What kind of president would Ramaphosa be?

This is an excerpt from a Huffington Post piece on CR, written by Liesl Pretorius on 17 August 2017.

Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?

Professor Anthony Butler of the University of Cape Town, who wrote a biography of Cyril Ramaphosa, says he’s not sure if he “ever really got to the bottom of” who Ramaphosa is. We asked him …

1. If someone only knows Ramaphosa as deputy president, who would you say he is, based on your research for the book?

… I think when he was younger he was one of those people who had an immediate charisma and compelling effect on people around him. I think he was someone who got what he wanted and who was always charming and I think to some degree that was moderated by his genuine religious commitment when he was young. I think that religion was a very important force in his early political career until maybe some way to university or perhaps even a bit later, 1976. Ideologically since moving across that boundary between liberation theology and black consciousness after university, I think he has never really settled on any firm ideological position. So I spoke to people who were really committed Marxists including one of his close friends who worked for the Stasi in East Germany and who remained a communist after the fall of the Soviet Union … who insisted that Ramaphosa was pulling the wool over the eyes of business people and his liberal friends and that deep down he was a committed socialist. And if he was to rise to power, he would immediately move left and surprise everybody. But I also talked to business people who said exactly the opposite — that Cyril was pulling the wool over the eyes of his leftist supporters. I think his closest friends were quite conservative. Particularly James Motlatsi … his fellow creator of the mine workers’ union and I think that perhaps Cyril is in fact a conservative. And perhaps a pragmatic conservative who pushes soft social-democratic possibilities, but very cautiously.

But he’s able to speak to quite different audiences in a way that convinces them that he’s one of them …

Cyril has friends of all different kinds and he keeps them apart, so he will meet with his old friends from the University of the North on one day of the year … he’ll meet with his old white business palls and play golf with them and invite people in groups to his farm. And he will entertain quite, very different kinds of people apart from one another. And each of those different groups of people believes that Cyril is one of them or is sympathetic towards them. And he’s maintained that really over his whole life. To a degree that suggests it’s a big part of his personality — that he’s not able or willing to commit himself to any particular — not just ideological position — but any particular group of friends … What kind of person is he? He’s also quite capable of being an intimidating person but the face that he presents to the world is most usually charming and he’s effective at charming almost anybody that he wants to charm … The other thing about him is … he’s very energetic, persistent, determined, hard to stop when he sets his mind on something and unflappable …

2. If it’s hard to stop him when he puts his mind to something, why did he leave politics for business when he came up against competition?

He came up against something much bigger than that … The consultations that [former president Nelson] Mandela went through were very unlikely to favour Ramaphosa. [Thabo] Mbeki was the ascendant man in the ANC and I think Ramaphosa saw that Mandela was not going to back him. But at the same time I think he felt that he deserved it. I think he was genuinely angry, and not just Ramaphosa. There was a sentiment among people in the trade union movement that the exiles had come back, they were arrogant … and that they expected to take over … Mbeki really represented that expectation of the exiles. I think Ramaphosa and the people around him were very resentful … He is and always has been deeply ambitious. And then he was essentially told by Mandela to leave … Dr Motlana, Mandela’s physician … told me he was present at the meeting where Cyril was told to leave and he reported Mandela as saying that you’re young enough to come back in 10 years.

And you can see that one of Ramaphosa’s weaknesses was that he had a narrow power base … Also, he was very young and in some respects a newcomer to the ANC.

So, I don’t think he had much choice. He could have fought it out but he would have lost …

3. What kind of a leader do you think he would be if he is successful in the leadership race?

… I suppose we can look at the past. And it’s clear that he … is somebody who is able to sustain concentration, to negotiate for long periods of time; to operate in different spheres simultaneously. So, he [has] a lot of skills that you need to be a president. He also has … developed a sophisticated grasp of financial-legal issues … I think maybe most important is [that his experience as] a constitutional negotiator indicated that he could manage a large and sophisticated team in complex and sustained negotiations. That’s another unusual skill. People who have worked with him in business have often complained that he moves between micromanaging — the one thing that always sticks in my head is how he insisted on choosing the clothes that the staff wore on his farm — so, very minute attention to detail but at the same time … failing to be sufficiently decisive, interestingly particularly in pursuit of his own interests. He didn’t want to be seen to be pursuing his own interests … But he took some very strong decisions about how Shanduka would operate. In particular, he had an overwhelmingly black executive management team that he placed trust in. Unlike many other BEE barons whose businesses were run by white executives … So Cyril was always determined that his businesses should be black businesses and in fact that’s one of the areas in which he showed real determination that progress should be made rapidly, not just in his own business, but he believes in BEE … The other thing about him as a president, I think, is not just that he’s rich, which may help in providing insulation against temptation but he’s also … a principled person. So, I don’t think we want to exaggerate this — in that politics and business require a degree of flexibility and negotiation of ethical quandaries that don’t have simple solutions — but … he thinks too much of himself to act unethically just to make money. And he also doesn’t care … who’s his friend, I don’t think. He’s never tried to build a constituency of sycophants and he wouldn’t begin to do that. So, I think there are quite a lot of strengths. The problems I think are that at some point the decisions of presidents have to become ideological in one sense or another. If you’re going to be a successful president, you have to impart some sense of direction to your administration and it remains unclear what he believes in. So, he believes in finding solutions. A classic example is the minimum wage negotiations … He demonstrated his mastery of a certain kind of politics. Most politicians would not have been able to come out with a [solution] that was both reasonably rational but also protected his own interests quite successfully.

But on the other hand, it wouldn’t be good for the country if the whole presidency was a negotiation of that kind, because there are a large number of hard decisions that need to be taken and pushed through …

And in order to do that, you would have to have a clear idea of what your project is …

The full article is here http://projects.huffingtonpost.co.za/articles/cyril-ramaphosa-can-mr-nice-be-a-decisive-president/?utm_hp_ref=za-homepage


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