A strong first year as DP for Ramaphosa

And the win­ner is … Cyril?


23 November 2014

Sunday Times

AT the start of this year, Cyril Ramaphosa’s po­lit­i­cal prospects did not look very bright.

His rise to the deputy pres­i­dency of ANC at the party’s 2012 Man­gaung con­fer­ence was widely in­ter­preted as op­por­tunis­tic.

Crit­ics al­leged that Ramaphosa was added to Ja­cob Zuma’s slate at the last minute to off­set the pres­i­dent’s eth­i­cal flaws and bol­ster his cred­i­bil­ity with business.

Mem­o­ries had faded of his role in the trade union move­ment and in the con­sti­tu­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions of the ’90s. His po­lit­i­cal skills were rusty after two decades in the board­room. But once Zuma made him deputy pres­i­dent of the coun­try, Ramaphosa’s po­lit­i­cal touch re­turned.

His al­ways-re­lent­less work rate has now been har­nessed to an ef­fec­tive pub­lic re­la­tions ma­chine. His charm and po­lit­i­cal skills have gen­er­ated an almost re­lent­less stream of pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age in re­cent weeks.

Ramaphosa has ap­par­ently brought peace and har­mony to Le­sotho, South Su­dan and Sri Lanka. This has re­sulted in doubt­less well-de­served cov­er­age from the pub­lic broad­caster.

In do­mes­tic af­fairs, two re­cent in­ter­ven­tions demon­strate his mas­tery of the art of pol­i­tics.

At the start of this month, the deputy pres­i­dent met Western Cape farm­ers and worker rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Paarl. After the meet­ing, Ramaphosa an­nounced a “mora­to­rium” on farm­worker evic­tions. His widely re­ported state­ment came across as deci- CHILD’S PLAY: Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, left, seemed to have DA leader Mmusi Maimane eat­ing out of his hand. But he may have for­got­ten to tell the op­po­si­tion what they had agreed to sive, sen­si­tive to the needs of all stake­hold­ers and be­nign.

Only later, once the press had gone, did it be­come clear that the “mora­to­rium” car­ried no le­gal weight and served as lit­tle or no im­ped­i­ment to fur­ther evic­tions.

This did not make any­one worse off, but nei­ther was any­one much bet­ter off. Ex­cept Cyril.

This week, Ramaphosa turned his at­ten­tion to the al­leged “deco­rum cri­sis” in par­lia­ment.

On Tues­day, he chaired a meet­ing with gov­ern­ment big­wigs in Tuyn­huys. To the great sur­prise of ob­servers, smil­ing op­po­si­tion lead­ers emerged to an­nounce that an “un­der­stand­ing” had been reached to re­store the “dig­nity of par­lia­ment”.

DA par­lia­men­tary leader Mmusi Maimane seemed to be eat­ing out of Ramaphosa’s hand.

Even the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) climbed on board.

Un­for­tu­nately, it seems Ramaphosa for­got to tell op­po­si­tion lead­ers what they had agreed to. Cer­tain “pro­cesses”, it seems, were to be “put into abeyance” in the in­ter­ests of cross-party unity.

This could well be de­scribed as a mora­to­rium on in­ter­party con­flict.

The next day, the sup­posed deal fell apart when the DA went ahead with a mo­tion of cen­sure over Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s non-attendance in par­lia­ment.

Ramaphosa adopted a sor­row­ful de­meanour. It was “a mat­ter of deep re­gret” that the DA had “cho­sen to sub­or­di­nate na­tional in­ter­ests in favour of nar­row party po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests”, he said.

The ANC chief whip in­sin­u­ated that Maimane was a pup­pet and had been over­ruled by DA leader He­len Zille.

As for the EFF mem­bers, a deal that ini­tially promised to save their ba­con — and salaries — was now off the ta­ble. But their re­sent­ment was now di­rected at the DA.

The deputy pres­i­dent has been cel­e­brated as a man of in­tegrity try­ing to re­store the dig­nity of a cher­ished and vi­tally im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tion. This has helped to re­in­force the idea that Ramaphosa him­self is an im­por­tant and cher­ished in­sti­tu­tion.

ANC MPs who started the week de­spon­dent left the Na­tional Assem­bly cham­ber singing.

The only real loser was par­lia­men­tary Speaker and ANC chair­woman Baleka Mbete. Her stature was di­min­ished almost as much by the deal (which treated her as if she did not ex­ist) as by her pre­vi­ous in­ep­ti­tude.

Her trou­bles may not trou­ble Ramaphosa, how­ever, be­cause she has been touted as one of his po­ten­tial suc­ces­sion ri­vals for the ANC pres­i­dency.

Pro­po­nents of the es­o­teric and hith­erto se­cre­tive phi­los­o­phy of Zulu fem­i­nism have re­cently de­creed that the time has come for a fe­male pres­i­dent — but she has to come from KwaZulu-Natal.

Ramaphosa is still no shoo-in for the pres­i­dency. But it has be­come harder to stop him.


But­ler is the au­thor of an un­of­fi­cial biog­ra­phy of Cyril Ramaphosa. He teaches pol­i­tics and pub­lic pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Cape Town

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