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8 May, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Economy will test S Africa’s next president

AFP, Johannesburg
Economy will test S Africa’s next president
This picture taken on Monday shows a poster reading 'Angry workers vow to halt polls' from a local newspaper above a poster reading 'Ramaphosa for president' on a pole in Phoenix, north of Durban. South Africans go to the polls today. AFP e Photo

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa may be on course to retain power in today's election, but he will face the immediate challenge of fixing a floundering economy that is stoking public unrest.

While the country is the continent's most industrialised economy with its most developed infrastructure, it is grappling with stagnating growth and unemployment levels creeping towards 30 per cent -- rising over 50 per cent among the young.

Rampant corruption, ballooning national debt and depressed investor confidence have weighed down the potential of the country under the ANC, which has ruled since the end of apartheid and is widely tipped to win again, polling at more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Its closest challenger, the opposition Democratic Alliance, is forecast to get only about 20 per cent.

After May 8, the president -- likely to be incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader -- will have a tough task creating jobs, attracting foreign money and tackling corruption.

Soaring fuel prices, a weak local currency and persistent inequalities further add to the socio-economic malaise.

"Persistently low growth and high unemployment rates are key economic challenges," according to global investment ratings agency Moody's.

South Africa's economy grew at less than one per cent last year and slipped into a brief recession during the third quarter of 2018.

Discontent at poor basic services such as water, housing and electricity have sparked a wave of protests, with violent crime further fuelling public anger.

Ramaphosa, who enjoys support from the business community, has prioritised reform and economic revival.

But he faces resistance from within his own party from factional ANC rivals who may work to scupper his agenda.

His efforts to dismantle well-organised corruption networks that flourished under predecessor Jacob Zuma will be resisted by some in the ANC, analysts say.

"Business has put a lot of resources behind him, to support him to succeed but he's going to have severe political constraints because his party is divided between the good people and the bad people," said Lumkile Mondi, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"Any action against those people that were involved in corruption and malfeasance is going to be politicised, limiting his ability," said Mondi.

Ramaphosa will have to take bold steps to deal with those caught in the graft web and reduce corruption which has become normalised, boosted by poor policing and a weakened justice system.

"It's no exaggeration to say Ramaphosa is caught between a rock and a hard place," Indigo Ellis, of London-based Verisk Maplecroft risk consultants, told the news agency.

His "ability to achieve key targets, such as his promise of US$100-billion (foreign) investment in five years, depends on his capacity to maintain primacy... within the ANC," said Ellis.

South Africa was a prime investment destination in Africa after the downfall of apartheid, but under Zuma's presidency between 2009 and 2018, investor confidence fell to its lowest levels since white-minority rule ended.

In 2017, two of the world's leading ratings agencies S&P Global and Fitch downgraded the country to sub-investment levels.

One government policy particularly viewed with suspicion is the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation to be redistributed to poor, black people.

The plan has spooked investors and analysts say the new president must tread carefully to assure protection of property rights and attract investment.

The ANC, which has steadily been shedding support in recent years, but is still the majority party by quite a margin, has to win by a decent margin for Ramaphosa to have a strong mandate.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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