African National Congress leader Cyril Ramaphosa, who joined former president Jacob Zuma's cabinet as a deputy in 2014, has been elected as South Africa's new president.

South African Deputy President and African National Congress party President Cyril Ramaphosa, delivers a speech at the Grand Parade in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 11, 2018, in celebration of the 28th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison.
South African Deputy President and African National Congress party President Cyril Ramaphosa, delivers a speech at the Grand Parade in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 11, 2018, in celebration of the 28th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. (AP)

Jacob Zuma resigned as president of South Africa on Wednesday in a televised address to the nation, ending a turbulent tenure marred by corruption scandals that sapped the popularity of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and hurt one of Africa's biggest economies.

The resignation signalled the end to a leadership crisis in South Africa and set the stage for Zuma to be replaced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

How did Ramaphosa's political activism begin?

Cyril Ramaphosa was born in 1952 in Soweto, a township in South Africa's Gauteng province near Johannesburg, later studying law at the University of the North at Turfloop.

He started his political activism in the 1970s during the period of student uprisings in South Africa, organised behind the banner of the black consciousness movement, which came to head during the June 16, 1976 massacre.

He was the founder and an advocate of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was created to improve the rights of black African workers in the early 1980s.

He went on to lead the union, staging one of the largest and most effective industrial strikes in South Africa in 1987 that led to a three-week shutdown of the entire mining industry.

African National Congress president Nelson Mandela, right, talks with Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa during a break from the formal discussions on whether to suspend black and white political talks on ending apartheid, June 23, 1992, Johannesburg, South Africa. (File photo)
African National Congress president Nelson Mandela, right, talks with Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa during a break from the formal discussions on whether to suspend black and white political talks on ending apartheid, June 23, 1992, Johannesburg, South Africa. (File photo) (AP)

What was his role in the ANC throughout the 1990s?

In 1991, he pursued a career in politics and was elected to the position of ANC secretary-general at the National Conference under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. 

A veteran of the struggle for liberation from the country's former apartheid system of white-minority rule, the anti-apartheid activist who held the microphone for Mandela during his famous City Hall speech had become a key negotiator during the nation's transition to democracy in the early 1990s.

Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, and main National Party negotiator, Roelf Mayer, pose with a printed copy of the draft of the new South African Constitution after the last session at the Parliament in Cape Town, May 8, 1996. (File photo)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, and main National Party negotiator, Roelf Mayer, pose with a printed copy of the draft of the new South African Constitution after the last session at the Parliament in Cape Town, May 8, 1996. (File photo) (AP)

In 1994, after South Africa’s first fully democratic elections were held, Ramaphosa became a member of parliament and was considered a potential deputy for Mandela. But in the same year, Thabo Mbeki was appointed as the deputy president by Mandela, and Mbeki served as president from 1999 to 2008.

After less than three years in parliament, Ramaphosa resigned in 1997, first joining New Africa Investments and then starting another investment firm, the Shanduka Group.

Ramaphosa, a union leader and lawyer who led talks to end apartheid rule in the early 1990s became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.

His wife Tshepo is the sister of fellow South African tycoon, Patrice Motsepe.

How did he become leader of the ANC?

Elected in 2014, Ramaphosa became deputy president of the Republic of South Africa in the ANC's fifth administration in government.

He was elected as head of the 106-year-old ANC in December. He is the 13th president of the ANC since its founding.

Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Zuma's ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in the ANC leadership vote, forcing him to tread carefully in handling Zuma for fear of deepening rifts in the party a year ahead of an election.

Forbes listed Ramaphosa among the 50 richest people in Africa in 2015, with a net worth of $450 million.

South African president Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are seen attending Cabinet Committee meetings in this government handout picture, in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018.
South African president Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are seen attending Cabinet Committee meetings in this government handout picture, in Cape Town, South Africa, February 7, 2018. (Reuters)

What's next for Ramaphosa?

Ramaphosa faces a major challenge in turning the country around. But his pledges to boost growth and fight corruption have gone down well with foreign investors and ANC members who thought Zuma's handling of the economy could cost the party dearly in a parliamentary election next year.

Financial markets have seen a "Ramaphosa rally" since he defeated Zuma's preferred successor and ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in last year's ANC leadership contest.

What do Ramaphosa's critics say?

Ramaphosa has faced criticism for previously keeping a low profile on the topic of corruption at top levels of government for much of his time as Zuma's deputy, though supporters say he was biding his time and planned to engineer changes from within the government and ruling party.

He turned his connections as a former union leader into business ventures that, at times, have proven controversial. 

Many South Africans remember that Ramaphosa was a board member of the Lonmin mine at the time of the Marikana massacre in 2012, when police shot dead 34 striking mine workers.

What happens to Zuma?

Zuma, who no longer holds a leadership position in the party, faces 783 criminal charges including money laundering, racketeering and fraud linked to a government arms procurement deal in 1999.

South Africa's top court ruled that Zuma violated the constitution following an investigation of multi-million-dollar upgrades to his private home that were paid by the state; a judicial commission is about to start a probe of alleged looting of state enterprises by Zuma's associates; and prosecutors are expected to announce soon whether they will reinstate corruption charges tied to an arms deal from two decades ago.

Zuma, who says he has done nothing wrong, also could face the reinstatement of corruption charges tied to the arms. 

Opposition leaders have denounced unconfirmed reports that Zuma has asked for concessions, saying he should be tried if corruption charges are brought against him, and go to jail if found guilty.

What if Zuma had insisted on the office?

If Zuma had refused to quit, the matter could have gone to parliament for a possible vote of no confidence — or even impeachment proceedings that would likely highlight disarray in the ANC.

An opposition-sponsored vote of no confidence was scheduled for February 22.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies