South Africa ANC election: Cyril Ramaphosa replaces Jacob Zuma as new party leader after tight race

The former trade union boss won 51.8 per cent following race against former health minister and ex-wife of the current President

Caroline Mortimer
Monday 18 December 2017 17:56 GMT
Cyril Ramaphosa elected as ANC president

Cyril Ramaphosa has been elected as the new leader of South Africa‘s ruling ANC (African National Congress) party after a tense battle with his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

This means the current deputy president is likely to succeed his boss, Jacob Zuma, as president when his term expires in 2019.

His election came at the end of a gruelling campaign that risked splitting the party in two as factions loyal to him and Ms Dlamini-Zuma, became embroiled in fierce infighting with lawsuits filed by both sides and even physical clashes.

In the end Mr Ramaphosa won 51.8 per cent of the vote, with 2,440 of the 4,708 delegates favouring the former trade union boss turned millionaire businessman.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma won 2,261 votes. A total of 4,776 attended the conference in Johannesburg but 68 either abstained from voting or spoilt their ballots.

The vote was originally due to be announced around 5pm local time (3pm GMT) but was reportedly held up after Ms Dlamini-Zuma requested a recount, News24 reported.

The vote is likely to worry Mr Zuma as he is currently facing 783 criminal charges, mostly related to corruption, and Mr Ramaphosa – who campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket – has suggested in the past that he may force him to step down early.

Mr Zuma is most notorious for his connection to the Gupta family, who are accused of exploiting their connection with him to have undue influence over the government.

Critics have accused brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta of trying to “capture the state” to advance their business interests, and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said a member of the family had offered to promote him in 2015.

Many speculated that if Ms Dlamini-Zuma, a former health minister and chair of the African Union Commission, were to win she would protect her ex-husband from criminal prosecution.

Defeated candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Getty) (Getty Images)

Indeed many regarded the 68-year-old as something of a “continuity candidate” whose policies were criticised for looking backwards.

She has favoured a vague ANC pledge to introduce a “radical economic transformation”, which will see a greater redistribution of wealth to the black majority.

But Mr Ramaphosa, who helped draft the country’s 1996 constitution, has pledged to focus on corruption and reduce unemployment.

The 65-year-old is seen as the better choice for the country’s economy.

When the rumours emerged that his victory was imminent, the value of the South African Rand surged on international money markets.

Several international credit rating agencies said the political instability surrounding the succession was a major factor in their decision to cut the South African credit rating to “junk” earlier this year.

Chris Vandome, a South Africa analyst at Chatham House, told The Independent that the poor state of the economy is the biggest issue facing the country but the party has been subsumed by in-fighting – leaving a “policy vacuum” at the top.

“The South African economy is still very unequal and it is still very racialised” and has “not really recovered from the 2007-08 financial crisis,” he said.

Under Mr Zuma’s watch, unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, has remained high and the lives of the poor black majority have not improved as dramatically as many would like.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Vandome said Mr Ramphosa could be a boon to the economy regardless of what he did as the “international markets would react positively” to his election because he is seen as a successful businessman. This could increase the foreign direct investment the country needs to develop.

Mr Ramaphosa’s election is seen as a turning point for the party as, although the ANC remains the dominant force in South African politics – having ruled the country for 23 years since the end of apartheid – its influence is on the wane.

The ANC’s popularity stems from the role its leaders played in ending white minority rule and many have continued to place their trust in the veterans of their fight for freedom.

But South African voters – particularly younger people who do not remember the old white minority regime – are growing increasingly tired of untouchable politicians enriching themselves while they suffer high levels of poverty and unemployment.

During last year’s local elections the ANC only polled 54 per cent – its worst result since 1994.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has been growing in popularity since it was founded in 2000 and now controls the local government in Western Cape, one of the country’s nine provinces.

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