Ramaphosa takes on SA’s poisoned chalice

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: February 17, 2018 Last modified: February 17, 2018

Cyril Ramaphosa has been elected South Africa’s president as the only candidate nominated by parliament, dominated by his African National Congress, a day after embattled leader Jacob Zuma resigned.

In his first presidential speech, Ramaphosa (pictured), 65, said he would tackle the corruption which soured and eventually wrecked Zuma’s rule.

The ANC had told Zuma to step down or face a vote of no-confidence following a tsunami of corruption allegations, including that he allowed the wealthy Gupta family to wield influence over policy in an example of “state capture”.

President Ramaphosa told parliament that corruption and state capture were “on our radar screen”. The former trade union official also said mismanagement of public services would be his administration’s top priorities. He pledged to meet with other political party leaders “so we can try and find a way of working together”.

In his speech, Ramaphosa said he felt “truly humbled to have been given this great privilege of being able to serve our people”. He added: “South Africa must come first in everything that we all do.”

One opposition party, the socialist Economic Freedom Fighters, walked out of the parliamentary debate because it wants new elections, rather than the ANC deciding on the new president. Other opposition parties also tried unsuccessfully to call for parliament to be dissolved and an early election called.

The BBC’s Johnannesburg correspondent, Lebo Diseko, blogged: “It is often said that Mr Ramaphosa has had his eye on the position of president since the ANC came to power in 1994. The story goes that he was so upset at not having been chosen by Nelson Mandela as his successor that he left politics and went into business. But Mr Ramaphosa has now finally realised that dream.

“He has said his priority is reviving South Africa’s battered economy. But it won’t be easy: Unemployment is currently at almost 30%, a rate which rises to nearly 40% for young people. Low growth rates and dwindling investor confidence were compounded by two credit agencies downgrading the economy to junk status.”

The markets appeared to welcome Zuma’s resignation. The South African currency, reaching its strongest levels in three years – at 11.6570 rand for $1 in early trading.

Zuma, a former member of the ANC’s military wing in the days of apartheid, rose through the ranks of the party to become president.

Shaun Abrahams, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, said: “I’ve been advised by my prosecuting team that Mr. Ajay Gupta is a fugitive from justice.”

Eight other suspects have appeared in court on fraud and money laundering charges, local media report. The only member of the Gupta family to appear was Varun, who was Chief Operating Officer of the Gupta-owned mining firm Oakbay Resources and Energy. All eight denied any wrongdoing.

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune