South Africa: New President and Changes in the Political Life

Late in the evening of February 14, 2018, South African President Jacob Zuma publicly announced his resignation. This step was preceded by dramatic events – a conflict within the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), between his supporters and opponents, caused primarily by corruption scandals related directly to Zuma.

Criticism against Jacob Zuma intensified after the unsuccessful performance of the ANC in the August 2016 local elections and especially after the publication of the report by South Africa’s ombudsman on the “state capture.” The report mentioned illegal actions of persons close to the president, first of all, Gupta brothers, immigrants from India, who used state structures for profiteering and even interfered in the appointment of the cabinet members.

An ANC conference took place on December 16-20, 2017, and Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s deputy in the party, was elected as the new ANC president, although Zuma himself did not support his candidacy. This was followed by louder calls for his voluntary resignation, because with Zuma remaining president, the chances of the ANC to win the forthcoming general elections in 2019 would be weakened. Since Zuma refused to “leave in an amicable way,” the ANC National Executive Committee was forced to take a decision on his “recall” from the office. However, Zuma continued to delay its implementation and agreed to do so only after the February 15 parliamentary debate on no-confidence vote against him, which was to be supported by both the opposition and his own party.

In accordance with the South African Constitution, Cyril Ramaphosa immediately became the country’s acting president. The election of the new president should be held within 30 days, but the day after Zuma’s resignation, the National Assembly voted unanimously to elect Ramaphosa as the country’s president, although in absence of deputies from the Fighters for Economic Freedom leftist populist party, which demanded to dissolve the parliament.

Cyril Ramaphosa outlined his government’s program next day in his state-of-the-nation address. In essence, it corresponds to the decisions of the December ANC conference, which presume “radical economic transformation,” including the possibility of land expropriation without compensation from big landlords, but without damage to the economy and food security.

There is no reason to believe that after Ramaphosa’s election there will be significant changes in South Africa’s foreign policy, although with less “anti-imperialist” rhetoric that was characteristic of the previous president. There is no doubt that the preparations for the BRICS summit, scheduled for July 25-27 in Johannesburg, are already underway. An extensive program of events is developed for the period of South Africa’s presidency in this association.

As for the economic situation in South Africa, it is fairly stable, although last year’s growth rate hardly exceeded 1%, instead of 5%, stipulated by the National Development Plan. Zuma’s resignation has already led to the strengthening of the South African rand rate and decrease the government bond rates. We can expect that the leading international rating agencies will increase the country’s rating, which went down precisely because of political uncertainty.

The main and urgent task facing the new president is fighting corruption, which has already begun. For example, an arrest warrant was issued for one of the Gupta brothers, who is hiding from the police.

In conclusion, we can say that Cyril Ramaphosa is by no means a novice in the political life of South Africa. Although for a number of years he was engaged primarily in business, he was chairman of the Constitutional Assembly, which worked out and adopted the democratic constitution of the country in 1996. Earlier, in 1991, Ramaphosa, then the founder and leader of the miners’ trade union, was elected Secretary General of the ANC. Moreover, he was second to Nelson Mandela in the ANC list during the first democratic elections in 1994 and only at the last moment it was decided that it would be not him, but Thabo Mbeki who would take the post of the ANC deputy president. If this had not happened, he would have had all chances of becoming president of South Africa after Mandela in 1999.

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