South Africa’s new ruling-party leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, vowed to fight corruption, revive the struggling economy and restore investor confidence, the latest sign that he’s planning a dramatic shift after years of decline under Jacob Zuma.
“We are resolute in our commitment to make this the year in which we rebuild our movement and turn around the South African economy,” Ramaphosa said in a speech Saturday to mark the 106th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress in the southern city of East London.
“Our vision is an economy that encourages and welcomes investment, offers policy certainty and addresses barriers that inhibit growth and social inclusion.”
Ramaphosa, 65, took over control of the ANC at the party’s national conference on Dec. 18 from Zuma, whose scandal-tainted tenure as the nation’s president has eroded support for the ANC and led to mounting calls from within its ranks to resign.
Speculation has been increasing that Zuma will be toppled before his current terms ends in 2019. Ramaphosa, a lawyer and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, made no reference to taking over the reins of government in his address.
He told the crowd of about 20,000 that the ANC’s new leadership was committed to doing things differently.
“The speech did signify that the Jacob Zuma era was largely over,’’ Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy said by phone in Cape Town.
“Ramaphosa succeeded in delivering a message of renewal, which will clearly be the ANC’s message over the next year.”
The central bank projects economic growth of just 1.2% this year after the economy went through a recession in 2017, but Ramaphosa said on the campaign trail that he’s targeting 3% expansion.
The economy has “been severely undermined by corruption and state capture, institutional instability, policy inconsistency, poor performance of state-owned enterprises and a sense of drift within the ANC,” he said.
“We need to work with urgency and seriousness to address these challenges.”
The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma, 75, took office in May 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him.
He’s spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he oversaw “state capture” by allowing members of the Gupta family to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.
Zuma was booed when he arrived at Saturday’s rally.
The challenges at state companies “have been exacerbated by state capture, through which billions of rand have been illegally diverted to individuals,” Ramaphosa said.
“Governance of these state-owned enterprises has been severely weakened and confidence in the public sector generally has been undermined.”
Zuma announced on Tuesday that he will appoint a commission of inquiry into allegations that the Gupta family was allowed to influence state decisions, abiding by a court-ruling which ordered him to do so.
The ANC welcomes the announcement, Ramaphosa said.
“We shall confront corruption and state capture in all the forms and manifestations that these scourges assume,” he said. “The investigation and prosecution of those responsible will be given top priority.”
Other main points from Ramaphosa’s speech include:
- Efforts to address racial inequality will be increased The National Development Plan, the government’s economic blueprint, will guide efforts to rebuild the economy and ensure all South Africans benefit from it
- The country needs modernization and structural changes in mining, manufacturing, agriculture and finance
- The ANC needs to form a social pact between government, labor, business and communities to reignite economic growth, create jobs and and accelerate transformation
- Free tertiary education will be provided to students from households earning less than 350,000 rand a month, starting from this year
- There will be a new approach to regulation and licensing in the financial sector to ensure diversified ownership and competition
- The role, mandate and independence of the central bank has been reaffirmed, but the government must make proposals to ensure ownership reverts from private shareholders to the state
- The ANC will pursue the expropriation of land without compensation and will do so in a manner that meets the constitutional requirement of redress and also promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security
- Urgent action is needed to improve the management and performance of state companies, a number of which are in financial distress and pose a threat to the state’s finances