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In February 2018 Cyril Ramaphosa became the fifth president of a democratic South Africa, when the ruling ANC forced the resignation of then President Jacob Zuma. The move was heralded as a masterstroke by the party, and a return to the ANC’s model of social compact. These analyses, though undoubtedly correct, have overshadowed other ways in which Ramaphosa marked a change from previous presidents.

Struggle credentials still matter in South African politics, and Ramaphosa’s are different than his predecessors’. He is South Africa’s first president to come from the internal mass movements of the 1980s (rather than prison, or exile); he is South Africa’s first president with roots in the Black Consciousness Movement, and in its unions; he is South Africa’s first United Democratic Front president, and its first to be educated under Bantu Education. This last point refers to Ramaphosa’s education in segregated apartheid schools and universities, and his rise to political activism within these structures, especially while he was a student at The University of the North (now the University of Limpopo) in the early 1970s. This was an…

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