South Africa's deputy president consolidated his control of the government on Sunday, promising to conclude a power transition in which he would succeed President Jacob Zuma, who faces widespread calls to resign because of corruption allegations.
Standing on the balcony of Cape Town's pillared City Hall, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered what amounted to a state of the nation address of the kind that Zuma was unable to give as scheduled last week because of the leadership crisis in South Africa, which has one of the continent's biggest economies.
Ramaphosa, Zuma's expected successor, set out a policy agenda for the year in his nationally televised speech, which marked the beginning of commemorations of the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth on July 18, 1918. Then he referred to the topic that people really wanted to hear about — his confidential negotiations in recent days with Zuma over the president's exit after a scandal-marred tenure.
The ruling ANC party's national executive committee will discuss Zuma's fate at a meeting Monday "and because our people want this matter to be finalized, the national executive committee will be doing precisely that," Ramaphosa said.
He said his discussions with Zuma had to be conducted with "care and purpose" and with the aim of uniting South Africans. The political opposition criticized the private talks, saying the 75-year-old president may have been pressing for an "exit package" in exchange for his resignation.
The Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition party, referred to unconfirmed media reports that Zuma demanded a state security detail for himself and his family as well as payment by the state of his legal fees.
"He must be prosecuted and, if found guilty, be locked up for his crimes," the Democratic Alliance said.
Zuma denies wrongdoing, but he has been discredited by scandals, including multimillion-dollar upgrades to his private home that were paid by the state, suspected looting of state enterprises by his associates and the possible reinstatement of corruption charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago.
In his speech, the deputy president said the government would wage a "relentless war against corruption and mismanagement of the resources of our country" and that the justice system will punish the guilty.
"We are determined to rebuild the confidence of our people in the public institutions of our country and to restore the credibility of those who are elected to serve in those institutions," said Ramaphosa, a key negotiator during the transition from apartheid to democracy in the early 1990s who later became a wealthy businessman.
Ramaphosa, 65, joined Zuma's Cabinet as deputy in 2014 and replaced the president as head of the African National Congress in December, providing political cover for his increasing attacks on corruption at top levels of government. He has faced criticism for previously keeping a low profile on the issue 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.
The occasion of Ramaphosa's speech was heavy with symbolism because he spoke from the same balcony where Mandela spoke on Feb. 11, 1990, after he was released from prison by the white minority government of the time. On that euphoric day, a bearded Ramaphosa held the microphone for Mandela as the anti-apartheid leader who would become South Africa's first black president addressed well-wishers.
Mandela, who had been jailed for 27 years, electrified the crowd, repeating lines about the dream of a multiracial democracy that he spoke at his 1960s trial on sabotage charges.
"It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die," said Mandela, who died in 2013 at the age of 95.
When Mandela finished his speech in 1990, Ramaphosa briefly addressed the crowd.