union of Mineworkers, helping to make the trade union one of the largest in the country through his role as Secretary General. His prominence in politics continued in 1991, when he was voted in as the Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC). This lead to Ramaphosa becoming one of the main negotiators during South Africa’s transition, making him a key player in formulating both the country’s constitutional democracy and post-apartheid arrangement. 

His defeat to Thabo Mbeki in the 1994 election for President Mandela’s deputy was a significant blow, spurring him to take a near 20-year break from the political world. Yet, this also gave him the opportunity to forge key links with the country’s private sector through building his own business ‘Shanduka’- an investment holding company. Despite all this, Cyril made his official political comeback in 2012, during ANC’s elective conference, after being elected deputy president of the party, and later on, the country. During this time, Cyril researched and produced the National Development Plan of South Africa; such careful analysis of the problems facing the country will be invaluable as he enters the Presidency. 

Evidently, Ramaphosa has a vast body of political experience- but it remains to be seen how well he will cope with the tumultuous office of the Presidency. 

What kind of policies will he implement and prioritise? 

Many believe Ramaphosa is cut from the same cloth as Nelson Mandela (he was Mandela’s close aide and the ANC’S chief negotiator in talks surrounding apartheid),  and as such, hope to see these virtues exemplified in policy. Specifically, the country will be watching how the incoming President approaches the perennial issue of corruption and whether he is able to hold those responsible for abuse of public resources, to account. Similarly, Ramaphosa’s presidency promises a more coherent approach to policy making which was amiss during Zuma’s premiership. This, it is hoped, will entail initiatives to resurrect the economy which aim at stability, as opposed to the radical interventions taken by his predecessors. 

Thus, this symbolic return to more traditional approaches to policies, such as stable policymaking and a resurrection of Mandela’s principles, may pave the way for the effective rebuilding of the economy and a renewal of faith within South Africa.

What challenges await Ramaphosa following Zuma’s presidency? 

Cyril’s celebrations will be decidedly short-lived given the state of the country he is inheriting. The South Africa of Jacob Zuma is fraught with economic woes, pressing environmental issues and unsettling claims of corruption. These issues mount a serious challenge to Ramaphosa’s reign, threatening to hinder it before it has a chance to take shape. 

Economic Issues: 

Finding a solution to the current economic woes facing South Africa will be a high priority for new President Ramaphosa. The former businessman will have to rely on experience of running his own company “Shanduka” here, and then some. For instance, an economic growth rate of 5.4% will be needed in order to address unemployment, which currently stands at 27%. Yet, central banks are forecasting an expansion of 1.4% in 2018 and a mere 1.6% in 2019. Pressure will be on the new President to rebuild the confidence of businesses and entice international investment- both of which were repelled by the corruption of the previous administration. 

Water Shortage: 

The three-year draught facing South Africa has had devastating effects on the country’s water supplies. The six major reservoirs established in Cape Town were filled to the brim only four years ago, at 230 gallons of water- but in 2018 these same reservoirs stand at only 26%, with the largest only holding 13% of its capacity. This is a consequence of an ongoing decline in the amount of rainwater collected in the region- falling from 20 inches in 2014 to just 6 in 2017. Already, the consequences of this for the residents of Cape Town have been abysmal, with citizens restricted to only 50 litres of water each day. 

Such measures aim to ease fears of a so called “Day zero” for Cape Town; if taps within the city are turned off, residents will be forced to walk several miles to collect water. The anxiety of the residents, intensified by a shortage of bottled water in the region, can only serve to increase the pressure on Ramaphosa. 

Corruption Concerns: 

The corruption stories that dominated Zuma’s tenure have left a lasting impact on South Africa. The population has grown increasingly frustrated with both the judicial system and representatives of the ANC amidst an escalating number of corruption allegations. This is concerning for the incumbent ANC party given that elections are due to be held next year. Ramaphosa’s actions will need to be fast and ruthless if he is to prevent the party from collapsing at the polls and splitting internally. Propositions to purge his cabinet of all ministers known to be involved in corruption will go someway to rebuilding the party’s support and legitimacy. Similarly, his plans to trial the very businessmen who profited under his predecessor, Zuma, will be critical in restoring the public’s trust in the country’s criminal justice system. Ensuring he cuts off as many ties as possible with the old government is the first step to the “new dawn” he spoke of in his first state of the nation address. 

Whilst some are sceptical of the President's ability to enact meaningful change, others remain cautiously optimistic. One thing all sides can agree on is that given the magnitude of the issues confronting South Africa, Ramaphosa must act quickly not only to save the presidency and the party from collapse, but also his country. 

Sources and Further Reading:

Image: GovernmentZA @flickr


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