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Ramaphosa battles to unite ANC

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ANC members celebrate after South African Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), December 18, 2017 Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

After winning the battle to lead South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, Cyril Ramaphosa now begins an uphill struggle to get the party in order for the 2019 election. His victory brings an end to President Jacob Zuma's troubled leadership of the former liberation movement but doesn't heal its internal divisions.


"It's a big personal victory for him," Khaya Sithole, a political analyst from Johannesburg told RFI on Tuesday.

Cyril Ramaphosa has been building up for this moment for about 30 years, he said.

"It's taken him much longer than most of us would have thought it would take him to become the president of the ANC." A long-awaited victory which Sithole reckons could backfire on him.

"He takes over the ANC at a very difficult time, especially when the party is facing a lot more competition out there, so it's going to be a difficult challenge for him to maintain its hegemony."

The challenge is also within.

"The ANC went into its 54th Congress very divided," says Nompumelelo Runji, another political analyst in Johannesburg.

Two distinct factions emerged from that congress where Ramaphosa was elected: one represented by Cyril Ramaphosa, the other by President Jacob Zuma's ex-wife Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma.

The top six positions of the ANC's national executive are split evenly between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.

With Cyril Ramaphosa are:

  • Gwede Mantashe (chairperson)
  • Paul Mashatile (treasurer general)

With Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are:

  • David Mabuza (deputy president)
  • Ace Magashule (secretary general)
  • Jessie Duarte (deputy secretary general)

"It shows that the call for unity was heeded," reckons Runji, referring to the pressure put by President Zuma for the party to remain united.

Factionalism has been ingrained in the party since the 52nd conference in Polokwane, which first saw Zuma take the helm of the African National Congress.

"At every conference since then, we've seen a breakaway party," says Runji, "so I think that’s what the ANC was trying to avoid with this kind of composition.”

Tackling corruption

Three out of the six : David Mabuza, Ace Magashule and Jessie Duarte however are likely to thwart Ramaphosa's plans to clean up the ANC; all have been linked to corruption and state capture, much like President Jacob Zuma himself.

"Unless Ramaphosa is able to reach some kind of compromise and understanding with Magashule and Mabuza it will be very difficult for him to carry out this clean-up project of his he has in mind," comments Runji.

And the opposition will be looking to pounce on the slightest whiff of compromise, especially in the lead-up to the 2019 election.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party has long accused the ANC of being "held together by the glue of patronage and corruption".

"If Ramaphosa is unable to act decisively against this group," adds Runji, "it will compromise his own credibility, which is already compromised by the fact that he served with Jacob Zuma in the first place."

Ramaphosa is currently South Africa’s deputy president and many observers accuse him of not doing more to confront Zuma beforehand.

Forgetting women

The ANC's internal woes aside, Ramaphosa also has to appeal to the rest of the country.

If we look at his profile, he's an ex-trade union leader turned millionaire business man.

Although he appeals to the markets--the South African rand was up after his win was announced on Monday--he's seen as out of touch with ordinary black South Africans, who still suffer from poor housing and unequal opportunities.

The former anti-apartheid activist is thus under pressure to give hope to South Africans, but there was also disappointment that the ANC leadership vote saw only one woman elected to the top six.

"It's very regressive in nature that you have potentially another ten year period where you can only have one woman represented in the most important leadership structure of the party," states Khaya Sithole.

The ANC has long advocated for a 50-50 representation so that women should make up half of the leadership position.

"I think there are valid concerns about how the ANC thinks it can lead society when it's not even able to implement its own resolutions related to gender parity."

Some blame this lack of gender parity on the ANC Women's League.

It staked all of its bets on Zuma's ex-wife Dlamini-Zuma becoming the ANC leader, "but had no other strategy other than that," adds Sithole, who predicts a long period of soul-searching for the ANC Women's League into what precisely went wrong.