South African President Leaving ‘Dark Days’ of Corruption, Looking Towards Economic Growth, Land Reform

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country has survived a “dark period” when corruption was rampant and is now focused on achieving economic growth and land reform to win popular support in general elections next year.

“We are moving from a very dark period of our recent history,” said Ramaphosa to international journalists, describing that his ruling party, the African National Congress, is working to root out graft. “We are in a new period now, we are no longer in a period of just sliding downward … now we are beginning to deal with corruption.”

South Africa Ramaphosa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses members of the Foreign Correspondents Association in Johannesburg, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.  (Gianluigi Guercia/Pool Photo via AP)

Ramaphosa said for the first time that he intends to testify before the Zondo Commission which is investigating the extent of corruption under former President Jacob Zuma, who resigned in February amid mounting scandals and faces criminal charges.

Ramaphosa said corruption in South Africa had become like an “amoeba with tentacles all over. To deal with it you must go to the heart of it and thereafter it then loosens its hold on everything else.” He said South Africa’s criminal justice system “will kick into action” and the time will come when “people are arrested, charged, found guilty and go to jail.”

Ramaphosa, 65, rose to prominence in the 1980s as a trade union organizer in the struggle against apartheid, South Africa’s former system of racial discrimination. When he became president in February, many South Africans hailed him as a leader who could steer South Africa back to the optimistic days when Nelson Mandela led South Africa from apartheid to democracy.

However, nearly nine months into his presidency Ramaphosa has not found a quick fix to the country’s problems, including unemployment at 27 percent and inequality ranked among the highest in the world. South Africa’s economy, one of Africa’s largest, is in recession. More than 24 years after the end of racial discrimination, many South African blacks complain they remain poor and disadvantaged.

A pressing issue is land, with whites owning large swathes of farmland that were taken from black families during apartheid. The ANC and Ramaphosa have vowed to redistribute land without compensation, which has pleased some of their supporters but has alarmed many businessmen and potential international investors.

U.S. President Donald Trump waded into the land controversy in August when he tweeted that South Africa is seizing farms and that high numbers of farmers are being killed. In fact, the South African government has not authorized land seizures and says it is still deliberating on the best way to implement land reform.

Ramaphosa said Thursday that South Africa’s land reform will not be as chaotic and economically disastrous as that in neighboring Zimbabwe.

“We will not have any land grabs … It will be a South African solution where we will be sure to act within our constitution and the rule of law … It should never be anything that will degrade our economy or lead to national divisions. The way we deal with the land question should enhance the growth in our country.”

After Trump’s controversial tweet, Ramaphosa said he sat next to the American president at a lunch at the United Nations and said they exchanged pleasantries.

“To the extent that we spoke about land, he spoke about golf courses,” said Ramaphosa. “That is land, I guess.”

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