The people who want to be president of South Africa

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South Africa’s seventh democratic general election is just over a week away, with a record-breaking number of parties and independents looking to make the Union Buildings in Pretoria their new office.

Fifty-two political parties will feature on the national compensatory ballot, with numerous others, including independents, appearing on regional and provincial ballots.

In preparation, BusinessTech has decided to look at the brief profiles of just some of the many contenders that parties (excluding independent candidates) have put forth as their hopeful nominee to lead the South African government’s seventh administration.


Cyril Ramaphosa – African National Congress (ANC)

Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, aged 71, is a prominent figure in both business and politics, currently serving as the President of South Africa, a former MP, and President of the ruling party.

Born in Soweto, Johannesburg, Ramaphosa assumed office as the fifth President of South Africa in 2018, following his election as the 13th President of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December 2017.

Prior to his presidency, Ramaphosa held key positions within the ANC and country, including Deputy President of the party from December 2012, and Deputy President of South Africa from 2014 to 2018.

With an estimated net worth of R6.2 billion (though unconfirmed for almost a decade), Ramaphosa has engaged in various business ventures. Notably, he founded the Shanduka Group in 2001, chaired MTN Group from 2001 to 2013, served on the board of SABMiller from 2014 to 2016, and held a non-executive director position at Lonmin until 2012.

Ramaphosa chaired the Constitutional Assembly following the 1994 elections, leading the drafting of the country’s constitution. During Nelson Mandela’s presidency, he served as Secretary-General of the ANC.

Ramaphosa also played a crucial role in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations.

In 1982, he joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) as a legal advisor. At CUSA’s behest, Ramaphosa spearheaded the establishment of a union for mineworkers, leading to his appointment as the inaugural Secretary-General of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).


John Steenhuisen – Democratic Alliance (DA)

John Steenhuisen, aged 48, is a politician, Member of Parliament (MP), and the current leader of the Official Opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Originally from Durban, Steenhuisen took over the DA leadership in 2020 after serving as interim leader for a year starting in November 2019.

The DA holds the majority in the Western Cape and serves as the official opposition in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and the Free State.

In April 2023, Steenhuisen was formally elected as the DA’s federal leader during its federal congress. Prior to his leadership role, he served as the DA’s Chief Whip in Parliament from May 2014 to October 2019.

Steenhuisen has been a member of the National Assembly since July 2011. Before his tenure in national politics, Steenhuisen was involved in KwaZulu-Natal politics for most of his adult life.

He was the Provincial Leader of the DA for KwaZulu-Natal, and held the position of Party Caucus Leader in the Provincial Legislature.

In 1999, at the age of 22, he was elected as the youngest councillor to the Durban City Council, representing the Democratic Party, the precursor to the DA.


Julius Malema – Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

Julius Sello Malema, aged 43, is a politician, MP, and the founding leader of South Africa’s second-largest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Hailing from Seshego, near Polokwane, Malema has served as an MP for the EFF since 2014.

Since its inception, Malema has led the EFF as its president, overseeing the party emerge as the official opposition in several provincial legislatures, including Limpopo, North West, and Mpumalanga.

In 2013, Malema founded the EFF after being expelled from the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), where he had held its presidency from 2008 to 2012.

In 1997, Malema became the provincial chair of the Congress of South African Students in Limpopo, later ascending to the position of its national president in 2001.

He became a member of the ANCYL in 1995 and held leadership roles at local and regional levels.

Malema’s political journey began young when he joined the ANC’s Masupatsela movement, tasked with removing National Party posters, at around nine or ten years old.


Velenkosini Hlabisa – Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

Velenkosini Fiki Hlabisa, aged 59, is a politician, MP, and the current leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

Originally from Hlabisa in the Umkhanyakude District Municipality of KwaZulu-Natal, Hlabisa assumed leadership of the IFP in August 2019, uncontested.

The IFP holds the position of the official opposition in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

Prior to his leadership role, Hlabisa held various positions within the IFP. He was appointed Provincial Secretary for KwaZulu-Natal in 2011 and became a Member of the IFP’s National Executive Committee.

In 1995, Hlabisa was elected as a municipal councillor for Hlabisa town, serving for 24 years, including a term as Mayor of the Big Five Hlabisa Local Municipality from 2016 to 2019.

Hlabisa participated in student and union movements, co-founding the South African Democratic Students’ Movement and serving as the Regional Deputy Chairperson of the National Teachers’ Union.


Herman Mashaba – ActionSA

Herman Samtseu Philip Mashaba, aged 64, is known for his roles in politics and entrepreneurship, originally from GaRamotse in Hammanskraal, located north of Pretoria.

Currently, Mashaba is president within ActionSA, a political party he established in August 2020.

His journey in founding ActionSA was preceded by the creation of The People’s Dialogue, a platform designed to engage with South Africans on social and civil matters which launched on December 6, 2019, and concluded on February 29, 2020.

The People’s Dialogue laid the foundation for the establishment of ActionSA.

Mashaba’s foray into politics began in 2016 when he joined the Democratic Alliance (DA) and contested for the mayoral position of Johannesburg. He emerged victorious and served as Mayor from 2016 to 2019 until his resignation from the DA.

Mashaba’s career initially unfolded in the corporate sector. Notably, he founded the hair-care company Black Like Me in 1985, which evolved into one of South Africa’s most prosperous black-owned businesses, making him a multi-millionaire.


Dr Pieter Groenewald – Vryheidsfront Plus (VF Plus)

Dr Petrus Johannes “Pieter” Groenewald, aged 68, is a politician and the incumbent president of the Vryheidsfront Plus (Freedom Front Plus).

Prior to assuming the leadership of the party in November 2016, Groenewald held significant leadership roles within the Freedom Front Plus. From August 2011 to November 2016, he served as both the Parliamentary Leader and Federal Chairperson.

Before that, he was the Provincial Leader of the party in the North West from March 1994 to March 2017.

Since co-founding the VF Plus in 1994, Groenewald has been actively involved with the party. He initially served as a Member of the National Assembly before moving to the North West Provincial Legislature in 1999. Groenewald returned to the National Assembly in 2001 and has continued to serve there since.

Groenewald’s political career started in 1988 as Stilfontein’s mayor, but he ultimately resigned in 1989 in order to take a seat in the House of Assembly.


Gayton McKenzie – Patriotic Alliance (PA)

Gayton McKenzie, aged 50, is a politician, former mayor, businessman and founding president of the Patriotic Alliance (PA),

Originally from Heidedal, Bloemfontein, McKenzie has been a councillor for the Laingsburg Municipal Council since 2022, and was Mayor of the Central Karoo District Municipality from April 2022 to May 2023.

McKenzie gained political prominence for launching the PA in 2013.

Before then, he had business interests in restaurants, hotels and events venues, logistics and transport, imports, mining, energy, entertainment and events, publishing and farming, which ultimately saw him become a multi-millionaire.

McKenzie was sentenced to 17 years in jail for robbery as a teenager. He came to fame in the early 2000s for his role in a prison exposé, was released early amid an investigation of prison corruption, and has since become a motivational speaker on the topic.


Songezo Zibi – Rise Mzansi

Songezo Zibi, aged 48, boasts a diverse background encompassing roles in politics, literature, journalism, corporate leadership, and nonprofit engagement.

Originally from Mqanduli, Eastern Cape, Zibi embarked on a new chapter in April 2023 when he assumed the position of national leader for Rise Mzansi, a party formed to contest the 2024 general elections.

As an author, Zibi has written “Raising the Bar: Hope and Renewal in South Africa” and “Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa.”

Zibi’s journey includes a tenure in journalism, where he held positions such as associate editor of the Financial Mail in 2014 and editor of Business Day until 2016.

Zibi also had a corporate career, holding key positions at Volkswagen South Africa (1998 – 2006), Xstrata (2006 – 2013) and Absa (2016 – 2021).

He has also been actively involved in nonprofit organisations. Notably, he played a foundational role as a founding member of Rivonia Circle, a research and community collaboration NGO.


Mmusi Maimane – Build One South Africa (BOSA)

Mmusi Aloysias Maimane, 43, is a politician, businessman and former MP, and founding leader of Build One South Africa (BOSA).

Originally from Krugersdorp, Gauteng, Maimane formed the One South Africa Movement in 2020, which laid the foundation for BOSA.

He was the former Leader of the country’s opposition, the DA, from May 2015 until his resignation from the party in October 2019. He was also the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly from May 2014 to October 2019.

Maimane ran as the DA candidate for Premier of Gauteng in the 2014 elections.

He served as the leader of the DA in the Johannesburg City Council and its National Spokesperson. In 2011, he ran as the DA’s mayoral candidate for Johannesburg and later became the Leader of the Official Opposition in the council until May 2014.

In addition to his political career, he is also a church pastor.


Patricia de Lille – GOOD

Patricia de Lille, 73, is a politician, former trade unionist and mayor, MP, and Minister from Beaufort West in the Western Cape.

De Lille formed the GOOD party in 2018 following her resignation from the DA, and has been leading the party since.

She was elected to Parliament under GOOD in May 2019 and was appointed Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure that month, and later became Minister of Tourism in March 2023.

Before GOOD, De Lille was a member of the DA after it merged with the Independent Democrats, another party that she founded. From 2015 to 2017, she was the Provincial Leader of the DA in the Western Cape.

She served as the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Social Development from 2010 to 2011 and as the Mayor of Cape Town from 2011 to 2018.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, De Lille was a National Executive Member of the South African Chemical Workers Union was the National Vice-President of The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU).

In 1989, she joined the National Executive Committee of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and became an MP for them in 1994.


Bantu Holomisa – United Democratic Movement (UDM)

Bantubonke Harrington Holomisa, aged 68, boasts a career in politics and military service.

Originally from Mqanduli, Eastern Cape, Holomisa is the leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which he co-founded in 1997 after a brief stint in the ANC.

He has served as an MP for the UDM since 1999 but was first elected to the National Assembly in 1994 as an ANC MP.

From then until 1996, he served as Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and was a member of the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee.

Holomisa headed the Transkei government from 1987 to 1994 and served as Chairman of the Military Council and the Council of Ministers. After this, Transkei was reintegrated into democratic South Africa, and Holomisa briefly joined the ANC.

Prior to that, Holomisa compelled the resignation and exile of Transkei Prime Minister George Matanzima in October 1987 and subsequently ousted Matanzima’s successor, Prime Minister Stella Sigcau, in a bloodless coup d’état in December 1987.

Before entering politics, Holomisa had a military career, rising to the rank of general.


Read: Zuma not allowed to stand for Parliament: Constitutional Court

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