The confirmation by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 30 July election victory was above board brushed aside opposition MDC Alliance complaints, along with growing international scepticism about the hotly disputed poll. Violent scenes in Harare following the results’ announcement raised concerns that the new administration may yet have more in common with the dark years of Robert Mugabe’s rule than with Mnangagwa’s loudly proclaimed “open for business” policy (AE 358/23). Mnangagwa was sworn in on 26 August but has yet to appoint his cabinet or a vice-president. Key international partners are looking for a government that promotes stability and economic growth. Efforts early in Mnangagwa’s mandate to end Mugabe-era indigenisation and other measures have been welcomed. But much more is expected: the age and qualifications of the 75-year-old Mnangagwa’s ministerial appointees will be closely watched.

The polls contained several anomalies that clearly favoured the ruling party and its presidential candidate. Whether the opposition can maintain its righteous anger to challenge Mnangagwa as his government beds in is questionable. Some observers fear violence, which could severely derail investment. Mnangagwa’s government will be judged by its ability to build on the goodwill that accompanied Mugabe’s departure. The revival will necessarily include reorganising the crucial agri-business sector and the land redistribution that so undermined Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s latter decades.

Apparent in everything from local communities’ protests at the siting of wind farms to murderous clashes between farmers and nomadic herders, land rights are a defining feature for communal politics across sub-Saharan Africa. Just as redistribution came to define Zimbabwe’s decline, it could come to define Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency in South Africa. Still running high in the polls after his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s crony politics threatened to take South Africa down a Zimbabwean road to ruin, Ramaphosa’s blend of personal authority and business experience promises to significantly improve the outlook for the continent’s largest economy. The dropping of nuclear plans promoted by Zuma and his allies in the Integrated Resource Plan released for public comment by energy minister Jeff Radebe on 27 August is among measures that have been widely welcomed.

But Ramaphosa and his allies will need much more if they are to overcome the difficult legacy of apartheid-era social and economic engineering, which has left South Africa with gaping disparities that are often, but not always, defined by race. This is behind the difficult Mining Charter revision and Ramaphosa’s headline-grabbing commitment to land reform via restitution without compensation. Ramaphosa stated his case in a 23 August article in the Financial Times, where he quoted the World Bank’s observation that “South Africa’s historical, highly skewed distribution of land and productive assets is a source of inequality and social fragility”.

Introducing fundamental land reform without damaging the economy will be no easy task and the response from markets has been uneasy. However, predictions the change will lead to a ‘new Zimbabwe’ are likely to be premature: Ramaphosa is a reformist with a deep belief in the benefits of capitalism. The land he believes could be redistributed is unlikely to include high-performance commercial farms of the sort whose demise brought hyperinflation to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. On her first trip to Africa to peddle the vision of a ‘global Britain’ post-Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May on 27 August told reporters in Cape Town that “the UK has for some time now supported land reform… that is legal, that is transparent, that is generated through a democratic process”.

Ramaphosa is looking to a constitutional amendment that “would provide certainty and clarity”. The South African countryside can be a very unhappy place, where marginalised communities require radical change. But South Africans know very well what happened in Zimbabwe. So, of course, does Mnangagwa, whose task now is to create the conditions for new generations to fulfil Zimbabwe’s once highly promising potential.