Special Briefing: A New Leader for South Africa

Special Briefing: A New Leader for South Africa

South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said the country needs sensitive and competent leaders to deliver to the needs of the people.

SourceMoeletsi Mabe/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty

Why you should care

Because more than two decades out from apartheid, South Africa is still a nation defined by race and economic inequality.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.


What happened? Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), was elected by Parliament as South Africa’s president on Thursday. Jacob Zuma finally submitted to the ANC’s formal resignation demand after a lengthy struggle to retain power. After becoming president, Ramaphosa, 65, told the nation, “Our intent is to continue to improve the lives of our people.”

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Supporters of Ramaphosa sing and dance outside the South African general assembly in Cape Town to celebrate his official election as president on Feb. 15, 2018.


Why does it matter? Ramaphosa’s ascension signals a potential turning point for the country. Zuma’s nine years in office have been marked by a string of corruption scandals, erosion of public trust and a declining economy. Ramaphosa was once a labor leader and a protégé of Nelson Mandela before becoming one of the nation’s wealthiest men. Now the business tycoon–turned–politician must convince a skeptical public that he will fight for South Africa’s ordinary citizens.


From populist to patron. Jacob Zuma, who staked his reputation on being the “people’s president,” was a charismatic departure from the often aloof President Thabo Mbeki when he came to power in 2009. And while his personality and charm helped launch him to the forefront of the ANC, critics argue it was political cunning and a system of patronage that kept him in power (and made him very rich).

A corrupting influence. Zuma’s middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, translates to “one who smiles while causing you harm.” And a long string of corruption allegations have trailed Zuma for years, from 783 counts of fraud over a multibillion-dollar arms deal to the $20 million of public money he used to make lavish upgrades to his home. Still, before this week, Zuma had survived eight motions of no-confidence and presided over 12 Cabinet reshuffles. The upshot? Zuma’s corrupt reign in many ways has helped reinvigorate civil society and boost South African opposition parties.

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Former South African President Jacob Zuma inspects the troops at the ceremonial welcome on Horseguards Parade, as part of a three-day state visit to London in March 2010.

Source Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty

A nation in turmoil … As Ramaphosa takes office, he now faces a government, and nation, in disarray. Four million people in the city of Cape Town could run out of water in a few months thanks in part to public mismanagement. The nation’s unemployment rate is around 30 percent and economic inequality is severe.

… gets a promise of radical change. Around 95 percent of the country’s wealth is owned by 10 percent of the population, and whites earn about five times more than Blacks. Ramaphosa has promised “radical economic transformation” including transfers of land to black South Africans, as well as a crackdown on corruption.

Election uncertainty. The South African people will get to formally weigh in on Ramaphosa’s performance during next year’s elections, which could be the first time the ANC loses power since 1994 and the end of apartheid — although still a long shot. The party lost major cities, including the capital, in 2016 local elections. And if the party fractures, it would be in even bigger trouble against opposition parties like the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters.


“The Brothers Who Bought South Africa,” by Matthew Campbell and Franz Wild in Bloomberg.

“[P]revious examples of state capture have almost always involved a broad cast of protagonists: an entire industry, for example, or wealthy businessmen as a group. In South Africa, it may have been pulled off by a single family.”

“How Zuma lost control — and the people who let him down,” by Ray Hartley in the Sunday Times.

“It is hard to believe now, but with Zuma’s election came optimism.”


South African President Jacob Zuma Resigns ‘With Immediate Effect.’

“No leader should stay behind the time determined by the people they serve.

Watch on TIME on YouTube:

Watch South Africans react with varying emotions to Zuma’s resignation.

“Since he’s been in office, nothing works in South Africa. Thank God he’s gone.”

Watch on SABC on YouTube:


An increase in investor confidence will likely follow Ramaphosa becoming president of South Africa. The currency surged by more than 4 percent when he was elected party president. When Zuma stepped down, it reached its highest value in three years.

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