Cyril Ramaphosa’s election to the presidency of the ANC was an extraordinary achievement. Critics have presented it as the culmination of a career steeped in ambition. Cynics have observed that Ramaphosa had good fortune on his side. But the most important lesson to draw from the challenger’s victory is that his team displayed ruthlessness and effective organisation in the face of an incumbent faction with an overwhelming predominance of resources. This ruthlessness can be expected to continue. The challenges confronting the country impose a set of inescapable imperatives on Ramaphosa. Analysts who doubt his ability to marshal a coalition for change forget the logic of political power under Ramaphosa’s predecessors: Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma. State power is immeasurably more potent than party power. An astute president can use state power, in conjunction with party power, to overwhelm the most resilient opponents. The internal elections had to be won, but ...

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