South Africa Has a New President: What to Expect?

On February 14, South African President Jacob Zuma resigned and was succeeded by Cyril Ramaphosa. The new South African leadership is expected to put forward concrete proposals on cooperation within BRICS as well as a broader, renewed vision of the country’s future.

In fact, Jacob Zuma’s decision to “voluntarily resign” on February 14 was not his own: he was facing a threat from his colleagues in the African National Congress (ANC) party. Initially, they asked him to resign in an amicable way, but since Zuma refused, they threatened him to support the vote of no confidence in the parliament on February 15, initiated by the opposition. Moreover, political situation in the streets also deteriorated with clashes between supporters of Zuma and Ramaphosa taking place. In his speech, Zuma noted that he had decided to resign because he did not want to cause outbreaks of violence in his country and a split in the ANC. That step was undoubtedly very painful for his supporters in the ANC. However, Zuma put up with the situation, realizing that if a split within his own party occurred, he would not be able to defend his positions and to exercise his functions.

That very day his fellow party member, Cyril Ramaphosa, elected the ANC chairman in December 2017, became the new president. He was the only candidate for the position, elected without voting, at a special section of the parliament. The two largest opposition parties, Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) refused to vote for him. The members of the latter even left the meeting room demonstratively. The Democratic Alliance leader mentioned that Ramaphosa is part of the ANC, explaining that the problem was not only in Zuma’s personality, but also in the ANC, whose reputation had been tainted with scandals. However, he agreed to cooperate with Ramaphosa if he would act in the interests of the South African people.

What can be said about the country’s new president? He is 65 years old and was member of the movement, which brought down apartheid. He was vice-president under Zuma. Ramaphosa is a former trade union leader turned businessman, and is one of the richest people in the country. It was Ramaphosa who brought McDonalds to the country. According to the Fortune magazine, his net worth is over $450 million. The public opinion anticipates change, and the political establishment is expected to deliver it. The new president has already said that combatting corruption and optimization of state administration will be his absolute priorities. It is clear that solving these tasks will require a lot of effort, political will, and time. Overall, society has been optimistic about his coming to power. He is seen as a successful businessman able to ensure positive changes in the country, whose economic growth has been sluggish in the recent years.

The next presidential election is to be held in 2019, and Ramaphosa will most probably run on the ANC ticket with good chances to win.

Most probably, there will be continuity in the nation’s foreign policy, because both Zuma and Ramaphosa are members of the same party and have a similar background. Therefore, one should not fear that the change of power in the country will affect the Russian-South African ties, including within BRICS.

For South Africa, cooperation with the leading emerging economies as part of BRICS remains a political and economic priority, because it is fully in line with the country’s national interests. In 2018, South Africa is to host the tenth BRICS summit in Johannesburg. Of course, Zuma was eager to attend it as the national leader. Speaking at the BRICS’ business forum in China in September 2017, he said that trade between South Africa and other BRICS countries had amounted $31.2 billion and his country expected further growth of trade. Now, South Africa’s interests in the BRICS will be represented by Ramaphosa. Political instability in South Africa during Zuma’s last years as president affected the image of the country and its BRICS chairmanship. Probably, under the new president, South Africa will find a new lease of life in BRICS and cooperation will strengthen. In fact, the new South African leadership is expected to put forward concrete proposals on cooperation within BRICS as well as a broader, renewed vision of the country’s future.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.