He’s been dubbed over the years as the best leader South Africa never had.
After missing out two decades ago on becoming president, as Nelson Mandela had hoped he would be, Cyril Ramaphosa, 65, finally took power a day after Jacob Zuma resigned following 10 days of sustained pressure from the ruling African National Congress.
Ramaphosa’s election by the National Assembly crowns a career during which he founded the biggest mineworkers’ union, led talks that ended apartheid and produced the nation’s first democratic constitution, and amassed a fortune during a 14-year stint in business.
He was chosen as the ANC’s deputy leader on Zuma’s ticket in 2012, and assured his ascension to the presidency by winning the top party post in December.
“Ramaphosa has always been a deal-maker and a negotiator,” said Zwelethu Jolobe, a political science lecturer at the University of Cape Town. “He isn’t the kind of person who rushes into things. He tends to have a long-term view.”
Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him as president. He’ll need to turn around an economy that’s been hamstrung by years of mismanagement and policy uncertainty, address public outrage over a lack of jobs and tackle the corruption that’s become institutionalized during Zuma’s almost nine-year tenure.
His task will be made all the more difficult by the fact that the ruling party remains deeply divided and Zuma allies occupy several key leadership positions.
For now, investors are giving Ramaphosa the benefit of the doubt. The rand has gained the most of any currency against the dollar since he won control of the ANC on Dec. 18, and business confidence reached its highest level since October 2015 last month amid expectations that he would drive through more pragmatic and predictable policies.
Ramaphosa, who trained as a lawyer, built the National Union of Mineworkers into the country’s largest labor union and under his leadership it staged South Africa’s biggest-ever mining strike in 1987. The ANC elected him as its secretary-general in 1991, and he led the party’s team that negotiated an end to white minority rule.
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