Tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa was elected deputy leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress in a move that may bolster President Jacob Zuma’s rule.
Zuma trounced his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, winning 75 percent of the 3,977 votes cast for the party presidency in the central city of Bloemfontein. Ramaphosa defeated ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, with 76 percent support.
Zuma, 70, a former intelligence operative, won a second five-year term even as his government faces mounting criticism for its failure to tackle corruption, cut a 26 percent unemployment rate and turn around a failing education system. The appointment of Ramaphosa, 60, the chairman of MTN Group Ltd. (MTN), Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, to a top party post may benefit Zuma most as he struggles to restore investor confidence in an economy hit by a wave of violent strikes.
“He brings cover for Zuma,” Mark Rosenberg, an analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, said in a phone interview yesterday. “The markets will look at him as a pair of safe hands. Zuma’s main liability is his reputation as a bumbling, indecisive leader.”
Ramaphosa’s election positions him to succeed Zuma as president in 2019. The rand gained as much as 0.7 percent to 8.4825 against the dollar and the yield on South Africa’s 10- year dollar-bond plunged 18 basis points to 2.94 percent.
Thousands of ANC members, dressed in the green, black and yellow colors of the party, sang and applauded as electoral officials announced the results. Zuma pleaded for party unity and for differences in opinion over who should lead the party to be respected.
“I am so happy,” Esther Qwabe, a Zuma supporter from his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, said in an interview, in between whistling and ululating. “Zuma is a hard worker. He has touched the people.”
Ramaphosa is South Africa’s second-richest black businessman after Patrice Motsepe, according to the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times. He owns a stake in mines operated by Lonmin Plc (LMI), the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, a coal-mining venture with Glencore International Plc (GLEN), and has the McDonald’s Corp. (MCD:US) franchise in South Africa.
“He’s got very strong qualities as an organizer, as a negotiator, as an administrator, as a business person, who would bring the business element into the leadership and the thinking of the ANC,” Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba told reporters in Bloemfontein.
Investors’ perception of risk in South Africa has increased this year. The cost of protecting South African government debt against non-payment using credit default swaps over five years has jumped 13 basis points since the start of mining strikes on Aug. 10.
Gwede Mantashe was re-elected as ANC secretary-general, defeating Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, while Jessie Duarte was named deputy secretary-general. Baleka Mbete retained the chairperson post, while Zweli Mkhize won most votes for the position of treasurer.
Ramaphosa served as ANC secretary-general and helped negotiate the end of white segregationist rule before quitting politics for business in 1996. He remained on the ANC’s national executive committee and served as deputy chairman of a government advisory panel led by ex-finance minister Trevor Manuel that proposed a raft of investor-friendly measures to grow the economy and create jobs.
He also helped found the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and led the biggest-ever strike in South Africa’s gold industry five years later.
“Everybody knows Zuma is not the strongest leader on the planet,” Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the University of Witwatersrand, said in an interview in Bloemfontein. Ramaphosa can “add a little bit of a spark to a pretty downtrodden party leadership.”
Zuma has yet to signal whether he will appoint Ramaphosa as deputy president of the country before national elections in 2014 to replace Motlanthe, who has been responsible for coordinating the building of new power plants, improving railways and expanding ports.
Motlanthe, who declined nomination to the ANC’s 80-member executive, said in an interview he didn’t know whether he will retain his government post.
Ramaphosa “is someone that is expected to bring more of a businesslike approach to government,” Dirk Kotze, a politics professor at the Pretoria-based University of South Africa, said in a phone interview. “He has a reputation of being a businessman who can understand business better than many other politicians.”
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