The emergence of Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa as the new President of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa is in many respects a new dawn for the Rainbow country, the African continent and, indeed, the black race. In a very keenly contested election, Ramaphosa defeated Mrs. Nkosazama Dlamini-Zuma, the estranged wife of President Jacob Zuma, by 2,440 to 2,261 votes. The margin of victory was only 179 votes. We congratulate Ramaphosa on his landmark victory and we have implicit confidence that he will rise to the great occasion. In many ways too, the election was a referendum on Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
Ramaphosa’s election as leader of the ANC is a breath of fresh air for South Africa. The incumbent president, Jacob Zuma, has largely set the country on the reverse gear with his numerous personal scandals, corruption charges and general misgovernance. He left the nation tottering on the brink for long periods of his ten-year leadership. Even now, he has over 200 charges against him waiting to be vacated, and he was only spared humiliation by the close outcome of the contest.
To be sure, Ramaphosa’s rival in the contest, Dlamini-Zuma, has her rich antecedents and could have won the contest on her own steam. A former cabinet minister, former Deputy President of South Africa and the immediate past Chairperson of the African Union Commission, she could not have come better prepared for office. It was no surprise, therefore, that the elections were hotly contested and even threatened to split the legacy party.
We are relieved, however, that in the end, the people spoke and democracy prevailed. Ramaphosa and the new ANC leadership now have the urgent task of uniting the ranks of the party and, more importantly, restoring the ANC to its former glory of the Nelson Mandela era. The ANC has never been without strong challenges to its leadership, but it has always stood firm on principles and its direction, and provided the platform for which the fight against one of the worst affronts on humanity-apartheid- was fought and totally defeated.
Ramaphosa canvassed for office on the mantra of building an all-inclusive South Africa, fighting corruption and greatly improving the economy. These are three major improvements that Zuma could not bring. We believe that Ramaphosa has the pedigree and passion to achieve these objectives. His antecedents go way back. Seeing his growing rivalry with the then Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, to succeed him, Mandela, the wizened old man of the apartheid struggles, cleverly manipulated Ramaphosa into the business world.
Ramaphosa’s brief was to go in and master the turbulent business world and provide leadership for the emerging black business community in a thoroughly white-dominated economy. The verdict was that the new ANC leader acquitted himself very well, even if attempts were made to taint him in a corruption scandal. Ramaphosa emerged from all that a leading business guru and multi-billionaire on the African continent, climbing up the global index.
It is these rich antecedents that he is expected to bring to bear on his new office. As ANC leader, it is a matter of course that he would most probably become the next president in succession to Zuma, come elections in 2019. This should not be viewed as a minus for the level of democracy in South Africa, but rather as a testament to the veritable platform that the ANC is for the mass mobilisation of the ordinary people of the country, irrespective of colour and class differences, to produce the leaders of the country. The ANC, established in 1912, is the iconic representation of a people’s rejection of subjugation and slavery, culminating in the emergence of popular and participatory democracy with Nelson Mandela as its first protagonist.
So, the ANC is more than a party, in that sense. It is truly a mass movement of the people and the very essence of their lives. Ramaphosa must be aware of this rare heritage which has now become his to propel and ensure that he does not disappoint on his promises and mandate.
South Africa’s success is a success for Africa. The rainbow country, along with Nigeria and Egypt, has become a barometer by which political progress on the continent is largely measured by the outside world. This is the importance which these three countries hold for the rest of the continent.
Nigeria should borrow a leaf or two from the recent events in South Africa, so that the growing culture of democracy on the continent can be deepened and spread everywhere that its light has not reached.