The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the leader of South Africa’s African National Congress has been greeted with a fair measure of hope and optimism across the world. He is set to take over as the next President and the implications of the change of guard in Johannesburg are profound. The party that nearly 25 years ago had unshackled the country from the indignities of apartheid is now in a position to check the slide towards corruption and anarchy, indeed the hallmark of Jabob Zuma’s dispensation.
Thus it was that contracts were awarded to cronies and dissenting ruling party activists were murdered almost every day. Mr Ramaphosa is set to ascend the saddle after defeating Mr Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former ANC minister with considerable political experience. If she had won, she would have been expected to protect her former husband from no fewer than 783 charges of corruption, in itself a commentary on Mr Zuma’s presidency. South Africa’s transition from Nelson Mandela to Zuma is testament to the distance the country has reversed. Mr Ramaphosa, therefore, has a formidable task before him when he steps into the presidential palace. A close aide of Mandela, he will be expected to bridge the gulf between the country’s new black elite and its poor.
South Africa languishes as one of the world’s most unequal countries; the inequality is a legacy of the apartheid regime. Indeed, the historical division between man and man has intensified since the eclipse of “institutionalised segregation” in 1994. Not that there have been no reforms to help the poor and fight the aftermath of apartheid; the country’s deepest tragedy must be that race is still a major determinant in terms of income, education, job opportunities and wealth ~ the fundamentals of sustenance. The richest 10 per cent are largely white, and this segment earns more than 60 per cent of the national income and enjoys income levels that are comparable to Europeans. At another remove, 90 per cent of the lower rungs are predominantly blacks who have to eke out a living in dire poverty.
Into this black-and-white quagmire will step in Mr Ramaphosa. His uppermost priority is to boost economic growth and provide jobs and schooling. South Africa will have to contend with a bitter irony ~ it is the continent’s largest economy and yet needs to improve the quality of life generally. Above all, it needs to recover its moral authority, which it had gained at birth but lost in the dubious dealings of the post-apartheid regimes. In a word, the world will expect him to retrieve the optimism that was generated with the end of apartheid, indeed effect a swingback to the better. He will have to address the tragedy of South Africa.