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South Africa’s Ramaphosa to give policy speech amid graft allegations


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the second day of the Mining Indaba, on February 5, 2019, in Cape Town. – The Mining Indaba is Africa’s foremost mining industry meeting, bringing international mining companies, government officials, and all role players in African mining, together. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa will on Thursday deliver his last state-of-the-nation address ahead of elections in May with his party smarting from corruption allegations.

In his address to parliament last year, two days after Jacob Zuma resigned from office, Ramaphosa vowed a “new dawn”, promising economic revival and to fight endemic corruption, earning him plaudits even from the opposition benches.

But a year later, growth is tepid and unemployment remains stubbornly high at more than 27 percent while embarrassing details have emerged of corruption within the government and among ANC ruling party officials.

An ongoing commission into graft has heard blow-by-blow details of how bribes were paid to several government and party officials, including senior cabinet ministers serving in Ramaphosa’s government.

Mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe and environment minister Nomvula Mokonyane are some of the top party guns whose names have been linked to corruption by witnesses at the graft hearings.

Ramaphosa is under pressure to move against the implicated officials, but he must also strive for party unity through the election.

“The truth that is coming out will set us free and will make us stronger, but we must make sure the wrong things being talked about in the commission must never, ever… happen again in South Africa,” Ramaphosa said at an ANC meeting last weekend.

Battle for votes
The opposition has jumped onto ANC corruption as a election trump card.

“Corruption is in the very DNA of the ANC,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance. “We urge the president to act, and act fast”.

Radical leftist opposition leader Julius Malema has challenged Ramaphosa to explain his links with Bosasa, a company that corruptly won huge government tenders under Zuma’s tenure.

Ramaphosa is alleged to have benefited from Bosasa donations when he campaigned for the ANC presidency in 2017.

“If Cyril thinks he is going to do what Zuma was doing in that parliament, we will treat him the same way we treated Zuma,” warned Malema, whose MPs booed and shouted down Zuma whenever he addressed parliament.

“Ramaphosa’s own position is precarious as he attempts to lead a cleanup of government within a divided ruling party,” said Judith February, a researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies.

The economy is forecast to have grown less than one percent last year, and huge debts racked up by state-owned companies such as power-monopoly Eskom and South African Airways are major headaches for Ramaphosa.

The president received a boost ahead of his Thursday evening speech when French energy giant Total announced it had found “significant” gas off the southern coast of South Africa, a discovery that could aid the nation’s struggling economy.

Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne said the potential quantities “could be around one billion barrels of global resources, gas and condensate light oil”.

In his speech, Ramaphosa is also expected to give an update on the controversial land reform plans to tackle apartheid-era inequality through “expropriation without compensation”, a policy proposal that has spooked foreign investors.

Despite dipping in the polls, the ANC is tipped to win the parliamentary election with around 60 percent of the vote.

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