Cyril Ramaphosa smiles he is announced as the new president during the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: MASI LOSI
Cyril Ramaphosa smiles he is announced as the new president during the 54th ANC national elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: MASI LOSI

What an enormous relief. SA has, once again, skated on the edge of the abyss and, once again, drawn back from the brink but not before flirting with disaster, once again.

Hearty congratulations are due to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who has pulled off a stunning victory to become ANC president in enormously difficult circumstances. The people of SA have been waiting restlessly and fretfully for this moment. The country desperately needs a distinct signal that the ANC and the government will turn away from noxious panhandlers and dissolute governance that has been the singular characteristic of the administration of President Jacob Zuma.

For the ANC itself this was a testing moment and the party emerged with some, but not total, credit. The party has elected the leader most capable of bringing together the frayed strands of its broad church. It has elected the candidate who most visibly and decisively campaigned against corruption. It has elected the candidate of reason and modernity. All those are reasons to be thankful. SA’s winter of discontent is finally showing signs of renewal. It has been a long and frustrating wait.

And yet the ANC did not hand Ramaphosa a blank cheque;
far from it. In a wrenching twist, precisely half of the top-six positions went to candidates from the camp of his opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Not only that, but two of the positions went to people who would be strong candidates to be investigated in a state-capture inquiry. How strange is that? Ramaphosa’s position is now enormously tricky.

The hopeful notion that Zuma-era corruption, or more specifically Zuma himself, would be swept away on a great tidal wave of renewal now seems much less likely.

The results show this was a close vote for all positions. The closeness of the vote suggests more problems are in store.

The elective conference
selected members of the ANC’s national executive committee and it seems likely that — as with the top-six group — this too will be split down the middle.

As a result, the stultifying
internecine war that has turned the ANC into such a muddled and fractious organisation seems likely to continue. Ramaphosa might have hoped for better.

Because of these issues and indeed the state of the country as a whole, he needs to break out of the starting blocks at a flat sprint. He needs to act decisively and set the party and the country on a new course with vigour. Too much time has been lost and there is a lot to fix.

The first order of business is to insist that major issues of government — everything from major decisions on cabinet reshuffles to major expenditure items – have the support of the party before they are enacted. Zuma has in the past himself warned against the problem of two centres of power; he could assist greatly in this regard by standing aside.

But most importantly, Ramaphosa needs to focus on the economy. The mood of business is dire and he needs to kick-start the virtuous cycle of building confidence that will encourage investment, which will, in turn, build more confidence.

He has at his back a benign global economy and a wave of internal relief underscored by extraordinary rebound on the markets on Monday. Furthermore, he needs to insist that the National Development Plan starts informing government policy rather than being seen as an ornament. He needs to implement the kind of radical economic transformation that actually does transform the economy by building confidence and sharing prosperity rather than seeking to scoop the scraps that remain on the battlefield after the fighting is done.

South Africans expect action. If he does not deliver it fast, he can expect the now weary electorate to quickly become fickle. The way to solve disputes is often to make sure that everybody is too busy to argue. It is time to get to work.

Cyril Ramaphosa was named the new president of the African National Congress on Monday. Subscribe to TimesLIVE here:

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