South Africa’s New President, Ramaphosa Faces Huge Task

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, takes over a country where post-apartheid optimism has been replaced by anger over continuing racial inequality, dire poverty and mass unemployment.

Here are some of the many challenges that await him:

At the heart of South Africa’s economic troubles is a 28-percent unemployment rate. Under an expanded definition that includes people who have given up seeking work, the figure is 36 percent.

Even more shocking is the youth unemployment rate — 55 percent in the second half of last year.

South Africa is the continent’s most-industrialised economy, but the severe lack of jobs fuels tension in many poor black townships and rural areas. There, many citizens are sorely disappointed by the lack of progress since the end of white-minority rule.

Ramaphosa is likely to seek to boost foreign investment partly through reforms to regulations controlling ownership of the mining sector, a key national industry.
Low growth

The struggle to create jobs is hampered by an economy that grew just 1.6 percent a year under Zuma. Analyst say more than five percent a year is required to reverse the unemployment crisis.

Drought, low commodity prices and weak demand for exports have all taken their toll, as well as government graft and policy missteps under ousted president Jacob Zuma.

The World Bank predicts just 1.1 percent growth in 2019 — below the country’s population growth rate and therefore increasing poverty per capita.

Low growth has also increased the budget deficit. The nation’s debt was last year downgraded to junk status by the Standard & Poor’s and Fitch ratings agencies.
Corruption culture

Allegations of corruption piled up against Zuma and his associates, particularly the Gupta family who are accused of buying influence and even being able to name cabinet ministers.

Uprooting South Africa’s widespread culture of graft will be a years-long challenge, for patronage networks are embedded deep in politics and business.

Ramaphosa starts his administration with a government that includes Zuma’s closest allies, some of whom are accused of corruption. A major clearout may be expected in the coming weeks.

A key test could be the potential prosecution of Zuma on graft charges over 783 payments he allegedly received in connection with arms deals before he became president.

The charges are likely to come to court and could even see Zuma eventually sent to jail.

Zuma is also likely to be summoned before an commission of inquiry into allegations of corruption surrounding his dealings with the Guptas.
2019 election

As deputy president, Ramaphosa had to fight a bruising battle to secure the top job. First he had to become head of the ruling ANC party, defeating Zuma’s chosen successor in a fierce and closely-fought election in December, and then chart a strategy for forcing out his boss.

The fight exposed deep divisions in the party ahead of a general election in 2019 and intensified the fall in the popularity of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

Uniting the ANC and organising a successful election campaign will be priorities for Ramaphosa, even though the ANC still has the advantage of a large majority in parliament.

The 54 percent of the vote that the ANC won in 2016 local elections was the party’s worst result since it came to power in 1994.

The party faces threats from the centre-right Democratic Alliance and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters parties.

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