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Nelson Mandela’s Former Protege Is South Africa’s New President — And Is Calling for ‘Year of Action’

Just months after leaving office, speaking on the evening of Sunday, December 5, 1999, the former and first president of post-apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela, declared his hope for the new century, “that it will be indeed a better one for all of the people of the world.”

It had also been Mandela’s hope that his close aide and chief negotiator in talks that secured the end of apartheid, Cyril Ramaphosa, would play a key part in ensuring this fairer world as his successor. But thanks to a powerful faction in the African National Congress, the party overlooked Ramaphosa.

And so there is something particularly poignant that in the centennial year of Nelson Mandela’s birth, his chosen one has finally been sworn in as president of South Africa, 19 years after Mandela left office.

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The appointment of the anti-apartheid activist turned multi-millionaire businessman has also come at a potentially opportune time for the country; since Ramaphosa was announced as president of the ANC in December, the economy has continued to improve, with the South African rand gaining 10% against the US dollar, placing the country in a better position to enact the policy changes required to tackle its drastic levels of inequality.

Yet it will not be plain sailing — Ramaphosa has a considerable task head. In a 2016 study on the country it was revealed that 10% of the population owns more than 90% of all wealth, and 80% of the population owns no wealth at all. Cape Town, the country’s second biggest city, is running out of water. According to government statistics, the number of people living with HIV in the country increased from 4.72 million in 2002 to 7.03 million by 2016, though the rate of infection is declining. Unemployment remains at a historic high with less than half of the working age population officially employed.

Thus Ramaphosa’s calls in recent months for a radical path of socio-economic transformation based on tackling inequality and boosting employment and economic growth come as very welcome news. But it is also his impassioned invocations of the legacy of Nelson Mandela, in this anniversary year, e, that has left many feeling more optimistic about where the country could go.

Like Global Citizen, Ramaphosa sees this year as a unique opportunity to honor the late leader and all that he stood for through activism. As President Ramaphosa declared earlier this month in a speech delivered in Cape Town from the same spot where Mandela addressed South Africans after being released from jail 28 years ago, “This is a year of celebration, but it must also be a year of action.”

And it must be a year of action if we are to get closer to an end of extreme poverty. As Mandela once said: “Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

Throughout the year Global Citizen will be inspiring the generation of today in the memory of Mandela, to take action on behalf the world’s most vulnerable. We look forward to working with President Ramaphosa and his government to build both a nation and a world in which all people have access to jobs, food, clean water, good education, good health, and security.