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South Africa’s Hopes

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Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
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When the African National Congress (ANC) swept to power under Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s first multiracial elections a quarter century ago, its campaign slogan assured “a better life for all.” That vision, already somewhat faded, was badly tarnished during the nine-year presidency of Jacob Zuma, which was characterized by scandal, corruption and economic stagnation. Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in February 2018, is cleaning house — but it could take years to undo the damage to Africa’s most industrialized economy.

Ramaphosa’s rise to power produced a wave of optimism that governance would improve in South Africa. He immediately cracked down on corruption, sacking some of his predecessor’s most inept ministers, and in late 2018 appointed a new chief prosecutor. Zuma was indicted on multiple charges, including racketeering and money laundering. Ramaphosa vowed to raise $100 billion in new investment over five years, and has managed to lure about a fifth of that so far. He’s still trying to calm investors rattled by the ANC’s moves to change the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation, which the party says will aid redistribution of wealth to black citizens. Ramaphosa insists there won’t be land grabs, and any policy shift won’t be allowed to harm the economy or agricultural production. Voters will judge his performance in national elections in May 2019. While disillusionment with Zuma eroded the ANC’s popular support for years and cost it control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital, in municipal votes in 2016, opinion polls show the party should easily retain its majority control of parliament.