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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

South Africa wakes up to the end of Zuma

Former president's departure sparks mixed reactions

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma speaks at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on February 14, 2018. Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma speaks at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on February 14, 2018. Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

South Africans woke up on Thursday to the news that Jacob Zuma is no longer president. And amid the euphoria of his departure, the realisation that his successor Cyril Ramaphosa has a hard road ahead.

Mr Zuma resigned on live television late on Wednesday once it became clear that his party, the African National Congress (ANC), was ready to remove him. Acting president Ramaphosa was elected the country's new leader by parliament on Thursday afternoon.

"I honestly never thought I'd see the day this happened; I was convinced he'd die in office," said Elize Bekker, a retiree living in the Cape Province, of Zuma. "I can stop thinking of emigrating now."

For some, the departure was bittersweet, "Imagine if Zuma did not engage in all these corrupt shenanigans, what an inspirational success story his would have been," said artist Zondwa Njokweni. "An uneducated young Zulu man who fought in the liberation of our people, rises to become the president of South Africa. Very sad that power corrupts."

Others were simply glad Mr Zuma was gone: "With immediate effect": the most beautiful words South Africa has heard in years, said Cape Town writer and columnist Tom Eaton in a widely shared social media post.

Those living abroad also voiced their opinions. Expatriate Cameo Edwards said via Twitter from his home in Vietnam: "I’m so happy to hear that Zuma has stepped down as president, However, I’m not excited to see Cyril “Murderer” Ramaphosa being sworn in as our new president" – a reference to a mass shooting during a mineworker demonstration in 2012 that left 34 dead.

At the time, Mr Ramaphosa was on the board of Lonmin, the company in charge of the Marikana mine where the incident took place, and some still hold him culpable. A subsequent inquiry cleared Mr Ramaphosa of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the first signs of Mr Zuma's unravelling patronage network were also welcomed. Few benefitted more from Mr Zuma's presidency than a family of Indian-born businessmen. Together with Mr Zuma's son Duduzane, three Gupta brothers inserted themselves into numerous lucrative state-funded deals.

By Thursday morning one Gupta brother had been arrested after a police raid on the family's Johannesburg mansion; another was on the run and numerous associates were requested to make themselves available for interviews.

Anti-corruption organisation Outa welcomed the arrests.

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"We also urge Mr Ramaphosa to ensure that the justice system moves swiftly to hold the many people in authority, including ministers, to account for their actions and participation in state capture," said Outa chief executive Wayne Duvenage.

A planned motion of no-confidence to unseat Mr Zuma scheduled for Thursday will no longer take place. Instead, parliament will sit as soon as possible to formalise Mr Ramaphosa's nomination as president. He holds the position of deputy president.

Once in office, Mr Ramaphosa is expected to take a hatchet to Mr Zuma's cabinet, many of whom are implicated in corruption scandals.

"Now the massive cabinet restructuring will start," said Wayne McCurrie, a fund manager at Ashburton in Johannesburg. "Only a few will be carried over. Ramaphosa will act quickly on this."

Not all were happy with Mr Zuma's departure. As his popularity waned in recent years, Mr Zuma committed himself to a programme of 'radical economic transformation' that aimed for mass confiscation of land and the nationalisation of industry, among other proposals.

Mr Ramaphosa will have to dabble in some populist policies to keep the far left on his side, but he is generally seen as business friendly and so under him 'radical economic transformation' is dead in the water.

Andile Mngxitama, a fierce defender of the former president and head of the far-left Black Land First (BLF) movement that advocates mass confiscation of property, said: "BLF is proud to have stood with President Zuma to the end. History will show it was the correct thing to do."

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