South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa warns of ‘toxic cleavages’ at inauguration

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa warns of ‘toxic cleavages’ at inauguration

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa warned of the dangers of “toxic cleavages” in one of the world’s most unequal countries, after he was inaugurated for a second term as president – this time at the head of a coalition government with his African National Congress party’s biggest rival.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority in 29 May elections, for the first time since Nelson Mandela led it to power in 1994 after apartheid, as millions of voters defected to breakaway parties amid chronic unemployment and the declining quality of public services.

Last week, it agreed to govern with its former bitter rival, the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), and four other smaller parties, in what Ramaphosa has called a “government of national unity”. Leftwing parties that declined to join have said the government can more accurately be called a grand coalition and that it will reinforce the power of “white monopoly capital”.

“We have made great strides in building a new society,” Ramaphosa told an audience that included Nigeria’s president, Bola Tinubu, and King Mswati III of neighbouring Eswatini, in an amphitheatre outside the government’s Union Buildings in Pretoria.

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“And yet despite this progress our society remains deeply unequal and highly polarised. There are toxic cleavages, often incipient social fragmentation, that can only turn into instability.”

These still-sharp divisions included those between black and white South Africans and people with jobs and the unemployed, Ramaphosa said. More than four in 10 South Africans are out of work and, 30 years after the first fully democratic elections, the country’s deep economic inequality still plays out largely along racial lines.

The president will have to hold together a broad coalition. The DA has strongly criticised corruption under the ANC and is more in favour of free markets. It has campaigned against the more statist ANC’s economic affirmative action programme and filed a court challenge against a national health insurance bill that Ramaphosa signed into law two weeks before the election.

The president has yet to appoint a cabinet, with the coalition “statement of intent” mandating that the allocation of ministries take into account member parties’ share of parliamentary seats. The coalition currently had six members and commanded 273 seats, the ANC said on Monday, with it holding 159 seats and the DA 87.

Negotiations on government positions would be completed soon, Ramaphosa’s spokesperson told the national broadcaster SABC. “The president does not want the country to go through a prolonged period of uncertainty,” he said.

The new government faces a long list of challenges, from the need to create jobs to tackling violent crime and making sure that power cuts that have lasted up to 12 hours a day in recent years do not return.

“The voters of South Africa … [have] been unequivocal in expressing their disappointment and disapproval of our performance in some of the areas in which we have failed them,” Ramaphosa said during the inauguration ceremony, which included praise poetry, helicopter flyovers and a 21-gun salute.