President Cyril Ramaphosa disrupted his election campaign schedule earlier this month to rush to Alexandra township when he learned that residents there were burning tires and barricading roads to protest squalid living conditions. He told them they’d been heard.
“Your message has gone through the whole country, that you are sick and tired of poor service delivery,” he thundered to thousands of cheering supporters in a speech mostly in Sesotho. “You as people of Alexandra want people who will serve you better.” He blamed most of the problems on the DA, which has run Johannesburg, including Alexandra, since 2016
“Your message has gone through the whole country, that you are sick and tired of poor service delivery,” he thundered to thousands of cheering supporters in a speech mostly in Sesotho. “You as people of Alexandra want people who will serve you better.” He blamed most of the problems on the DA, which has run Johannesburg, including Alexandra, since 2016.
That Ramaphosa could generate so much enthusiasm shows how he’s restoring faith among voters deterred by predecessor Jacob Zuma’s scandal-marred, nine-year rule. Opinion polls indicate many of the party’s traditional supporters who boycotted a 2016 municipal vote have returned. The ANC is expected to easily maintain its monopoly on power in the May 8 national elections, albeit with a slightly reduced majority.
His own approval rating is 60%, while his two main rivals, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and the EFF’s Julius Malema, polled 42% and 38% respectively, a survey commissioned by the South African Institute of Race Relations shows. And 55% of 3 431 adults canvassed late last year by the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Social Development expressed trust in the presidency under Ramaphosa, 66, compared with 26% under Zuma.
“When Cyril Ramaphosa was here, it’s when I realised that something is about to change,” said Tshepo Dichaba, 19, who runs a barber shop in Alexandra. “It’s easy to believe him, unlike Zuma. If he told me he was going to build houses, my first thought would be yes, he will.”
Despite his popularity among the electorate, Ramaphosa’s hold on the ANC remains tenuous. The party remains deeply divided following a bruising leadership battle in December 2017, when he took over the helm from Zuma. Several Zuma allies who’ve been implicated in graft inquiries continue to occupy top posts and could try to topple Ramaphosa in an internal vote in 2022.
“The danger is not the outcome of the forthcoming elections,” said Sethulego Matebesi, a political analyst at the University of the Free State, who rates Ramaphosa as the best leader the country’s had since Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999. “The danger for South Africa is what is going to happen in the next elective conference of the ANC. There is a absolutely no guarantee that Cyril Ramaphosa will come back after five years for a second term.”
And investors remain skeptical that Ramaphosa can push through such promises as to revive the flagging economy and rein in runaway government debt. Business confidence is at a two-year low, the nation’s final investment-grade rating is hanging by a thread and the rand has dropped almost 20% against the dollar since he took office, battered by power blackouts and lackluster growth.