South Africa’s Ramaphosa fights for political future in tight voteMon, 29 Apr 2024 02:08:01 GMT

Nelson Mandela once described South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as one of the most gifted leaders of his generation. Yet, the 71-year-old’s future is on the line, as Mandela’s feted African National Congress heads towards its worst electoral result ever in an uncertain May 29 vote that could reshape South African politics. Dogged by accusations of graft and mismanagement, the ANC is expected to lose its outright majority in parliament for the first time since 1994. Polls predict support could slip to under 40 percent, down from 57 percent in 2019.As lawmakers elect the president, winning less than 50 percent of the vote would force the ANC and Ramaphosa to find coalition partners to remain in power.  But some analysts believe, despite growing disillusionment, that once in the voting booth, many will stick with the party that defeated apartheid and brought them democracy. And so far, no one within the ANC has come forward to challenge the affable Ramaphosa. In December 2022, divided and losing support, the historic party reappointed him as leader — a stepping stone to a second term as head of state — despite a raging cash-heist scandal.  He had just survived an opposition-led effort to open impeachment proceedings against him over accusations of attempting to conceal a burglary which saw thieves steal a huge haul of cash hidden under sofa cushions at his farmhouse.Despite some tensions, the ANC rallied around him. Ramaphosa was not charged. But the case dealt a massive reputational blow to the man who had taken the reins of Africa’s most industrialised economy from his corruption-accused predecessor Jacob Zuma in 2018 on a pledge to root out graft.Previously seen as a “paragon of virtue”, the scandal reminded the nation Ramaphosa was not  “superhuman”, according to political analyst and author Susan Booysen.- ‘Faux superhero’ -Born on November 17, 1952 in Johannesburg’s Soweto township — the cradle of the anti-apartheid struggle — to a policeman and a stay-at-home mother, Ramaphosa had long-eyed South Africa’s top job. A fluent speaker of most of the country’s 12 official languages, he took up activism while studying law in the 1970s and spent 11 months in solitary confinement in 1974.He then turned to trade unionism, one of the few legal ways of protesting the white-minority regime. A protege of Mandela, Ramaphosa stood alongside the anti-apartheid icon when he walked out of jail in 1990. He went on to play a key role in negotiating a transition to democracy. But after missing out on becoming Mandela’s successor, Ramaphosa swapped politics for a foray into business that made him one of the wealthiest people in Africa. He held stakes in McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, making millions in deals that required investors to partner with non-white shareholders. Married three times — his current wife Tshepo Motsepe, a doctor, is the sister of African football chief Patrice Motsepe — Ramaphosa developed a passion for breeding rare cattle, which earned him the nickname “The Buffalo”. He returned to politics as ANC deputy president in 2012. Two years later he became Zuma’s vice president, often drawing criticism for failing to speak out against government corruption.In 2017, he narrowly defeated pro-Zuma rivals to take over leadership of the ANC and then the presidency when Zuma was forced out two months later.Always relaxed at public appearances, critics say he has however largely failed to deliver on his promise of a “new dawn” for South Africa.Unemployment, crime rates and poverty remain high.A reputation for patience and strategic thinking has turned into accusations of indecisiveness.Zapiro, the country’s most famous cartoonist, now draws him as “spineless” or as a “faux superhero”.