South African President and African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa listed his government's challenges and achievements over the past five years
Johannesburg (AFP) - South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa sought to project confidence and authority on Friday at the opening of a ruling ANC party conference, where he is seeking re-election as party leader despite a tarnishing cash-heist scandal.
In a three-hour-long opening address, amid chants and heckling from a few delegates, Ramaphosa chronicled his government’s challenges and achievements over the past five years.
The venerable party, shaped by Nelson Mandela into the main weapon that ended apartheid, has governed South Africa for 28 years. Its image today is stained by corruption, factionalism and declining support.
Ramaphosa told some 4,500 African National Congress (ANC) delegates at an events centre near Johannesburg to have the “courage and the honesty to recognise our shortcomings and resolve to correct them”.
Among its failures, he cited rising poverty which gives “rise to a sense of hopelessness amongst our people”.
But as he eyes a new term at the top of the ANC, he sounded a note of hope saying “green shoots are starting to sprout, I do believe better days lie ahead”.
Ramaphosa is the favourite to continue leading the storied party.
Portraying himself as a graft-busting champion, Ramaphosa took control of the ANC in 2017 after his boss Jacob Zuma became mired in corruption.
Delegates arrive for the National Conference of the African National Congress
The party’s majority in parliament means that it also has control over the process to approve the national president.
But Ramaphosa’s clean-hands image has been dented by allegations he concealed a huge cash burglary at his farm rather than report the matter to the authorities.
Despite this, the 70-year-old leader appears on track to win the party leadership election.
A small group of heckling delegates tried to disrupt his address, chanting “Change! Change!” while also banging on their tables.
- ‘Fix corruption’ -
“Let us exercise discipline, let us exercise political consciousness,” he said in his remarks urging delegates to debate issues instead of “shouting” and “howling at each other”.
The conference started several hours behind schedule and was adjourned after Ramaphosa’s speech. Voting would be delayed but was still expected to take place on Saturday, according to a senior ANC official.
Party delegate Sipho Pieterse, 36 and unemployed, said he was comforted by Ramaphosa’s repeated commitment to tackle graft and pull the country out of a prolonged energy crisis.
“When he comes back as president tomorrow… the thieves of corruption are going to shiver and to shake,” he said.
Ramaphosa is bidding to retain the reins of the ANC
But Thami Chamane, 30, unemployed, and one of the delegates disrupting the speech, wanted Ramaphosa to “step aside” over the farm scandal.
A victory would secure Ramaphosa a ticket to a fresh term as president after the 2024 elections, if his party wins that vote.
Ramaphosa won a reprieve ahead of the conference when the ANC used its majority in parliament to block a possible impeachment inquiry.
He is leading the list of only two nominated presidential candidates so far and is seen to be the most viable in the absence of better options in the 110-year-old party.
- Declining vote share -
The ex-trade unionist fronted the historic negotiations to end apartheid and helped draft the constitution – hailed as one of Africa’s most progressive charters.
Dodging the impeachment bullet likely emboldened his re-election bid, analysts say.
His rival is his former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who is facing corruption allegations linked to Covid-19 funds.
Over the past decade, the party has lost its grip over key cities in municipal elections.
Its showing in this battlefield slumped last year under 50 percent for the first time.
On a national level, the ANC won the 2019 election with 57.5 percent of the vote, down from 62.15 percent in 2014.
But it remains South Africa’s largest party.
Whoever emerges victorious in the vote will have to defuse anger at crippling power cuts and entrenched poverty.