South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President : Parallels He started as a mineworker and became a prominent anti-apartheid activist and a tycoon. Now he's leading the nation.
NPR logo

South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/586172004/586172005" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President

South Africa Elects Cyril Ramaphosa As Its New President

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/586172004/586172005" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hours after Jacob Zuma's dramatic resignation as South Africa's president, the country has a new leader. Cyril Ramaphosa accepted his election by Parliament today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: I'll seek to execute that task with humility, with faithfulness and with dignity as well.

KELLY: The former union organizer-turned-tycoon has long been a prominent figure in South African politics. And he has been waiting for this job for decades, as Peter Granitz reports from the capital, Pretoria.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Cyril Ramaphosa was born 65 years ago in the black township of Soweto. He became a leading anti-apartheid activist, union leader and one of the nation's richest men before becoming president. His promise to South Africans, made in comments before Jacob Zuma's ouster as president, is to lead the country Nelson Mandela envisioned at the end of white rule in 1994.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAMAPHOSA: In which all our people have jobs, all our people have houses, all our people have food.

GRANITZ: What Ramaphosa is taking on, though, is a divided governing party, an unemployment rate of nearly 28 percent, and a society that remains one of the most unequal in the world. Biographer Ray Hartley says while Ramaphosa is up to the task, it'll be a challenge.

RAY HARTLEY: For all of his strengths and for all of his - the things that he can do that Zuma couldn't do, there are severe structural problems here in this country. There is a vast disparity in wealth. And that is colored by race.

GRANITZ: Hartley says Ramaphosa thrives on bringing people together as he did when he led the National Union of Mineworkers through protracted strikes in the 1980s. That experience proved useful during the transition to democracy and end of apartheid when the ANC tapped Ramaphosa to lead the talks with the white minority government. Ramaphosa won those negotiations for the black majority and helped write what is considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Speaking on the floor of Parliament in 1996, he said the central tenets of a just and equitable society remain uncompromised.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAMAPHOSA: For freedom is nonnegotiable.

GRANITZ: Ramaphosa was thwarted in his attempts to lead the party, so he left politics and made a fortune in the private sector. Among his businesses was mining. And when an illegal strike occurred at a mine at which he owned shares, he used his connections to have police shut it down. They did so with violence. Thirty-four miners were killed outside the town of Marikana. An investigation determined he was not responsible for the police reaction, but the issue will not fade. Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says Ramaphosa may use the presidency to close the gap that's grown between him and his traditional base of workers.

SOMADODA FIKENI: He may try very hard, sometimes overcompensate, to demonstrate that I have recovered my roots.

GRANITZ: Corruption scandals under former President Zuma eroded the African National Congress' popularity to its lowest levels. To retain power next year, it will need to attract disaffected voters such as Gloria Sepogaone. She's black, middle class and lives in Pretoria, which the ANC lost in 2016.

GLORIA SEPOGAONE: So the last two votes I didn't vote because of J.Z. Yeah.

GRANITZ: By J.Z. she means Jacob Zuma. But Sepogaone says she believes Ramaphosa will attract needed investment to South Africa, and that's enough to bring her back to the ANC. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Pretoria.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT CAPPY'S "ROSE LANE")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.