South Africa's new leader vows to crack down on corruption

President Cyril Ramaphosa taking part in the national salute as he arrives to deliver his State of the Nation address in Cape Town on Friday. Among his most pressing priorities will be to select a deputy president and reshuffle the Cabinet.
President Cyril Ramaphosa taking part in the national salute as he arrives to deliver his State of the Nation address in Cape Town on Friday. Among his most pressing priorities will be to select a deputy president and reshuffle the Cabinet.PHOTO: REUTERS

Ramaphosa invokes memory of Mandela as he pledges to revive economy, create jobs

CAPE TOWN • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to revive a flagging economy, restore investor confidence, create millions of new jobs and crack down on the corruption that damaged the country under the rule of his predecessor, Mr Jacob Zuma.

In his first State of the Nation speech on Friday, a day after he was sworn in as the nation's fifth post-apartheid leader, Mr Ramaphosa invoked the memory and message of late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

"We should put behind us the era of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders," Mr Ramaphosa, 65, said in his address to Parliament in Cape Town.

"It is a new dawn that is inspired by our collective memory of Nelson Mandela and the changes that are unfolding… We will build a new nation and confront the injustices of the past and the inequalities of the present."

A lawyer who helped broker an end to white-minority rule and draft South Africa's first democratic Constitution, Mr Ramaphosa took office after winning a power battle with Mr Zuma, whose nine-year tenure was marred by scandal and policy missteps.

With just over a year to go until national elections, he will have to act decisively to convince voters of his determination to rebuild an economy that is expected to expand just 1.4 per cent this year, slash a 27 per cent unemployment rate and tackle endemic corruption.

Among Mr Ramaphosa's most pressing priorities will be to select a deputy president, a post he had occupied since May 2014, and reshuffle the Zuma-appointed Cabinet.

With the national Budget due to be presented to Parliament on Wednesday, investors will be watching to see if he retains Mr Malusi Gigaba as Finance Minister.

"We will be initiating measures to set the country on a new path of growth, employment and transformation," said Mr Ramaphosa, one of the wealthiest black South Africans.

"Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilise our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health."

In his speech, Mr Ramaphosa said his administration would call a summit to discuss ways to create new jobs and address mining rules that have stifled investment.

He also pledged to speed up land redistribution, review the number of government departments and increase access to drugs to treat Aids.

He promised to take decisive action to fix troubled state-owned companies, and also tackle leadership problems at the National Prosecuting Authority.

Mr Ramaphosa won control of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December.

Mr Zuma quit late Wednesday under pressure from the party's new leaders a year before the end of his second term.

Mr Ramaphosa thanked Mr Zuma for the way he had approached recent events.

Facing waning electoral support for his party, Mr Ramaphosa needs to avoid alienating ANC members still loyal to the 75-year-old former president.

Mr Ramaphosa will need to rebuild national cohesion, which was badly eroded under Mr Zuma's rule, and provide greater certainty about mining and land ownership policy, according to Mr Mark Rosenberg, chief executive of geopolitical risk firm GeoQuant.

While Mr Ramaphosa should be able to cement his control over the ANC and the government and ensure it is run more effectively, the task will be formidable, he said.

"This is not going to be an easy transition," Mr Rosenberg said by phone from New York.

"South Africa post-Zuma is a weaker state and a far more divided polity than it was before."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'S. Africa's new leader vows to crack down on corruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe