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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Welcome Mr. Ramaphosa

On February 15, 2018, less than 24hrs after Mr Jacob Zuma stepped down, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as the fifth President of democratic South Africa. Following years of a scandal-ridden tenure, Zuma finally bowed to both immense public as well as internal party pressure and resigned from his post, leaving the remainder of his term to his vice-president and the current head of the African National Congress (ANC).

But who is Cyril Ramaphosa? A long-time ANC member and a close friend and advisor of the late and great Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa has spent times in various positions, from anti-Apartheid activist to union representative. He played a prominent role in writing the democratic Constitution of 1994, was the ANC’s chief negotiator during the transition period, served as ANC General Secretary in the early 90’s, became a member of parliament in 1994, and following his campaign failure for Presidency of South Africa in 1997 to Thabo Mbeki, he moved to the private sector where he enjoyed an astronomically successful career. He is currently one of the wealthiest men in South Africa, with an estimated wealth of $450 million. There are allegations of using party connections to help lubricate some of his business deals, but no links have been proven and to this day no charges have been levelled against him. A skilled negotiator, his talent as a mediator has served him well. Mr Ramaphosa is respected internationally, both politically and financially, with many connections to international governments and business. In 2007 he returned to politics and was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee and again began to move up through the ranks. In 2012, he was elected vice-president of the ANC and in 2014, President Zuma instated him as vice-president of South Africa. In this role, he has largely made a name for himself in calling for national unity by urging all parties to look towards the future of South Africa, and by calling out the government and the ANC itself for major corruption issues, calling it one of the biggest obstacles to the South African economy. He was, however, strangely silent in the corruption scandals surrounding the then president, Mr Jacob Zuma.

Perhaps he was biding his time, as in December 2017 Mr Ramaphosa was elected head of the ANC, in a tightly contested battle between himself and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife. The election was so hotly contested, in fact, that it nearly split the party in two and publicly shown itself to be deeply divided, a development surely noted by all other parties. Barely two months later, Mr Ramaphosa has been sworn in as the fifth president of South Africa, an interim post until general elections are held in 2019. With public trust of the ANC at an all-time low, and with deep party divides, President Ramaphosa has a near gargantuan task ahead of him. If public perception of the liberating party, one of Africa’s oldest, continues at the current rate then success in general elections are no longer guaranteed. The task of the new president will be to unite his party, prove to the public that he and his brand of politics are trustworthy, rebuild the failed economy, improve national education, reduce the fiscal and social divide across the country, and tackle state-wide corruption at every level. And all this in the next twelve to eighteen months, if he wants to keep his post and follow his rhetoric of taking South Africa to the heights it deserves. No small task, even for a man of his impressive negotiating skills and business and political savvy.

As a South African male in his twenties, I truly do hope that Ramaphosa can live up to his word. I am not alone in the disillusionment of my country’s politics, the exodus of young (and old) South Africans across the globe is a testament to how the ANC has failed extraordinarily to fulfil the promises it made so convincingly all those years ago. Loss of job prospects, lack of social safety and security, a failed economy, widespread corruption and general ineptitude has led me to seek a better life elsewhere and I know that I am not the only one. If South Africa wants its life back, and I desperately would love an excuse to return home, then Ramaphosa needs to turn his party and his country around. I wish him the best of luck. All South Africans everywhere need it.

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