Cyril Ramaphosa wiped tears from his eyes moments after his election as leader of South Africa’s ruling party — a reflection of his arduous journey to the pinnacle of power and possibly of what lies ahead.
Many South Africans are relieved at the prospect of one of their brightest political minds possibly replacing the scandal-plagued president, Jacob Zuma. But the final step won’t be easy. To capture the presidency, Ramaphosa would need Zuma to step down voluntarily or to be ordered out by the fractious African National Congress.
And then there’s Zuma’s mess. The economy is moribund, one in four people are out of work, corruption riddles state institutions, and a divided ruling party faces a real threat of losing power in 2019 elections.
But don’t count Ramaphosa out.
The man who became the ANC’s top negotiator in talks to end apartheid is nothing if not resilient. After the party blocked his bid to succeed Nelson Mandela — even though he was Mandela’s preferred heir — he went into business to become one of the richest black South Africans. And just to win the ANC presidency, he had to beat Zuma’s candidate — his ex-wife — a feat few thought possible.