South Africa’s Deputy President edged out ahead of Mr Zuma’s ex-wife and former cabinet Minster Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in Monday’s closely fought round of voting.
The 65-year-old is now expected to run for the presidential seat in the 2019 elections, with strong poll support behind his back, after securing the leadership of the ANC.
The politician was seen smiling and hugging his fellow ANC members on Monday when the results were announced.
Ahead of the party election, Mr Ramaphosa called for unity within the ANC, after internal struggles threatened to weaken its 23-year-long rule.
Last week he said: “Petty squabbling that takes us nowhere needs to take back seat, our people are frustrated when we spend more time fighting among ourselves instead of solving the daily challenges they experience.”
Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?
Following his withdrawal from politics in the 1990s, Mr Ramaphosa made his comeback in 2012 and served under Mr Zuma as his Deputy President.
His leadership victory today was touted as an “incorruptible” wind of change within the ANC.
Jackson Mthembu, the party’s chief whip, said on Twitter the process to “renew, unite and rebuild” the ANC has begun.
He tweeted: “Voted for @DPRamaphosa and other five incorruptible leaders @MYANC Conference. My vote is to save @MYANC and my country. We must!”
More recently Mr Ramaphosa has distanced himself from President Zuma’s Government, pledging to fix the South African economy and rebuild areas of the country that suffered under apartheid.
Cyril Ramaphosa is the South African Deputy President under Jacob Zuma
The wealthy businessman and union leader is a known long-time anti-apartheid activist who played a pivotal role in South Africa’s transition to democracy.
Born in November 1952, in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, as a young adult he pursued a career in law and politics.
Petty squabbling that takes us nowhere needs to take back seat, our people are frustrated when we spend more time fighting among ourselves
During his formative years at the former University of the North, Mr Ramaphosa became involved with black nationalist groups such as the Black People’s Convention, which led to several brushes with the law.
At the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, Mr Ramaphosa campaigned alongside Nelson Mandela and was a key negotiator in the peaceful talks that ended racial segregation in 1994.
He was President Mandela’s first choice to become Deputy President and was tipped to be his successor one day, but pressure from other leaders in the anti-apartheid movement ousted him in favour of Thabo Mbeki.
Mr Ramaphosa has since built his wealth and reputation in the private sector where he quickly became one of the richest people in the country – while maintaining his links to the ANC.
The South African politician and businessman owned stakes in McDonald’s South Africa
Commercial and residential property group Knight Frank placed the ANC leader 14th on its list of South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen in July this year.
His various investments which included former stakes in McDonald’s South Africa division, were listed to be worth £374million (6.4billion South African Rand).
As a board member of the Lonmin mini company, his entrepreneurship was dogged by the deadly killing of 34 strikers by security forces at a platinum mine in Marikana in 2012. It was the deadliest attack of its sorts since the end of apartheid.
The businessman was harshly criticised for his response to the killings after an internal company email leaked.
He wrote: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labor dispute.
The ANC leader was a crucial member of Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1990s
“They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation, there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.”
That same year he received widespread criticism for bidding £1.49million ($2million) for a cow at a livestock auction in the face of widespread poverty across the country.
In September 2017 he also accused the press of a “smear campaign” against him after The Sunday Independent and Sunday Times reported on alleged details of a sex scandal he was supposedly involved in.
Addressing a crowd at a rally in Randfontein, the politician said: “We have been warned that these attacks in the coming months are going to get vicious, that these targeted attacks are aimed at the leadership contest that is now under way and to deter other people from contesting for leadership.
“We must be able to say that it must stop. It is not going to stop me.”
Then in October this year Mr Ramaphosa faced the axe by President Zuma after he publicly criticised his party leader for the 11th cabinet reshuffle since assuming power.