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Introducing... Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa

The parliamentary election of Cyril Ramaphosa as President of South Africa in February is the latest attempt by the once-proud African National Congress (ANC) to recover its tattered reputation after decades of corruption and insolence at the top. The ANC-dominated congress chose him to replace the disgraced Jacob Zuma, who reluctantly resigned under a cloud of suspicion.

Ramaphosa is an astute politician who played a key role in the peaceful transition that ended the apartheid system in 1991. He was elected ANC secretary-general that year and then as an MP in 1994. At the centre of the anti-apartheid struggle and trade union politics in South Africa since the 1980s, he was arrested on many occasions.

But these radical days are long gone. At 65, he is now one of South Africa’s richest men who has taken advantage of the ANC’s highly selective ‘black economic empowerment’ policies to garner a fortune. His riches have shifted his loyalties. In 2012, he encouraged decisive police action that resulted in the Marikana massacre of 34 mine workers striking against the Lonmin Mining Corporation – where he was a non-executive director at the time.

Whatever his shortcomings, Ramaphosa is probably the last chance for the older generation of ANC leadership to make good on long-promised equality and justice. To do this, he will need to tackle the tricky question of land ownership by wealthy white farmers. A new generation of activists in the opposition Economic Freedom Party are openly sceptical of both his intentions and ability to achieve this.

Richard Swift

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