By Bob Littell
South Africa´s president is arguably the best prepared person to lead the nation than any other current leader. Cyril Ramaphosa is both well-educated and equally experienced in politics and business. However, like so many factors in the continent´s most diversely populated nation, he has faced formidable political and economic challenges since assuming office.
As President of the dominant African National Congress party, Ramaphosa became the country´s chief executive, replacing the disgraced Jacob Zuma, whom he forced to resign shortly after Zuma’s re-election to what would have been a second term crippled by corruption, condoned and steadily mounting during his first term.
Citizens across the country were delighted that Ramaphosa would lead … until he took office. His first act was to announce radical land reform, forcing expropriation of property held for generations by white settlers, for distribution in small, economically non~viable parcels to native Africans with virtually no experience in modern agriculture.
The program was virtually identical to the disaster experienced some three decades earlier created by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe´s first president. British colonial Southern Rhodesia had been sub-Sahara Africa´s breadbasket but “land reform” destroyed what had been an internationally recognized agricultural success.
In short, Ramaphosa experienced strong pressure from the ANC which he had so recently headed, pressure which he may or may not have personally opposed. The action has caused strong opposition from the landowners, some of which have already decided to pack up and leave the country, with more to follow.
Most recently, President Ramaphosa has called for the fight against corruption to be fought. He has been backed by the opposition United Democratic Movement (UDM),
while the ANC is at least publicly in favor of cleaning out the corruption, as it is well known that many of its leaders are clearly involved in unsavory practices.
In fact, corruption is a key reason South Africa’s economy is in decline, partly explaining why most of sub-Sahara Africa is one of the world’s poorest regions, as corrupt capital sharply lowers the funds available for investment in both the public and private sectors.
The declining economy has led to huge unemployment, with 27% of available folks not working and a crime-inducing 52% of persons under 20 unable to find jobs. The problem affects the native African population most; while the 9% Caucasian community has virtually no unemployment. The racial as well as educational divide is without exception accurate in the World Bank’s finding that South Africa is the most economically unequal country in the world.
The government faces a huge amount of debt that it has no ability to repay. Part of the reason: the ministries and agencies are more than stuffed and relatively well-paid with lightly working staff. Efforts to have the government divest many of its wholly owned businesses, overly stuffed with non-workers, have to date been unsuccessful. An example is Eskom, which produces and deliver the vast majority of the country’s electricity.
The company is not only over-staffed: brownouts and brief blackouts are not uncommon, still another factor slowing down the economy. Moreover, there is precious little electricity and less running water in the numberless “townships”, each home to millions of native Africans.
President Ramaphosa faces more than a sagging economy and virulent corruption, both of which he is determined to improve. K-12 public education, generally poor and mediocre at best, is another concern. The government does maintain several well-known universities, including Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Stellenbosch & Pretoria that rank among the highest in Africa.
Cyril Ramaphosa, his country’s fifth president, was a protege of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, who despite more than 23 years in prison and a renowned freedom fighter, considered him the best person eventually to succeed him and publicly endorsed him. As the nation’s current leader, he will continue to face a massive set of challenges. May he stay the course and set his country back on the path to leadership of southern Africa.
The author writes frequently on developing countries. He has been a longtime analyst of South Africa and its development..