On Freedom Day South Africans celebrate their country's transition from apartheid to genuine multiparty democracy. This year, opponents of President Jacob Zuma used the occasion to call for his removal. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of South Africans have joined anti-Zuma protests.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), told a rally in Pretoria on Thursday it was the time to say "our 94' will come in 2019," local media reported. Maimane was referring firstly to the year that brought South Africa's first black president, the late Nelson Mandela, to power and secondly to the date of the next general election when the DA hopes to defeat Zuma and the ANC.
New24 reported that Zelda La Grange, former assistant to Mandela, told the rally that Zuma, having failed to implement Mandela's vision, must step down.
DW asked younger South Africans what they thought of Freedom Day in 2017. "We are still struggling a lot and still fighting for what our parents thought they had gotten," a 26 year-old said. A 27-year-old South African was cynical and critical of the ANC, the party that changed the course of South African history 23 years ago. "You know the ANC and the regeneration of power. That's how it operates. When it's about election time, they regroup, they group into smaller little clans and they scramble against each other," he said.
Ramaphosa breaks ranks
On Sunday, President Jacob Zuma's deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, called for an independent probe into corruption in high places in South Africa. Ramaphosa said that unless the ANC addressed these challenges, it could be certain that its electoral support would continue to slide.
"We must be honest and brave enough to confront state capture," he said. Ramaphosa was referring to allegations of corruption leveled against President Zuma and his associates.
"Corruption must be rooted out and anybody found guilty must be dealt with," he said, Ramaphosa was clearly taking aim at the president who critics say has dealt South Africa one blow after the other by being involved in a friendship with the influential Gupta family, who unduly benefited from state contracts and tried to influence cabinet appointments. This led to the accusations of state capture.
Zuma has already indicated that he's backing his former wife and mother of four of his children, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, for the Souht African presidency. She is the former leader of the African Union and entered the race to succeed Zuma at an early stage, at the ANC national conference in December while Ramaphosa ran a rather subdued campaign.
"Everybody was holding their breath on when Cyril Ramaphosa will formally enter the race", said Susan Booysen, political analyst at Wits University in Johannesburg. "He has to break the rules actually, because there has been this instruction that no campaigning is allowed until the ANC has officially announced it. But then everybody does campaign, especially those who are on an inside track," Booysen told DW. "It has been widely recognized that the major opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has been campaigning for quite some time and it has been by proxy - that is the way it is done." Cyril Ramaphosa has been largely playing by the rules, she added. He announced late last year, that if he were approached he would be available. "That is a vague declaration of a candidacy."
Need to win over delegates
The former trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa has been in a predicament, Booysen said. "If he wants to stand a chance of winning at the end of the year to succeed Zuma, he largely depends on President Zuma's followers, on his faction, who are deeply entrenched in the ANC, in the provinces, the branches and the region. They will put together the delegates who will be voting at the elective conference of the ANC later in the year."
Had he entered the race earlier, he would have seriously antagonized them, she said, adding that Ramaphosa is treading a very fine line on how to play this political game. Booysen thinks a change of thinking is taking place within Zuma's ANC faction. "Delegates might be realizing that they will perhaps not be elected in the presidential election in 2019 because the ANC's support is slipping." The ANC was defeated by the opposition in municipal elections in 2016 and lost control in the country's three major metropolitan municipalities.
The challenges facing Ramaphosa
Analyst Daniel Silke says Ramaphosa is playing a careful game. "He has waited some time to differentiate himself from Jacob Zuma and the broader Zuma camp. His position as deputy president has made it awkward for him to speak out clearly on [certain] matters. As Dlamini-Zuma's campaign takes shape and becomes more organized he saw an opportune moment to stage some sort of campaign that looks like the beginning of taking on the Dlamini-Zuma camp," Silke said.
Does Ramaphosa have a realistic chance of becoming South Africa's next president? A group of senior ANC heavyweights would largely be on his side, says Silke. They include ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, as well as strong elements within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) that would support Ramaphosa who has strong links with the trade unionist movement. Although Ramaphosa's image was dented following the deaths of striking mine workers at the Lonmin mine in Marikana in 2012, Silke thinks the hugely divided unionist movement will support him, the former union leader who turned into a wealthy business man.
Ramaphosa also needs to make inroads in KwaZulu-Natal. President Zuma's home province and support base. ANC treasurer Zweli Mkize is popular there and is a Ramaphosa supporter. Another prominent name has also entered the race: Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of struggle stalwart Walter Sisulu. She is in the anti-Zuma camp and has leadership aspirations of her own. Having a foot in the Ramaphosa camp, she also appeals to those voters who would like to see a female president. "Whether these personalities can translate their prominence into influencing the delegates when they come to the ANC conference at the end of this year, that is Ramaphosa's key challenge", says Silke.