And the winner is … Cyril?
23 November 2014
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