South Africa’s new President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a sober address on Friday that the country will face “tough decisions” as it works to repair its economy after years of stagnation under the turbulent rule of his predecessor Jacob Zuma.
Hailing a “new dawn” a day after his inauguration, he promised to fight corruption, which had weakened the state-owned enterprises in Africa’s most industrialized economy, and to trim a bloated cabinet.
Ramaphosa said his government was committed to “policy certainty and consistency”, in contrast to Zuma, who was criticized for policy shifts and unpredictable cabinet changes that rocked domestic financial markets and confounded investors.
The leader of the opposition, and head of the Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane, said the president was reading from an old script.
“We could have gotten more bolder action today, but I heard more of the same stuff,” Maimane said.
“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions,” Ramaphosa said in his first State of the Nation address.
“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people,” he added.
Ramaphosa’s election as president, which was unopposed in the parliament, has prompted a wave of optimism among South Africans hungry for change after nine years of economic stagnation and corruption scandals. Zuma denies all wrongdoing.
“Tough decisions have to be made to close our fiscal gap, stabilize our debt and restore our state-owned enterprises to health,” Ramaphosa said. He promised to make job creation a priority in 2018.
South Africa’s rand ZAR=D3 rallied soon after Ramaphosa started his address, trading near its three-year best.
Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to woo overseas investment.
He thanked Zuma for the way he had approached recent events. Facing waning electoral support for his party, Ramaphosa needs to avoid alienating ANC members still loyal to the 75-year-old former president.
In a direct appeal to poorer black voters – the core of the ANC’s support – Ramaphosa said he would aim to speed up the transfer of land to black people. 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.
Ramaphosa said he will pursue a policy of “radical economic transformation” that will speed up expropriation of land without compensation, but said this should be done in a way that increases agricultural production and improves food security.
Ramaphosa said mining had potential for growth and jobs.
South Africa’s mining industry has been a major employer and contributed 7.7 percent to gross domestic product in 2016. The sector also accounts for 25 percent of exports in Africa’s most industrialised economy.
South Africa’s GDP is estimated to grow by around 1 percent this year.