In his maiden speech as president of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, appealed for unity in the South African ruling party, pledging to tackle corruption and support resolutions made to empower poor South Africans, including the expropriation of land without compensation.
As the ANC elective conference came to a close, many including Ramaphosa breathed a sigh of relief that the conference had ‘successfully’ ended despite the several setbacks it faced including legal battles, ‘deeply divided’ delegates and uncertainty over the effects that the outcomes of the conference would have on South Africa as a country.
“Speculation was rife that the 54th conference of the ANC would either not take place or collapse on the very first day,” Ramaphosa said, referring to the bitter legal battles over which members would be permitted to vote for the new leader that threatened to overshadow the gathering.
Ramaphosa narrowly won the presidency vote on Monday after waging a bitter campaign with fellow anti-Apartheid veteran Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma.
Ramaphosa, whose party leadership takes him a step closer to the country’s presidency, reserved his most important messages for the South Africans keenly following developments in the ruling party.
“The African National Congress wishes to send a clear message to all South Africans that we are resolved to be a more responsive and more accountable leadership, and a more accountable movement to the people of our country.”
Following President Jacob Zuma’s tumultuous years, the accountability that many South Africans will be looking for will be in the areas of tackling corruption in the government and economic reforms that improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
On corruption, “This conference has resolved that corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality,” Ramaphosa said.
“We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks,” he said in the early hours of Thursday (21 December).
The ANC conference resolved to amend the Constitution to allow for land to be expropriated without compensation. “This conference has resolved that the expropriation of land without compensation should be among the mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution,” Ramaphosa said.
He said the land transfers would be speeded up under the radical economic transformation program, an ANC plan to tackle racial inequality.
Two decades after the end of Apartheid, the ANC is under pressure to redress racial disparities in land ownership where Whites own most of the land.
The ANC would need a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly in order to change Section 25 of the country’s constitution which allows for expropriation of land for a public purpose, or in the public interest, and subject to compensation which must be just and equitable.
South Africa, which has been governed by the ANC since its independence in 1994, will go to the polls in 2019.
Adira Kallo with agencies