February 16, 2018 / 8:41 AM / 8 months ago

South Africa's Ramaphosa set to outline priorities in key speech

* State of nation address due at 1700 GMT

* Eyes on new team and programme, especially on economy

* Markets have rallied since Ramaphosa became ANC leader

By Alexander Winning

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 16 (Reuters) - South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is expected to give more details about how he plans to tackle corruption and boost economic growth on Friday, when he delivers his first state of the nation address.

Ramaphosa was sworn in as head of state on Thursday after his scandal-plagued predecessor, Jacob Zuma, reluctantly resigned on orders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

His 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 under Zuma. Zuma denies all wrongdoing.

“It’s all systems go. We are expecting our political programme to be delivered by the new president,” parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete told state broadcaster SABC from Cape Town, where the state of the nation address will be made from around 1700 GMT.

Ramaphosa, who will see out the remainder of Zuma’s presidential term until elections next year, faces an uphill battle to win public and investor support.

Africa’s most developed economy needs faster economic growth if it is to reduce high unemployment - currently at 27 percent - and alleviate widespread poverty that has persisted since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

The economy slipped into recession last year for the first time since 2009 and has also declined in indices that measure corruption and the ease of doing business.

Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to straighten out the country’s struggling state-owned enterprises and woo overseas investment.

South Africa’s rand extended recent gains early on Friday.

Ramaphosa, a former union leader who played an important role in talks to end apartheid, is expected to announce major cabinet changes in the coming days to replace Zuma acolytes in key portfolios who have been accused of mismanagement and implicated in corruption.

Ordinary South Africans are hopeful that he will deliver on promises to create more jobs.

Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alison Williams

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