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Finally, Some Good News from South Africa

South Africa’s foundering ANC party may have received a shot in the arm: Cyril Ramaphosa, a former union leader and respected businessman who helped draft South Africa’s first democratic constitution, has been elected deputy president of the party.

Ramaphosa has mostly kept out of politics in recent years, concentrating on growing a vast business empire. By reentering politics as party deputy, he is in now in a position to take over for President Jacob Zuma when he eventually steps down. If Ramaphosa does take the top spot, his knowledge of South Africa’s business and economic climate could revamp the ANC’s image, as the FT explains:

The hope will be that the election of Mr Ramaphosa as Mr Zuma’s deputy in the party will add credibility to the ANC, improve relations with the private sector and help provide greater direction to the administration.

“The problem of the ANC’s moral ambiguity and ambivalence towards democratic values, perceived or real, may be offset by the election of Cyril,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst. “At first he can make a difference as his election offers an opportunity for business and the ANC to find each other, whether they will both see it as a window of opportunity to be exploited remains to be seen.”

If Ramaphosa works out, he could break the pattern of each new South African president since Mandela being less inspiring than the one before (Mbeki and Zuma). A third step down in this race to the bottom would be a disaster, but Ramaphosa inspires considerably more confidence than those who came before him.

A Ramaphosa presidency would not be without risks. He is a symbol to many of the split fortunes of the majority after the end of apartheid, in which a small black middle and upper class emerged while the vast majority saw few if any economic benefits. Ramaphosa, whose large business empire makes him one of the wealthiest blacks in South Africa, is the personification of that phenomenon, and so he may be resented by a sizable chunk of the population.

But if the ANC rallies behind him, and if he can prove himself as an effective economic leader, then South Africa could make a lot of progress. In any case, there are more grounds for optimism about the future of South Africa today than there were last week.

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