In Depth

Cyril Ramaphosa wins tight ANC leadership vote

Anti-corruption businessman faces steep challenge to unify party and revive South Africa’s flagging economy

Cyril Ramaphosa has been chosen as the next leader of the African National Congress, inheriting a party bitterly divided by a leadership election, insider fighting and corruption allegations.

 Deputy President Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, was elected by a narrow margin, winning by 2,440 votes to 2,261 against President Jacob Zuma’s ex wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former senior minister and party stalwart who had promised “radical economic transformation”.

A former protege and preferred successor of the late Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa is expected to set the direction for the ANC, and probably South Africa, for years to come. Despite problems facing the party, its leader is still expected to become the country’s next president, in 2019.

“The vote is perhaps the most pivotal moment for deeply divided African National Congress since it launched black-majority rule under Nelson Mandela’s leadership 23 years ago,” Reuters says.

The victory of the 65-year-old Ramaphosa, “will come as a relief to those in South Africa who feared populist and potentially divisive policies from Dlamini-Zuma” but will be a “disappointment to those who believe he lacks the will to take measures needed to redistribute wealth and lift millions out of deep poverty”, reports The Guardian.

Given the stakes and wildly opposing visions for the future of South Africa set out by each candidate, it is unsurprising the leadership battle has provoked fierce political infighting and soul-searching within the ranks of the ANC, “raising fears the party may split before then”, reports the BBC.

While Nelson Mandela’s ANC once inspired hope, says The New York Times, many analysts now describe the party as “a shadow of what it once represented - bereft of ideals, roiled by insiders fighting over diminishing spoils, abandoned by a growing list of disillusioned graying party heroes” and synonymous with corruption.

Jacob Zuma's presidency is expected to “limp along” but probably not for the 18 or so months allowed under the electoral schedule, writes Vukani Mde in South African Mail & Guardian newspaper.

“His fate in that arena will be decided in the next few weeks by a combination of factors, including the new ANC leadership, the party’s electoral prospects, various court processes and whatever still has to slither out of the ethical sewer that is the #GuptaLeaks emails,” Mde says.

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