Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1382, (22 - 28 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Ramaphosa, businessman against corruption

South Africa’s new president has taken the reins peacefully, but faces tremendous challenges, especially on the economic front

Ramaphosa, businessman against corruption
Ramaphosa, businessman against corruption

He has finally achieved his dream of becoming South Africa’s president, representing the next generation of politicians after iconic leaders such as the late Nelson Mandela who fought against apartheid. Cyril Ramaphosa, writes Haitham Nouri, became South Africa’s president after Jacob Zuma resigned 15 February amid a slew of financial corruption scandals, including ties to the wealthy Indian Gupta family that has gained extensive political leverage based on its relations with Zuma. Zuma is also peppered with sex scandals, most notably an implicit admission he is the father of a girl born in 2009 to the daughter of an old friend, even though the courts in 2006 could not find evidence that he raped the mother.

Although there is no strong evidence to convict Zuma, who was in power for nine years, the leadership of the ruling African National Congress Party (ANC) threatened a no confidence vote against him if he did not resign. A statement by the ANC after Zuma’s resignation stated it “has confidence in the people of South Africa” after the party’s loss in local elections in 2016, and lack in security in the economic capital, Pretoria and political capital Johannesburg.

Ramaphosa’s promotion came as no surprise. The ANC leadership appointed him as leader in 2016 and deputy to Zuma, which fuelled rumours he would become the next president of the rainbow state. Ramaphosa has a long road ahead of him to consolidate power, including finishing his predecessor’s term until the end of next year, to face ferocious elections since the people lost faith in the ANC due to Zuma’s policies.

Bloomberg reported that the ruling party remains divided. It needs to revamp and purge itself of those supporting Zuma, but several members, especially on the left, accuse Ramaphosa of doing nothing to help miners during his tenure as union chairman. He was also board member of Lonmin Mining Company during the massacre at Marikana platinum mine in August 2012 when 34 miners were shot dead during a strike – the largest number of dead since the collapse of the apartheid regime in 1994.

He was imprisoned for more than one year between 1974 and 1976 due to his anti-apartheid activism. After his release, he founded a miners’ union which became one of the strongest ANC weapons led by Mandela who was imprisoned on Robben Island. Through the miners’ union, Ramaphosa participated in the 1987 protests that hastened the fall of the apartheid regime and set the stage for Mandela’s release, and was chairman of the national committee that lobbied for Mandela’s freedom.

In 1990, Ramaphosa was involved in negotiations to build a new political system after Mandela chose him despite party objections. In 1994, he became chairman of the Constituent Assembly that drafted South Africa’s constitution – one of the most liberal in the world. Ramaphosa withdrew from political life in 1997 after ANC leaders picked Thabo Mbeki as Mandela’s successor instead of him. For the next two decades, Ramaphosa focused on business and became one of the wealthiest in the country, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $450 million.

In the business field, he is viewed as a success story for black businessmen in post-apartheid South Africa, but his rivals see him as “a puppet in the hands of white and foreign businessmen”.

Ramaphosa is facing many economic and social challenges, most notably agricultural reform, which means redistributing land to black citizens that was taken from them by the apartheid regime. Most blacks live in conditions similar to apartheid times although 25 years has passed since that regime was toppled. Also, the country’s economy – the strongest in Africa – is moving morbidly slow with development rates no more than 1.4 per cent in the past decade (under Zuma) when it should be five per cent – similar to developing economies such as Malaysia and China.

The energy sector is also struggling as prices remain high and the IMF is urging the government to allow the private sector into the field to increase competition and drive prices down. Meanwhile, education remains inaccessible to some black South Africans, which “sustains and instils poverty, making them less likely to seek jobs in capitalist economics”, according to the Right to Education Organisation in South Africa.

Bad education numbers for blacks is inherited from the apartheid regime, which banned the majority of blacks from education. Teachers themselves were educated under that regime, making them less skilled at teaching.

White South Africans continue to monopolise the majority of the country’s wealth, pitting the country in the same dilemma that once faced Zimbabawe when former president Robert Mugabe clashed with white farmers. Nonetheless, the peaceful removal of a president accused of corruption gives hope to the people that their lives will improve.

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