South Africa: Ramaphosa’s Moment

The votes have now been counted, and it's clear that Cyril Ramaphosa, leader of the African National Congress (ANC), will continue to serve as South Africa's president. But this time he'll lead with a mandate sealed by South Africa's voters following the first national election victory for the African National Congress (ANC) under his leadership.

What sets Ramaphosa apart from other South African leaders, and what is he now up against?


  • Ramaphosa has succeeded in many roles: Born in 1952, Ramaphosa spent the 1970s as an anti-apartheid activist and the 1980s as the union-man who led the largest mining strike in South Africa's history. He later served as Nelson Mandela's chief negotiator in the talks that ended apartheid in 1994. Frustrated by his inability to advance within the ANC, he left politics in 1997 to become one of South Africa's most successful businessmen.
  • He speaks to a broad audience: Ramaphosa has a formidable skillset. He speaks all 11 of South Africa's official languages—English, Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Afrikaans, Siswati, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga—and his diplomatic skills have earned him a global reputation. He served as one of two international arms inspectors helping to disarm the Irish Republican Army as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
  • His path to power has taken twists and turns: When ANC insiders pressured Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, to pass over Ramaphosa to choose Thabo Mbeki as his deputy and designated successor, a disappointed Ramaphosa spurned Mandela's government to pursue a seat in parliament. As chairman of South Africa's constitutional assembly, he played the lead role in drafting the country's post-apartheid constitution.
  • His greatest battles have been fought within the ANC: Ramaphosa finally became South Africa's deputy president in 2014, but President Jacob Zuma refused to endorse him as his successor. In December 2017, fears within the ANC that Zuma's reputation for corruption would cost the party its hold on power led insiders to oust Zuma and replace him with Ramaphosa. In February 2018, South Africa's ANC-dominated parliament elected Ramaphosa the country's president.

This week, the ANC won a national election with Ramaphosa as its leader.

The president will face many challenges. To protect themselves and their interests against future corruption charges, Zuma and his allies within the ANC are actively working to undermine Ramaphosa's control of the party. Only if he can consolidate control of the ANC can he hope to meet the country's enormous challenges.

A quarter century after he helped end apartheid, Ramaphosa inherits the leadership of a country plagued with endemic corruption, a stagnant economy, high levels of violent crime, frequent electricity blackouts, and an unemployment rate of 27 percent. More than 64 percent of black South Africans still live in poverty. That's why the ANC has seen its vote share fall steadily with each new national election.

Cyril Ramaphosa has wanted this opportunity for 25 years. If he fails to persuade voters that he and the ANC can provide the security and prosperity they've promised, voters may finally decide that the party of liberation should no longer serve as the party of power.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.