His promise to rejuvenate an embattled economy and job market has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its greatest strength, which allows democratic processes to develop and relies on a wide range of views before taking action, has also been criticized for its unwillingness to make difficult decisions.
His rival, Mr. Zuma, has remained a thorn in his side, with loyal supporters who, in July, helped incite some of the worst unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid, authorities said. The riots resulted in more than 300 victims and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Many criticized Ramaphosa’s response as slow and the police and army as ineffective.
Now the elections present another test, one that their political opponents could well exploit if the ANC underperforms.
“This will become ammunition for them to argue that he is not the right person to lead the ANC,” said Chris Matlhako, second deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party, a partner in the ANC alliance.
Born and raised in Soweto, Ramaphosa took advantage of student activism in an early career as a union leader, fighting some of the largest mining companies in the country.
He defeated Zuma to become secretary general of the ANC in 1991, but later lost his candidacy to become Mandela’s vice president. He left politics and made a fortune investing in business through black economic empowerment efforts aimed at correcting the inequality created by apartheid.