Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, has a tenuous hold on power in the party after his allies fell short of securing outright control over its top leadership body.
A lack of support from a clear majority of the 86 voting members of the ANC’s National Executive Committee will limit his scope to drive policy changes and assert his authority over President Jacob Zuma, whose second term as the nation’s leader ends in 2019. The NEC is the ANC’s highest decision-making body in between its five-yearly national conferences.
The faction led by the candidate he beat in the presidential race, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, probably has the loyalty of about 45 of the 86 NEC’s voting members, said Xolani Dube, a political analyst at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development in the port city of Durban.
“Cyril is a very compromised president,” Dube said Thursday by phone. “He is not running the administration of the ANC. He has got a serious problem.”
The executive committee’s composition will constrain the ability of Ramaphosa, the nation’s deputy president, to focus the government’s agenda on promoting economic growth, creating jobs and cracking down on corruption. His victory over Dlamini-Zuma for the party presidency was by the smallest margin since the ANC came to power in 1994, and only two of the other top five officials elected with him are considered certain allies.
The rand weakened as much as 0.5% before trading little changed at 12.7161 per dollar by 4:50 p.m. in Johannesburg, bringing its gain for the past week to 6.2%.
Yet, Ramaphosa’s ability to deal with Zuma and his allies shouldn’t be underestimated, according to Robert Schrire, a political science professor at the University of Cape Town.
“The power of the ANC presidency, the bandwagon effect and individual calculations have all changed. And the scope of new deals is vast,” he said. “So given that in large measure Jacob Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma are yesterday’s figures, the paradigm has shifted as well.”
In his first speech as ANC president in the early hours of Thursday, Ramaphosa pledged a crack down on graft, which has become increasingly rife during Zuma’s almost nine-year administration.
“Corruption has to come to a stop and it must happen with immediate effect,” Ramaphosa said. “We must confront the reality that critical institutions of our state have been targeted by individuals and families.”
The nation’s graft ombudsman indicated that members of the Gupta family, who are friends with Zuma and are in business with his son, had been allowed to influence the awarding of cabinet posts and state contracts. Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.
Ramaphosa didn’t directly link Zuma to wrongdoing in his speech, and instead thanked him for his service to the ANC.
He reiterated the party’s resolutions to implement “radical” economic policies to give the black majority a bigger stake in the economy and provide free tertiary education to some students. He affirmed the party’s decision to seize land without compensation to speed up land reform, but said it would only be done in a responsible manner that didn’t harm the economy, agricultural production or food security.
“We must ensure that we do not undermine the economy,” he said.
Ramaphosa will need all his skills to negotiate the sometimes perilous eddies of ANC policies.
The lawyer, who co-founded the biggest mining workers union, led negotiations to end apartheid and became one of the richest black South Africans. He also played an important role in the Northern Ireland peace process, carrying out secret inspections of Irish Republican Army arms dumps with former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari that helped to push negotiations forward.
Among his backers elected to the NEC were former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who’s dismissal by Zuma in March drew a rare public rebuke from Ramaphosa and resulted in the nation losing its investment-grade status with two ratings companies for the first time in 17 years.
Dlamini-Zuma, the former wife of Zuma, also secured election to the committee, alongside Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba and former central bank Governor Tito Mboweni, who appeared on her faction’s list.
“He will have to negotiate with some people from the camp that opposed him, but he has to do that in an authentic way,” Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst based in Johannesburg, said of Ramaphosa. “He is a man between a very angry nation and a very frustrated political party. He can’t abandon either.”
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