10 things you need to know about South Africa’s new President, Cyril Ramaphosa

Just before he settles into steering the country out of its myriad of challenges, here are ten things you need to know about the new South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

The deputy and leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, was on Thursday, inaugurated as the fifth president of the country following the resignation of ex-president Jacob Zuma on Wednesday night.

Here are ten things you need to know about the new leader:

1. Ramaphosa was born on November 17, 1952 in Soweto, an impoverished township in Johannesburg, and obtained a law degree in 1981 through correspondence studies with the University of South Africa, UNISA.

2. His activities as an integral part of the anti-apartheid movement saw him spending time in jail on two occasions in the 1970s. He was arrested in Lebowa, on the charge of organising or planning to take part in a meeting in Namakgale which had been banned by the local magistrate.

3. Ramophosa formed the influential National Union of Mineworkers, NUM, in the 1980s and led some of the country’s biggest strikes, which shook the foundations of the apartheid-era economy.

4. His work as lead negotiator with the outgoing white government of F.W. de Klerk helped end apartheid in 1994.

5. He also helped craft the rainbow nation’s post-apartheid constitution, considered to be one of the most liberal in the world.

6. Ramophosa had hoped to succeed Nelson Mandela, but this hope was dashed when he lost out to Thabo Mbeki in the race to become South Africa’s deputy president under Mandela.

7. Ramaphosa married Tshepo Motsepe, the sister of South Africa’s richest black businessman, Patrice Motsepe.

8. After he couldn’t succeed Mandela as president, Ramaphosa withdrew from the center-stage of politics and started a lucrative career in the private sector. His Shanduka Group acquired stakes in mining firms, a mobile operator and McDonald’s South African franchise.

9. In 2014, he became one of the country’s richest men when he divested from Shanduka, which at the time was worth more than $580 million. His step away from business pursuits was made in a bid to avoid conflicts of interest after Zuma appointed him as South Africa’s deputy president that year.

10. Seen as a problem solver, Ramaphosa led the Southern African Development Community, SADC, delegation that was involved in fixing the political crisis in Lesotho caused by the failed coup attempt in 2014.

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa gave his first speech on Friday.

Ramaphosa said that the country will face “tough decisions” as it works to repair its economy after years of stagnation under the turbulent rule of his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

Hailing a “new dawn” a day after his inauguration, he promised to fight corruption, which had weakened the state-owned enterprises in Africa’s most industrialized economy, and to trim a bloated cabinet.

Ramaphosa said his government was committed to “policy certainty and consistency”, in contrast to Zuma, who was criticized for policy shifts and unpredictable cabinet changes that rocked domestic financial markets and confounded investors.

The leader of the opposition, and head of the Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane, said the president was reading from an old script.

“We could have gotten more bolder action today, but I heard more of the same stuff,” Maimane said.

The 65-year-old was sworn in as head of state on Thursday after Zuma reluctantly resigned on orders of the ANC.

“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions,” Ramaphosa said in his first State of the Nation address.

“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people,” he added.

Ramaphosa’s election as president, which was unopposed in the parliament, has prompted a wave of optimism among South Africans hungry for change after nine years of economic stagnation and corruption scandals. Zuma denies all wrongdoing.

“Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilize our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health,” Ramaphosa said. He promised to make job creation a priority in 2018.

South Africa’s rand ZAR=D3 rallied soon after Ramaphosa started his address, trading near its three-year best.

Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to woo overseas investment.

He thanked Zuma for the way he had approached recent events. Facing waning electoral support for his party, Ramaphosa needs to avoid alienating ANC members still loyal to the 75-year-old former president.

In a direct appeal to poorer black voters – the core of the ANC’s support – Ramaphosa said he would aim to speed up the transfer of land to black people. Two decades after the end of apartheid, the ANC is under pressure to redress racial disparities in land ownership where whites own most of the land.

Ramaphosa said he will pursue a policy of “radical economic transformation” that will speed up expropriation of land without compensation, but said this should be done in a way that increases agricultural production and improves food security.

Ramaphosa said mining had potential for growth and jobs.

“We need to see mining as a sunrise industry,” he said.

South Africa’s mining industry has been a major employer and contributed 7.7 percent to gross domestic product in 2016. The sector also accounts for 25 percent of exports in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

South Africa’s GDP is estimated to grow by around 1 percent this year.


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