His likely successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, will be the last of the liberation generation to rule this young countryby Gerry Lynch / February 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
Cyril Ramaphosa, leader since December of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), which has governed the country since its transition to genuine democracy in 1994, made his name as a superlative trade union lawyer and organiser in the 1980s. He not only forced workplace concessions from the country’s powerful mining magnates for the black majority of their employees, but later was instrumental in sealing the deal on political transition with the apartheid-era White political elite.
His approach to negotiations has always been patient: he has been willing to concede on many minor matters to secure big goals. This has been on display as he seeks to displace his predecessor as party leader, Jacob Zuma, from the presidency, well in advance of a general election to be held in mid-2019.
Zuma’s nine-year tenure as South Africa’s president now seems likely to end in a matter of days or even hours, perhaps as soon as today’s meeting of the ANC’s party executive.
There comes a point in a contested transfer of power when the centre of gravity moves from the incumbent to the incomer; that point seems to have been reached. Previous Zuma allies, who backed his preferred successor and ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the closely fought party leadership election have been declaring their support for Ramaphosa in recent days.
Zuma, dogged for many years by credible allegations of gross corruption, is fighting fiercely to obtain immunity from prosecution and security for his family as his price for going quickly.
If elected, Ramaphosa will be the fifth ANC President of South Africa, all of them intimately involved in the liberation struggle. He has waited a long time for the top job; he was most people’s favourite to succeed Nelson Mandela in the 1990s but lost out to the cerebral returned exile Thabo Mbeki in internal elections.
That old defeat displays perhaps the weakest side of the Ramaphosa package: for all his undoubted negotiating skills, he has not always been an effective campaigner with the party’s robustly vocal grassroots members.