December 21, 2017 / 8:20 AM / a year ago

South Africa's Standard Bank urges Ramaphosa to lift economy

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s biggest lender by assets, Standard Bank, urged the newly elected leadership of the ruling ANC party on Thursday to urgently implement sweeping reforms to restore investor confidence and reverse economic decline.

Cyril Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old union leader who became a businessman, won the leadership of the African National Congress this week on promises to fight corruption and revitalise Africa’s most industrialised economy. That message has been welcomed by investors who have largely held back their capital during Jacob Zuma’s scandal-plagued presidency.

The ANC’s electoral dominance means Ramaphosa, who edged out former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the leadership, is likely to become the country’s next president after elections in 2019.

Standard Bank, one of the top four banks whose fortunes are linked to local politics and the economy, called on the ANC take quick and decisive action against corruption.

“As a leading contributor to the economic development of our country, Standard Bank has a right and a duty to argue for policies and approaches to governance that will reverse South Africa’s economic decline and that will foster the conditions for much faster and more inclusive growth, more job creation, and further transformation,” the bank said in a statement.

Ramaphosa, an apartheid-era trade unionist and former chairman of Africa’s biggest telecoms operator MTN Group, is seen by business leaders as well placed to turn around the economy. South Africa’s GDP is estimated to grow by less than one percent this year, while the unemployment rate is nearly at a record 28 percent.

Some investors are nevertheless concerned that Ramaphosa may not be able to push through policy changes because the ANC’s decision making group, known as the “Top Six”, was split down the middle, consisting of three politicians apiece drawn from Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma’s camps.

Dlamini-Zuma is a veteran campaigner against the racial economic inequality that has persisted since the end of white-minority rule and her hostility to big business had rattled some investors in South Africa.

Separately, Zuma on Thursday congratulated Ramaphosa on his victory and commended the policies adopted at the conference, which include the nationalisation of the central bank and land expropriation without compensation.

“The delegates have shown yet again that there is no task bigger than the ANC. But most importantly, they have demonstrated that the unity of the ANC is sacrosanct,” Zuma said in a statement.

Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Catherine Evans

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