JOHANNESBURG, Dec 18 (Reuters) – South African Deputy
President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of the African
National Congress on Monday in a close-run vote that will set
the direction for the country and the party that
has ruled since the end of apartheid.
As ANC leader, Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old former union leader who
became a businessman and is now one of South Africa’s richest
people, is likely to become the country’s next president after
elections in 2019.
He has promised to fight corruption and revitalise
the economy, a message hailed by foreign investors.
Ramaphosa narrowly beat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, a former
cabinet minister, in Monday’s vote, marking a
pivotal moment for the ANC, which launched black-majority rule
under Mandela’s leadership 23 years ago.
He smiled and hugged other party officials as the results
were read out. Zuma sat stoney-faced as Ramaphosa’s victory was
Political instability, including questions over who would
replace Zuma, has been cited by credit rating agencies as a big
factor behind their decision to cut South Africa to “junk”.
Economic growth in Africa’s traditional powerhouse has been
lethargic over the last six years and the jobless rate stands
near record levels.
Zuma has faced allegations of corruption since he became
head of state in 2009 but has denied any wrongdoing. The
president has also faced allegations that his friends, the
wealthy Gupta businessmen, wielded undue influence over his
government. Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations.
The 75-year-old president has survived several votes of
no-confidence in parliament over his performance as head of
Dlamini-Zuma, 68, the president’s preferred candidate, had
campaigned on pledges to tackle the racial inequality that has
persisted since the end of white-minority rule.
The rand currency had risen to a nine-month high of
12.5200 earlier, as the market priced in a Ramaphosa victory.
Government bonds also closed firmer before the announcement that
Ramaphosa had won the race.
“Ramaphosa was seen as the more investor-friendly of the two
main candidates vying to lead the ruling party,” Capital
Economics Africa economist John Ashbourne said.
“During the campaign, he promised to clean up corruption
within the ruling party and to work with businesses and labour
to boost economic growth.”
In a boost to Ramaphosa, courts ruled last week that
officials from some provinces seen as supporting Dlamini-Zuma
had been elected illegally and were barred from the conference.
Ramaphosa drew the majority of nominations from party
branches scattered across the country. But the delegates are not
bound by their branches when they vote at the conference.
Mmusi Maimane, the opposition leader, said in a statement:
“Ramaphosa cannot save South Africa, only the voters can in
2019,” in reference to the upcoming national elections.
“TOP SIX” SPLIT
Analysts say the bitterness of the power struggle between
Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma has increased the chances that the
party will find it hard to set policy and could possibly split
before the 2019 national election.
After his victory, Ramaphosa will be ANC’s flag-bearer in
that election, but will have to contend with Dlamini-Zuma’s
allies in his leadership team, meaning that their policies are
Dlamini-Zuma is a fierce campaigner against racial
inequality whose hostility to big business has rattled investors
in South Africa. Backers of Ramaphosa, say she is peddling
populist rhetoric and would rule in the mould of her former
To his supporters, Ramaphosa’s business success makes him
well-suited to the task of turning around an economy grappling
with 28 percent unemployment and credit rating downgrades.
Prince Mashele, senior research fellow at University of
Pretoria, said the ANC’s top most decision-making group known as
the “top six” was now split down the middle, consisting of three
politicians apiece drawn from Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma’s
camps, which would make it hard to implement policy.
“Terrible combination we have in the top six, it’s a
paralyzed situation. This top six will not make any ground
breaking decisions,” Mashele, who is also a political
commentator and columnist, said.
Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst, said: “Both
sides will continue to vie for ascendancy within the ANC.”