The Atlantic

How to Save the African National Congress

Cyril Ramaphosa’s mission: pulling the storied South African party back from the brink
Source: Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

South Africa is desperate for change. On December 18, the African National Congress party elected businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as its president. Ramaphosa, who had served as deputy president since 2012, won the position on a good governance and anti-corruption platform. His victory seemed, at least in part, a rebuke to the scandal-plagued incumbent Jacob Zuma, who has led the country for the past nine years. It also seemed like a call back to the ANC’s early years of leading South Africa out of the racial segregation and violence of apartheid: Ramaphosa rose to public prominence first as a union leader, and later as one of Nelson Mandela’s trusted advisors during the country’s transition to democracy.

But as Ramaphosa prepared for his first major , an address at the ANC’s birthday celebration last Saturday, his ability to govern and his party’s capacity to change are in doubt. When the ANC rose to power in 1994 after ending almost 50 years of white rule, it promised both racial reconciliation last year; unemployment for black South Africans is almost as high as it is for white South Africans. The country has also suffered from low economic growth since the 2008 financial crisis, briefly entering a recession last year; two ratings agencies have its bonds to junk status. Critics, particularly among the black youth, have argued (including ), that despite the expansion of the country’s black middle class, not enough has been done to address racial-economic disparity.

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