By Mike Cohen & Paul Vecchiatto
Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as South Africa’s president a day after Jacob Zuma resigned under pressure from the ruling African National Congress.
Ramaphosa’s nomination was unopposed Thursday in the 400-seat National Assembly after the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters walked out of the chamber, arguing that early elections should be called and the president’s appointment would be illegal. Ramaphosa was later sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
“Corruption, how we can straighten out SOEs and how we deal with state capture is on our radar screen,” Ramaphosa said after Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had declared him the president, referring to state-owned companies.
Ramaphosa, 65, will be sworn in by Mogoeng later in the day and is due to deliver his first state-of the nation address on Friday. He staked his claim to the top post when he replaced Zuma as leader of the African National Congress almost two months ago.
A former lawyer and one of the richest black South Africans, Ramaphosa has promised to revive the struggling economy, create jobs and tackle corruption. His appointment more than a year before national elections could help the ANC win back voters alienated by a succession of scandals, policy missteps and inappropriate appointments during Zuma’s nine-year tenure.
The power shift has cheered investors with the rand gaining the most of any currency against since Ramaphosa’s election as ANC president on Dec. 18. It was close to a three-year high of 11.6665 per dollar at 2:47 p.m. in Johannesburg.
While Ramaphosa succeeded in outmaneuvering Zuma since his tight election as ANC president, the road ahead is perilous — the party remains deeply divided, the cabinet needs a clean-out and a moribund economy requires a jump-start.
The first signal of Ramaphosa’s intentions may come in the state-of-the-nation address. The keynote speech was postponed on Feb. 6, two days before Zuma was due to deliver it, due to the turmoil within the ruling party.
While Zuma’s cabinet doesn’t have to resign, Ramaphosa will be able to hire and fire ministers as he sees fit. With the national budget due to be presented to Parliament on Feb. 21, investors will be watching to see if he retains Malusi Gigaba as finance minister.
Growth has averaged just 1.6 percent a year since Zuma took office in 2009, undermined partly by policy decisions and inappropriate appointments that rocked investor and business confidence. Disgruntlement with his rule caused support for the ANC to fall to a record low in 2016 municipal elections and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital.
“The new president is going to have to make tough decisions on who is in his cabinet and that’s where the tough fight is going to be from now on,” said Ivor Sarakinsky, academic director at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia
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