Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to become South Africa’s next President after he was elected leader of the African National Congress (ANC). 

The deputy President won the race against his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former cabinet minister and ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, by a margin of less than 200 votes. 

In the run-up to the contest, Mr Ramaphosa styled himself as a reformer who will steer South Africa away from the corruption scandals that have hurt the economy and spooked investors.

Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?

The 65-year-old moved from being a prominent anti-apartheid activist and one of the chief negotiations to help bring an end to white minority rule, to becoming one of the wealthiest businessmen in South Africa. 

He fought the injustices of white rule from within South Africa, most prominently by defending the rights of black miners as leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

A member of the relatively small Venda ethnic group, Mr Ramaphosa was able to overcome divisions that sometimes constrained members of the larger Zulu and Xhosa groups.

He also played an important role in drafting South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution. 

How was he regarded by Nelson Mandela?

Whenever Nelson Mandela needed a breakthrough in talks to end apartheid, he turned to the then-trade union leader with a reputation as a tenacious negotiator.

Using skills honed in pay disputes with mining bosses, Mr Ramaphosa steered those talks to a successful conclusion, allowing Mr Mandela to sweep to power in 1994 as head of the victorious ANC after South Africa’s first democratic vote.

Mr Mandela wanted Mr Ramaphosa to be his heir, but was pressured into picking Thabo Mbeki by a group of ANC leaders who had fought apartheid from exile.

It has taken more than two decades for Mr Ramaphosa to get another chance to run the country.

What does his election mean for the future of South Africa?

The choice of Mr Rhamaphosa over his main rival, Ms Dlamini-Zuma, is likely to chart a reformist course for South Africa.

President Zuma has faced allegations of corruption since he became head of state in 2009. He has also faced allegations that his friends, the wealthy Gupta businessmen, wielded undue influence over his government. Both Mr Zuma and the Guptas have denied the allegations. 

Mr Ramaphosa has promised to fight rampant corruption and revitalise the country’s economy, in a message hailed by foreign investors.

Chris Vandome, South Africa analyst at Chatham House, told The Independent Mr Ramaphosa’s efforts will be “hampered by the split within the top six of the party between those who supported him, and those that supported his opponent”. 

Mr Vandome said allegations against those at the top of the party who are close to Mr Ramaphosa “will weaken the credibility of anti-corruption rhetoric”.

He added: “The election of Ramaphosa to the highest position within South Africa’s ruling party has been positively received by international markets.

“Increased confidence will unlock investment into the country, and we may see something of a self-fulfilling prophecy on economic growth – international investors see him as positive so they put money into South Africa, which causes growth to increase, and it is credited to him.

“For real change in South Africa, the attention must be on reducing poverty and inequality.

“The broad economic plan that Ramaphosa put forward at a regional party colloquium in November may deliver socioeconomic change in the country, but he is only President of the party, not of the country, and there are still many political battles ahead if he is to take the top spot in government and implement the change he has proposed.”

What do South Africans think of him?

To his supporters, Mr Ramaphosa’s business success makes him well-suited to the task of turning around an economy grappling with 28 per cent unemployment and credit rating downgrades.

In the Johannesburg township of Soweto last month, Mr Ramaphosa called for a “new deal” between business and government to spur economic growth.

​However, Mr Ramaphosa has his detractors too. He was a non-executive director at Lonmin, when negotiations to halt a violent wildcat strike at its Marikana platinum mine in 2012 ended in police shooting 34 strikers dead.

An inquiry subsequently absolved Mr Ramaphosa of guilt, but some families of the victims still blame him for urging the authorities to intervene.

“My conscience is that I participated in trying to stop further deaths from happening,” he said about the deaths.

Others are unconvinced that Mr Ramaphosa will be as tough on corruption as his campaign rhetoric suggests.

Additional reporting by agencies