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Cyril Ramaphosa is sworn in as South African President in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday Feb. 15, 2018. Ramaphosa on Thursday was elected unopposed as South Africa's new president by ruling party legislators after the Wednesday resignation of Jacob Zuma.
AP Photo/Mike Hutchings / Pool
Citizenship

After South African President Resigns, Country Looks to Future With Hope

After more than eight years in office, Jacob Zuma resigned as president of South Africa on Wednesday night following widespread rejection of his rule by the government and electorate, according to the New York Times.

Fellow African National Congress Party member and deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been voted in by the parliament to succeed Zuma until the next national election is held in 2019.

Zuma’s departure caps, at least for now, the political career of a hugely controversial figure whose anti-apartheid activism and populist roots were overshadowed by graft and cronyism, according to the BBC.

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Zuma rose to prominence alongside Nelson Mandela as a staunch opponent of apartheid, the BBC notes, and his humble roots meshed with his everyman charisma to propel him to the presidency in 2009.

From the beginning of his rule, however, he has been beset by corruption scandals that he dealt with by firing ministers, police, and prosecutors, according to the Financial Times.

By the time of his exit, he was facing 18 counts of corruption, the BBC reports, and the Nelson Mandela Foundation even repudiated his legacy.

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“Systematic looting by patronage networks linked to President Zuma have betrayed the country Nelson Mandela dreamt of as he took his first steps of freedom 28 years ago,” the foundation said in a statement to FT. “We call on the state to hold him accountable for his actions — some things cannot be pardoned.”

The endless procession of corruption charges at times paralyzed the government and Zuma’s reign was not particularly known for major policy outcomes.

A few of his achievements include promoting youth employment, expanding tourism, and investing in energy independence, according to the Huffington Post.

However, the South African economy largely declined throughout his presidency and the number of people living in poverty increased after he took office.

And his record on human rights has been heavily criticized.

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“During Jacob Zuma’s presidency South Africa was blighted by serious human rights violations,” Shehnilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa, said in a statement.  

“Under Jacob Zuma’s leadership, we’ve seen a failure to ensure access to justice for victims of a range of human rights violations,” she added. “For example, almost six years after 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana were killed by police, there has been no justice for victims or their families.”

Ramaphosa is seen as a refreshing alternative to the stagnant nature of Zuma’s presidency, CNN reports.

Like Zuma, he gained prominence alongside Mandela and is a longtime member of the ANC. As deputy president, he was second in line to Zuma.

But whereas Zuma was largely an orator and advocate early in his career, Ramaphosa was a trade union leader who was involved in high-level negotiations for Mandela, CNN notes.

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He has also frequently spoken out against corruption.

Now that he’s president, Ramaphosa has vowed to clean up the government, but he faces numerous challenges including a strong opposition party, weakened institutions, and major crises like the drought afflicting Cape Town, FT notes.

"We want to clean up South Africa so that we can begin to make it more attractive to investors but at the same time to deal with the issues that are impeding growth," Ramaphosa told CNN last month.

"This is not a flash in the pan," Ramaphosa said. "We are going to make sure that we do not disappoint our people."

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