South Africa: The five labors of Cyril Ramaphosa
PRETORIA, South Africa — Newly-elected South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces herculean tasks after he gets down to work after Saturday’s inauguration.
Fixing the economy
South Africa has the most advanced infrastructure in the continent, but its commodities-dependent economy has been in a slump for a decade.
It grew by an anemic 0.8 percent last year and slipped into a brief recession during the third quarter of 2018. It is projected by the World Bank to expand by 1.3 percent this year.
Unemployment is running at 27.6 percent, but among the 20.3 million South Africans aged between 15-34 reaches 55.2 percent.
In 2017, two of the world’s leading ratings agencies S&P Global and Fitch downgraded the country to sub-investment levels.
Ramaphosa, who enjoys support from the business community, has prioritized reform and economic revival. But he faces resistance from within his own party.
With a population of 56.7 million people (2017), the country still has “one of the highest inequality rates in the world,” the World Bank says.
The gulf between richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago, and skin color still plays a defining role in job hiring.
Despite the emergence of a black middle class, 20 percent of black households live in extreme poverty, against 2.9 percent for white households, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations.
Between 2011 and 2015, three million more South Africans fell into poverty, according to a World Bank estimate.
One of the biggest sources of public acrimony is over endemic corruption.
Graft scandals last year forced out Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and taint the moral stature of Nelson’s Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC).
Alleged corruption under Zuma — known as “state capture” — saw millions of dollars siphoned off through government and state agencies awarding fraudulent contracts to favored companies in return for bribes.
Zuma himself is facing trial for alleged corruption relating to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
Ramaphosa in February announced he would set up a special tribunal of seven senior judges for “fast-tracking” recovery of proceeds from corruption cases.
South Africa has a notorious reputation for crime. Last year, 19,000 people were murdered — 52 per day, according to official figures.
Women are especially vulnerable. Around 100 rapes are recorded each day and a woman dies from domestic violence roughly every eight hours.
The country’s crisis of gender-based violence gained worldwide prominence in March after after pop-star Babes Wodumo broadcast live images of her apparently being assaulted by her lover.
Violence and theft have spawned a lucrative home-security industry.
Wealthy people live in fortified homes with high walls topped with electrical wires, CCTV monitoring and armed guards.
Ramaphosa faces a high-wire act in pushing ahead with his vow to speed up reforms of land, which remains overwhelmingly in the hands of the white minority.
He has to balance pressure from the ANC’s left and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for expropriation with the need to avoid Zimbabwean-style evictions that would be economically ruinous.
“The land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution,” he told farmers in April.
South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution prohibits the “arbitrary deprivation of property” and limits expropriation to cases in the public interest, for which landholders should be given “just and equitable compensation.”
“Ramaphosa will have to make some very hard decisions on this matter,” political analyst Daniel Silke says.
“He is going to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party… to win out.” /muf
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