South Africa's new leader to focus on corruption and 'radical economic transformation'

After a tight race for leadership of the African National Congress party, Cyril Ramaphosa was declared the winner. Because of his party's electoral dominance, he is likely to become the country's next president after elections in 2019. 

Themba Hadebe/AP
Cyril Ramaphosa, the new leader of the African National Congress, speaks to delegates in Johannesburg, South Africa on Dec. 20.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the new leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress party, said on Thursday he aims to stamp out corruption and pursue a policy of "radical economic transformation" that will speed up expropriation of land without compensation.

Mr. Ramaphosa, union leader who became a businessman and is now one of South Africa's richest people, is likely to become the country's next president after elections in 2019, because of his party's electoral dominance.

He has promised to fight rampant corruption and revitalize the economy, a message hailed by foreign investors.

"This conference has resolved that corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment ,and inequality," he said in his maiden speech at the close of a five-day party meeting at which he was elected.

"We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks," Ramaphosa said in the early hours of Thursday after a long delay.

Ramaphosa, who is South Africa's deputy president, was elected the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC) on Monday, succeeding President Jacob Zuma as party head after Mr. Zuma's presidency became tainted with corruption allegations.

Ramaphosa's narrow victory over former cabinet minister and African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is seen as a pivotal moment for the ANC, which launched black-majority rule under Nelson Mandela's leadership 23 years ago but is now deeply divided with its image tarnished.

Ramaphosa paid tribute to Zuma in his speech, saying the ANC would be "united" despite a fractious campaign. Zuma had backed his ex-wife Ms. Dlamini-Zuma for ANC's top job.

However, investors are concerned that Ramaphosa may not be able to push through policy changes because the ANC's top decision-making group, known as the "Top Six," was split down the middle, with three politicians apiece drawn from Ramaphosa's camp and that of his rival Dlamini-Zuma.

Zuma has faced allegations of corruption since he became head of state in 2009 but has denied any wrongdoing. The president has also faced allegations that his friends, the wealthy Gupta businessmen, wielded undue influence over his government.

Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations.

Ramaphosa alluded to these allegations in his speech, saying "at the state level we must confront the reality that critical institutions of our state have been targeted by individuals and families, through the exercise of influence and the manipulation of governance processes and public resources."

He said this had weakened the state-owned enterprises in Africa's most industrialized economy. The continent's traditional powerhouse has seen lethargic growth over the last six years and the jobless rate stands near record levels.

Ramaphosa also had a warning for corporate executives.

"We must investigate without fear or favor the so-called 'accounting irregularities' that cause turmoil in the markets and wipe billions off the investments of ordinary South Africans," he said.

South African furniture retailer Steinhoff, has been embroiled in a scandal over accounting irregularities, which have wiped more than $10 billion off its market value over the past two weeks.

Ramaphosa also said he would aim to expedite job creation, improve the lackluster economy and speed up the transfer of land to black people.

Two decades after the end of apartheid, the ANC is under pressure to redress racial disparities in land ownership where whites own most of the land.

"This Conference has resolved that the expropriation of land without compensation should be among the mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution," he said. He added the land transfers would be speeded up under the radical economic transformation program, a vague ANC plan to tackle racial inequality.

This article was reported by Reuters.

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