Cyril Ramaphosa will outline his strategy to restore economic growth, fight corruption and tackle entrenched inequality in South Africa in the first major speech of his presidency.
The former deputy president was sworn in as head of state hours after being elected unanimously by parliament to replace Jacob Zuma, who resigned late on Wednesday following accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement.
In a short speech in parliament on Thursday, Ramaphosa, 65, vowed to fight graft and unite South Africans.
“Issues to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state-owned enterprises and how we deal with ‘state capture’ are issues that are on our radar screen,” he said, in a reference to alleged improper influence over government institutions, ministers and state-owned businesses by Zuma’s associates.
Ramaphosa reached out to opposition parties, telling parliamentarians “South Africa must come first in everything we do”.
“This is not yet uhuru (freedom). We have never said it is uhuru. We are going to seek to improve the lives of our people on an ongoing basis, and since 1994, we have done precisely that,” he said.
The annual state of the nation address was to have been given by Zuma eight days ago, but was postponed to allow Ramaphosa, who is the leader of the ruling African National Congress, and other senior party officials to negotiate his predecessor’s departure.
The ANC has a substantial majority in parliament and the vote was effectively a formality. Although deeply divided, the party has closed ranks after the crisis of recent days and rallied around Ramaphosa.
There are very high expectations of the president.
David Everatt, a professor of politics at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, wrote on the Conversation: “Ramaphosa is no messiah, and when the post-Zuma champagne corks stop popping, South Africans need to assess him as a mere mortal … Ramaphosa has a massive job ahead of him in trying to reignite national pride, self-belief and mutual trust.”
ANC officials will be looking to Ramaphosa to improve its flagging popularity. Economic decline and multiple corruption scandals have undermined the image and legitimacy of the party, which led the struggle against apartheid and has been in power since Nelson Mandela became president after South Africa’s first free elections in 1994.
The ANC suffered significant setbacks in municipal elections in 2016 and could be forced into a coalition government at the national level, experts have said.
In an early sign of change, police raided the Johannesburg home of the Guptas, a family of wealthy businessmen alleged to have earned millions of dollars from contracts gained through improper dealings with Zuma and other government officials.
Ajay Gupta, one of the three brothers accused of wrongdoing, was declared a fugitive from justice on Thursday after failing to hand himself in to police.
Zuma and the family deny the allegations.
Ramaphosa, a former anti-apartheid activist turned successful businessman, is the standard bearer for the moderate, reformist faction of the ANC. Zuma, 75, represented the party’s more populist, nationalist element, commentators said.
In a televised address to the nation late on Wednesday, Zuma, who was due to leave power next year, said he was a disciplined member of the party, to which he had dedicated his life.