Cyril Ramaphosa GULSHAN KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Can Ramaphosa Fix South Africa?

Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory in the ANC's leadership contest in December is an important sign that many within the ruling party understand that they risk being remembered for allowing an avaricious few to sell off the country. But President Jacob Zuma and his allies are unlikely to give up easily.

WASHINGTON, DC – Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory in December’s contest to lead South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) was a resounding repudiation of President Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa will now almost certainly be elected South Africa’s president in 2019 – if not before. He has promised to stimulate the country’s moribund economy and implement a wide-ranging anti-corruption agenda.

The key question, however, is how much impact change at the top will have on South Africa’s troubled democracy.

Ramaphosa is unlikely to be a miracle worker. First, he faces the challenge of reforming his own party. The ANC’s identity as the party that liberated South Africa from the scourge of apartheid in 1994 has delivered it every election since. Yet today the ANC stands accused of both fecklessness and moral decay, and it suffered unprecedented losses to the opposition Democratic Alliance in urban areas in local elections in 2016.