South Africa's Ramaphosa set to outline priorities in key speech

Published : February 16, 2018 Updated : February 16, 2018

By Wendell Roelf

 

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is expected to give more details about how he plans to tackle corruption and boost economic growth on Friday, when he delivers his first state of the nation address.

 

Ramaphosa, 65, was sworn in as head of state on Thursday after his scandal-plagued predecessor, Jacob Zuma, reluctantly resigned on orders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

 

His election as president, which was unopposed in the parliament, has prompted a wave of optimism among South Africans hungry for change after nine years of economic stagnation and corruption scandals under Zuma. Zuma denies all wrongdoing.

 

"It's all systems go. We are expecting our political program to be delivered by the new president," parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete told state broadcaster SABC from Cape Town, where the state of the nation address will be made from around 1700 GMT.

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Facing waning electoral support for his party, Ramaphosa needs to avoid alienating ANC members still loyal to the 75-year-old Zuma despite the economic stagnation and sleaze allegations that tainted his nine years in power.

Ramaphosa, who will see out the remainder of Zuma's presidential term until elections next year, faces an uphill battle to win public and investor support.

Africa's most developed economy needs faster economic growth if it is to reduce high unemployment - currently at 27 percent - and alleviate widespread poverty that has persisted since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

The economy slipped into recession last year for the first time since 2009 and has also declined in indices that measure corruption and the ease of doing business.

Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to straighten out the country's struggling state-owned enterprises and woo overseas investment.

South Africa's rand surrendered some gains but remained near its three-year best ahead of Ramaphosa's address. Stocks fell amid profit-taking after the main index hit a more than three year high in the previous session.

Ramaphosa, a former union leader who played an important role in talks to end apartheid, is expected to announce major cabinet changes in the coming days to replace Zuma acolytes in key portfolios who have been accused of mismanagement and implicated in corruption.

Ordinary South Africans are hopeful that he will deliver on promises to create more jobs.

South Africa's Treasury is set to present its 2018 budget to parliament on Wednesday but market focus is on whether Ramaphosa will reshuffle the cabinet before then and replace Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.

Some economists and political analysts questioned the credentials of Gigaba when he was named to head Treasury in March last year, replacing Pravin Gordhan who had built a strong reputation for fiscal prudence.

Speaking ahead of Ramaphosa's speech outside parliament in Cape Town, Gigaba said he served at the pleasure of the president when asked whether he could be removed from office.

"We need to continue raising the momentum, to sustain the momentum of positivity, of change, of renewal... We are not going to drop the ball, the stakes are very high," he said.

Zuma bowed out hours after police raided the luxury home of the Gupta family, the Indian-born billionaire allies of the former president who have been at the center of corruption accusations against Zuma and his circle for years.

Zuma and the Guptas have always denied wrongdoing.

Ajay Gupta, one of three Gupta brothers who was declared "a fugitive from justice" by South Africa's chief prosecutor this week, left the country for Dubai 10 days ago, a Johannesburg airport spokeswoman said on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Heavens)

 
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