New ANC chief vows to curb graft in South Africa

Man who is likely to be nation's next president plans to woo foreign investors to spur growth


Locals, mostly women, await their turn in a queue at communal taps in Kliptown, a corrugated zinc slum that is home to 45,000 people in Soweto, Johannesburg.

A string of portable toilets along a dusty street grant privacy but also stoke airborne sickness, according to Kliptown Youth Programme co-founder Thando Bezana.

It's a far cry from the neighbouring Eldorado Park and Dlamini townships that hint at the First World. A 40-minute drive to Sandton, Africa's richest square mile, takes you to another world. The contrasts typify South Africa's status as the world's most unequal society.

Official statistics say unemployment rates in Kliptown exceed 70 per cent. This makes the alarming national average, oscillating between 25 per cent and 30 per cent, look decent.

The country now wants to attract foreign investors to help it kick-start economic growth and will crack down on corruption, the new leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said in his first major address to the party at a rally for its 106th anniversary celebrations last Saturday.

"South Africa is open for investment," Mr Cyril Ramaphosa told tens of thousands of cheering ANC members in a stadium in the Eastern Cape province.

"We must have an economy that offers policy certainty and addresses areas that inhibit investment and growth, as well as social inclusion," said the business-friendly lawyer.

Mr Ramaphosa was elected party president last month after a bruising and divisive leadership contest.

Having served as deputy president since 2014, the 65-year-old - whose background includes unionism and business - will become South Africa's next head of state if, as expected, the ANC wins next year's polls. The party once led by Mr Nelson Mandela has won every general election since 1994, the advent of democracy.

"The black majority should be recognised for their role in the economy. If they work in the mines and work the fields they are also entitled to share in the economy," Mr Ramaphosa said.

Race is still an issue here, due to the country's recent past, when classification along such lines governed most spheres of life.

Mr Ramaphosa's win was far from sweet. Factions allied to President Jacob Zuma, whose favoured candidate and former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lost to Mr Ramaphosa, fiercely oppose plans to remove him before his term expires early next year.

Worse, the new chief's anti-graft crusade will pit him against scandal-prone Mr Zuma, but the latter's influence could stoke a split - a scenario which would have serious ramifications for the county's future.

Mr Ramaphosa's campaigner and provincial MP, Mr Jomo Sibiya, derides the topic and defers to the new leader's "unifying" style. Mr Rashied Mohammed, a middle-aged white-collar worker, asserts: "A weak ANC is bad for everyone."

Mr Ramaphosa's to-do list is long. State-owned enterprises are in a shambles. Ratings agencies have cut the country's credit rating status to junk. The rand fell to its long-term worst levels in the past 24 months . More than half of South Africa's population live in poverty.

Despite some good governance, reports of collusion and corruption in business are rife. It will take hard work to fix the country's image as an investment destination and re-unite the ANC, asserts Mr Mohammed.

He feels Mr Ramaphosa's proximity to large firms will boost development but unions expect the opposite, accusing corporations of stifling transformation since 1994.

Mr Sibiya says: "Our people have been living on the margins far too long, there's no dilly-dallying about that."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline New ANC chief vows to curb graft in South Africa. Subscribe