South Africa's Prospects Under Cyril Ramaphosa

Prepared for the Hanns Seidel Foundation, South Africa Pretoria, 22 December 2017

19 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2018

Date Written: December 22, 2017


The African National Congress (ANC) narrowly avoided a damaging split at the recently concluded 54th national conference. South Africa is, however, firmly in a “muddling along” scenario. The result of the elections for the 86 elected members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) led by newly elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa reflects an organization that went into the conference sharply divided and it will take time for these divisions to subside.

The recall of Jacob Zuma is one of the key decisions now confronting the NEC. The longer Zuma stays in power the better the opposition parties will do during the national and provincial elections in 2019. However, in spite of the narrow victory of Ramaphosa, Zuma and his incoherent, large cabinet may be recalled sooner rather than later to avoid a further downgrade of South Africa’s long-term local currency debt ratings.

Since Ramaphosa currently serves as deputy president of South Africa and therefore is a member of cabinet the problems associated with two centers of power (between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings) in the period leading up to national and provincial elections in 2019 are manageable. However, Zuma’s announcement on fee-free education only hours before the start of the 54th Conference clearly demonstrates the potential damage that he could wreak in the months that lie ahead, particularly given his stated intention to press ahead with a hugely expensive and superfluous nuclear energy deal. The question is how rapidly the NEC will unite behind Ramaphosa to recall him.

Based on the forecasts presented in Fate of the Nation it seems likely that the ANC will retain its status as governing party during the 2019 elections, with around 53% of the vote, down from 62% in 2014. Such an outcome will avert the need for a coalition at national level. The ANC could however, lose its majority in the critically important Gauteng province. Only a coalition between the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) would be able to put together a governing opposition alliance in Gauteng – a difficult and unlikely partnership given the ideological distance between these two parties. This analysis effectively makes the EFF a potential 2019 kingmaker in Gauteng. The Western Cape, the only province currently governed by an opposition party (the Democratic Alliance), will retain that status and ANC support in rural provinces will remain firm, particularly given the focus on transition of land to rural communities as announced during the conference.

The win by Ramaphosa has averted a major crisis for the ANC and it may yet retain Gauteng province (in alliance with others), but it is not going to be an easy ride. The ANC will, however, eventually emerge significantly more united than at present and the outcome may save the Tripartite Alliance that includes the South African Communist Party and labour union COSATU from disbandment.

In terms of its foreign relations South Africa has its work cut out to rebuild the respect and trust of others. Generally, values such as democracy, human rights and good governance have found limited expression in foreign policy under Mbeki and Zuma (the Mandela era was an aberration), and it is unlikely that this will change under a Ramaphosa government although there may be some tonal adaptation. In addition, absent structural reform in the military, South Africa’s ability to contribute to peacekeeping will continue its steady decline.

Keywords: South Africa, Future Studies, Politics, Political Science

Suggested Citation

Cilliers, Jacobus (Jakkie), South Africa's Prospects Under Cyril Ramaphosa (December 22, 2017). Prepared for the Hanns Seidel Foundation, South Africa Pretoria, 22 December 2017 , Available at SSRN: or

Jacobus (Jakkie) Cilliers (Contact Author)

Institute for Security Studies ( email )

PO Box 95507, Waterkloof
Pretoria, Gauteng 0145
South Africa
+27-12-3469500 (Phone)


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