Lawmakers in South Africa celebrated in Cape Town this week when
was sworn in as the country’s fifth post-apartheid president. The ascension of Mr. Ramaphosa marks the end of the nine-year
era, which few South Africans will mourn.
The charismatic Mr. Zuma, a former African National Congress (ANC) militant who spent a decade imprisoned with
moved his party notably to the left. He expanded government, blew out the public fisc and treated the state like his personal fiefdom. Investors fled and crime and corruption soared. The country’s GDP is estimated to have grown less than 1% last year, even while global growth was improving, and the jobless rate is 26.7%.
Mr. Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old businessman and among the wealthiest men in Africa, aims to reverse these dispiriting trends. He promised Thursday to govern with “humility” and “dignity,” but he’ll face dissent within the ANC. Mr. Zuma populated the party’s senior leadership with supporters who favor a populist program of “radical economic transformation,” including expropriation of property without compensation. Check how nearby Zimbabwe fared under
to see how that turns out.
Mr. Ramaphosa, who won a close election in December to lead the ANC, seems to understand that he’s walking a fine political line. He’s promised a program of “moral renewal” and on Friday vowed to pursue “higher levels of economic growth and investment,” while promising higher-education subsidies and support for state-owned enterprises, nods to the reform and anti-reform wings of the party.
The problem for Mr. Ramaphosa is that the ANC’s goals of growth and equity aren’t mutually achievable in the near term, or even desirable. What South Africa needs is the perception and reality of honest governance along with economic reform to encourage investment and create jobs for millions of restless youth.
The new president will also have to work quickly to tackle graft, which infects every corner of the economy. A recent Gallup poll found 85% of South Africans perceive government corruption to be “widespread.” Mr. Zuma has faced corruption allegations for years and they were among the reasons he resigned under pressure from the ANC. The party was also jolted by losses in municipal elections in 2016, and national elections are scheduled for next year.
South Africa’s democratic institutions survived the Zuma era, but its economy is teetering. Mr. Ramaphosa will benefit from relief that the long Zuma melodrama is over, but his honeymoon will be short.
Appeared in the February 17, 2018, print edition.