Cyril Ramaphosa was on Thursday elected South Africa’s fifth post-apartheid democratic-era President, following former President Jacob Zuma’s resignation.
Mr Zuma, in a late-night announcement on Wednesday, finally gave into the inevitable, saying he would quit “with immediate effect”.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) leadership had given Mr Zuma until midnight to accede to his “recall” from the presidency – or be fired through an opposition-tabled parliamentary vote of no confidence.
Mr Zuma’s announcement of his resignation came very near the end of his nationally-broadcast speech, which for most part had him sounding like he was going to force the ANC to oust him through the vote of no confidence.
That outcome was avoided some 12 hours later when Mr Zuma’s formal resignation letter was delivered to the Speaker of the House of Assembly.
Briefly, ANC President and State Deputy President Ramaphosa then became acting President while awaiting the National Assembly’s vote to formally install him, which took place against the backdrop of opposition demands for a new national election.
Both the official opposition Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said there was not merely a “Zuma problem” but an “ANC problem”.
These parties insisted that it was not sufficient for Mr Zuma to resign, but that the entire National Assembly should also do so as the Constitutional Court, which found that Mr Zuma had violated his oath of office, also found that the National Assembly had failed in its duty to oversee the functions of the Executive.
The opposition parties again called, as they had done earlier in the week, for the dissolution of Parliament and early national elections – something that ANC sources said “had no chance whatsoever of happening”.
Opposition groupings said they hoped Mr Ramaphosa’s election to the presidency might herald a “new dawn” of anti-corruption efforts, economic growth and good, or at least better, governance.
They were indirectly supported in this view by revelations that Mr Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, a close associate of the Gupta family allegedly at the heart of Mr Zuma’s state capture project of corruption and money-laundering, was among people being sought by South Africa’s crack police investigative unit, the Hawks.
Early Thursday, the Hawks raided the lavish Gupta compound in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold, where at least two arrests were made, as well as the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments company offices.
By this morning, five people, still unnamed, were reported to be in custody, including at least one Gupta family member, with three other wanted parties, likely Gupta family members, said by investigators to be outside the country.
RAID ON GUPTA
The raids followed investigations into the syphoning off of some US$19 million (Sh1.9bn) of public funds meant for a poverty alleviation dairy farm project in the Free State province for some 100 indigenous farmers.
None of the intended recipients received any benefits from the project, while US$2.6 million of the project’s money was used to fund a lavish Gupta wedding.
Despite being a long time coming, it was widely considered that the Gupta raids and arrests were not merely coincidental with the “resign or be fired” deadline, which the ANC had imposed on Mr Zuma.
Some commentators felt that the raids had been a final warning to Mr Zuma, adding significant pressure on him to resign.
In his accustomed feisty manner, EFF leader Julius Malema said in reaction to Zuma’s resignation that it was “undoubtedly” the EFF’s determined badgering of Mr Zuma and relentless activism around his continued presidency that had been instrumental in his fall from power.
Mr Malema gave a lengthy account of Mr Zuma’s numerous misdeeds.
That list gave the lie to Mr Zuma’s obviously disingenuous comment – made repeatedly in the run-up to his resignation – that he did not know why he was being forced to resign by his own party.
Mr Zuma had said that because of the lack of an explanation for why he must step down, he disagreed with his party’s decision but had finally acceded to it because he did not want conflict.
Mr Malema dismissed such comments as those of a “conman” who would not be remembered as a hero of the liberation struggle in which Mr Zuma had participated as a member of the ANC’s armed wing.
STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS
Instead, Mr Zuma would be consigned “to the dustbin of history” for his misdeeds that had cost the country “many billions” in corrupt payments to the Guptas and others, and under whose rule South Africa had slipped from growing at nearly three per cent per annum to barely one per cent, with a huge increase in government and state-owned enterprises’ debts and an enormous increase in unemployment, poverty and maldistribution of resources.
Mr Malema vowed that the EFF would fight as hard against Mr Ramaphosa, who had repeatedly “protected” Zuma from past efforts to unseat him.
Mr Ramaphosa, as the new head of state, is set to deliver the much-anticipated State of the Nation address to a joint sitting of two Parliamentary bodies Friday evening, giving this event particular significance in terms of his policy priorities.
Mr Ramaphosa is somewhat bound to the policy resolutions of the recent ANC elective conference, where he narrowly beat Mr Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the party’s top job and where his party determined its policies for the next five years.
But there are already clear differences between the Zuma-era populist policies of “radical economic transformation” aimed at undoing “white minority capital” – both concepts stemming from a now-defunct Gupta-paid-for UK public relations company’s pro-Zuma strategy – and Ramaphosa’s much more nuanced take.
In announcing his resignation “as a disciplined and loyal ANC member” of almost 60 years, Mr Zuma said he would now work towards the fulfilment of ANC policy on “radical economic transformation” – which includes land redistribution without compensation – and against “white minority privilege”, which Mr Zuma said was still entrenched in the South African society.