Ramaphosa hails ‘new era’

28 May 19

Cyril Ramaphosa has been inaugurated president of South Africa amid signs that the ruling party has been badly dented by corruption scandals.

The former trade union leader turned businessman won his first full presidential term having assumed the position last year following Jacob Zuma’s resignation.

Acknowledging the need to tackle graft within the African National Congress, Ramaphosa pledged that his victory would inaugurate “a new era” in the continent’s second largest economy.

“It is time for us to make the future we yearn for … it is through our actions now that we will determine our destiny,” he said upon taking the presidential oath in Pretoria on Saturday.

“The challenges our country faces are huge and real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And I stand here today saying they are going to be solved.”

Ramaphosa was vice president in February 2018 when Zuma resigned amid escalating corruption scandals, and made tackling this issue a centrepiece of his platform.

Zuma stood down amid a whirlwind of corruption allegations and a loss of confidence in his leadership in South Africa’s parliament and within the ANC.

The cost of corruption to the country has been put at 27 billion rand ($1.9bn) a year and in 2018 it fell to number 73 in Transparency International’s global measure of perceived corruption – down from 38 in 2001.

While the ANC won a victory that was never in doubt in elections on 8 May, the 57.5% support it gained at the polls was its weakest showing at the ballot box since taking power in 1994 and concealed widespread anger at Zuma’s legacy.

The ANC’s image has been tarnished by corruption scandals involving senior officials and its support has slid over perceptions that party leaders have not done enough to tackle graft.

All eyes are now on the configuration of Ramaphosa’s cabinet and the extent to which it reflects his promise to root out senior figures linked to graft.

The ANC has set up four separate judicial enquiries into corruption in which allegations of fraud and bribery have surfaced, implicating executives at state-run firms, cabinet ministers and business leaders.

A polyglot and former protégé of Nelson Mandela who played a key role in the fight against apartheid, Ramaphosa has extensive business interests and is one of South Africa’s richest men.

He is seen by many voters as having greater potential to clean up the ANC than any other political figure, and it is likely that had there been another candidate the ruling party would have been punished much harder in the polls.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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