Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

With a strong mandate, Ramaphosa could change South Africa

No leader since Mandela has crossed racial and class divides as effectively as him

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at his final campaign rally ahead of May 8th legislative and presidential elections. Gianluigi Guercia / AFP
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at his final campaign rally ahead of May 8th legislative and presidential elections. Gianluigi Guercia / AFP

Wednesday's election in South Africa – the first since former president Jacob Zuma was ousted last year – marks a significant moment for the country. And although the ruling ANC is expected to emerge victorious once again, it will most likely do so with a weakened majority. For the first time, Cyril Ramaphosa leads the party into nationwide elections, tasked with shedding its corrupt image and presenting himself as a serious reformer. Amid an unspectacular field, only Mr Ramaphosa can bring change for South Africans – something they desperately need. Today, growth is sluggish and utility provision even more so, while unemployment stands at 27 per cent. South Africa should be a model of prosperity for the rest of Africa, but its economy is in dire straits. Fortunately, Mr Ramaphosa has a plan to revive it and, emboldened by a fresh mandate, he might be able to do so.

No leader since Nelson Mandela has crossed racial and class divides as effectively as Mr Ramaphosa. A former trade union leader who represented the ANC in negotiations that ended apartheid, and later a successful businessman, he can claim to represent poor South Africans and the voices of big business and international investment. Yet, the South African president, who led a quiet coup against Mr Zuma last year, is tainted by association. During his nine years in power, Mr Zuma looted from the state, enriching himself and his cronies. For four years, Mr Ramaphosa served as Mr Zuma’s deputy. While he has taken a stand against graft, sacking the leaders of corrupt state institutions, many South Africans place some blame at Mr Ramaphosa’s door. In addition, Mr Zuma embodied a wider system, and his apparatchiks fill the party’s upper echelons. Mr Ramaphosa will need the electorate’s approval to defend himself against those within his ranks who seek his downfall.

A quarter of a century has passed since the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy in South Africa. As corruption and misrule ensnared its politics, the rich grew richer and the poor considerably poorer. With a background that straddles both worlds, Mr Ramaphosa is capable of attracting vital investment and charting a new course for all South Africans. But he will not be able to do so unless voters hand him a strong mandate at the polls tomorrow.

Updated: May 7, 2019 06:13 PM

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