Foreign Policy Digital

A Clean President Can’t Govern From Atop a Tainted Party

Voting for the ANC in the hope that its leader can clean house is a leap of faith. Those who looted South Africa’s government won’t give up so easily.

Many voters in South Africa and pundits across the globe are mistakenly overinvesting in Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) party ahead of this week’s national elections. Even the venerable Economist, which plastered its cover with a smiling, rainbow Ramaphosa and proclaimed him the leader best suited to “shun the populists and face down the mafia within his own party,” seems to have missed the point. 

Ramaphosa does not merely face an uphill battle, as many of his supporters would concede. He faces a potentially insurmountable task in fighting to rebuild South Africa’s seriously damaged democratic institutions that were trampled during the ruinously corrupt years under the leadership of former President Jacob Zuma from 2009 to 2018, until Ramaphosa replaced him as party leader in late 2017 and as president early last year. 

In fact, whoever wins on Wednesday faces the unenviable challenge of needing to rescue an economy on such a dangerously low growth path that South Africa’s familiar triple challenges of high unemployment, poverty, and inequality cannot be seriously dented if this low-growth trajectory continues. 

The South African state, which is the trough

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