Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC victory is reviving the hope of Soweto’s youth
Among pledges the ANC has struggled to deliver are free university tuition, good-quality housing, jobs and the redistribution of wealth to the black majority
Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory in the ANC leadership battle has sparked renewed hope among many in Soweto, where he grew up — and where frustration with the party has been mounting.
"He is a model because he is one person that came out of the township and became a great businessman in this world," said journalism student Charlie Khoza from Tshawelo.
He was among a group of six young men standing on a street corner, drinking fizzy drinks the day after Ramaphosa’s decisive victory in the tight leadership race.
Their optimism for the probable future president and former trade unionist turned businessman was widely shared.
In the less well-off Chiawele district of Soweto, just streets away from where Ramaphosa was born 65 years ago, Niseman Baleyi was cutting hair to the rhythm of traditional music. A father of two and a barber for 20 years, Niseman is increasingly struggling to make ends meet. But he is optimistic that the election of a multimillionaire to lead the ANC will mean an economic renaissance for SA.
Along with soaring unemployment, SA has suffered as big companies deterred by political uncertainty have opted to swell their cash reserves rather than invest in expansion or job creation. Tanking investor confidence has led to a spate of credit-ratings downgrades that have driven up the cost of government borrowing.
"People are going to look at SA in a different way and are going to come to create jobs for the youth," Khoza said.
Many in Soweto are speaking about Ramaphosa as if he is already head of state — although Jacob Zuma will remain state president until 2019, when Ramaphosa will run for office in nationwide elections.
To have a chance of keeping the ANC in power, Ramaphosa will have a serious task to persuade the many South Africans who feel let down by the storied anti-apartheid party.
"It’s been over 20 years and we have had a lot of promises — and they are not meeting them," said Mzandile Msingo, a mechanic by training but unemployed for three years.
Among the pledges the governing party has struggled to deliver are free university tuition, good-quality housing, jobs and the redistribution of wealth to the black majority.
Msingo lives with his wife and children in his parents’ home and has been waiting "a very long time" for subsidised housing.
The ANC has seen its influence dwindle as the economy has shrunk, causing its support base to suffer.
But Msingo and many others like him in Soweto are adamant that Ramaphosa’s election spells the end of Zuma’s controversial era. His time in office has been marked by corruption scandals, abuse of power and repeated censure by SA’s remarkably resilient institutions including the courts, media and public protector.
Msingo said he would no longer support the ANC because of the corruption allegations swirling around Zuma who became party leader in 2007 and president in 2009.
"Zuma is doing his own thing instead of doing it for the country … [like] using government money to build his own house," he said.
"With Ramaphosa we are going to wait and see and maybe we are going to see something else from the ANC."
The grinding hardships faced by many black youth are pushing increasingly large numbers of voters into the hands of the populist party of firebrand leader Julius Malema.
His EFF party continues to make electoral gains and has convinced many township youth that nationalising the mines and redistributing land will lift them out of poverty.
Ricky Makoala, an unemployed 27-year-old, has been an EFF backer for two years and has ruled out any return to the ANC fold — even under Ramaphosa’s leadership.
"He is more white monopoly capital than anybody else," he said, repeating a common belief that much of the country’s economy is still controlled by a small handful of white-owned businesses.