South Africa’s ANC picks Cyril Ramaphosa as leader in defiance of president Jacob Zuma

New leader.
New leader.
Image: Reuters/Paul Childs
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South Africa’s ruling ANC party has selected what will likely be the country’s next president: businessman and former political stalwart Cyril Ramaphosa.

The vote for Ramaphosa at the ANC’s national conference in Johannesburg was a stinging rebuke for the country’s president (and now former ANC president) Jacob Zuma, who had picked his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as his successor. The ANC has received a majority of the vote in general elections since the end of apartheid in 1994. Barring a significant uptick in support for opposition parties, or other political drama within the ANC, Ramaphosa is now positioned to become president after the next elections in 2019.

Ramaphosa, 65, is a former union activist-turned-businessman who made millions after democracy opened up South Africa’s markets to the world. An ANC veteran, he was elected by Jacob Zuma to serve as deputy president in 2014. His vocal criticism of government corruption likely gave him the edge over Dlamini-Zuma during their campaign.

Dlamini-Zuma is an accomplished politician who has served several roles in South African government and was most recently the first female chairperson of the ANC. But she struggled to separate herself from Zuma, despite the fact that the couple have been divorced for almost two decades. Many South Africans were concerned that if elected president, she would protect Zuma from any corruption-related investigations, and let the corrupt and patriarchal practices established during his two-term presidency rule go unchallenged. 

Ramaphosa is not entirely scandal free. South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has accused Ramaphosa of being complicit in corruption. “Ramaphosa has stood in Jacob Zuma’s shadow for years, silent in the face of his crimes and the crimes of fellow ANC comrades. His election means that the corrupt system that is oppressing South Africans will continue,” they said in reaction to the vote.