Mid-term appraisal of DP Ramaphosa

Is Cyril Ramaphosa in the run­ning or not?

Sunday Times, 11 Oct 2015


EVEN in­sid­ers were as­ton­ished when he was cat­a­pulted to the ANC deputy pres­i­dency in 2012.

The for­mer trade union­ist and busi­ness ty­coon has since been obliged to dodge numerous bul­lets.

De­trac­tors have lam­basted his con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions as a di­rec­tor of min­ing house Lon­min and chair­man of cell­phone gi­ant MTN.

He has also waded through the moral swamp of Ja­cob Zuma’s sec­ond ad­min­is­tra­tion wear­ing a fixed grin.

Lit­tle won­der that scep­tics have be­gun to ques­tion whether he has the moral back­bone to be the leader South Africa re­quires. Or, in­deed, whether he has the stom­ach for a lead­er­ship fight.

The ev­i­dence that Cyril Ramaphosa is not a fighter dates back more than 20 years.

In 1991, he would not have run for the of­fice of ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral if a pow­er­ful ca­bal of SACP ex­iles had not ca­joled him into do­ing so.

When Nel­son Man­dela chose Thabo Mbeki as his first deputy state pres­i­dent in 1994, an ag­grieved Ramaphosa could well have bat­tled in the branches, where he was then beloved, for the ANC deputy pres­i­dency. In­stead, he quit pol­i­tics for busi­ness.

But there is an al­ter­na­tive view. He fought with ex­tra­or­di­nary tenac­ity for minework­ers dur­ing the ’80s. He ded­i­cated him­self to the ne­go­ti­a­tions that se­cured a peace­ful tran­si­tion in South Africa at the ex­pense of his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. He was one of a hand­ful of lead­ers will­ing to take on both Win­nie Man­dela and ANC Youth League king­maker Peter Mok­aba.

He was just 43 when Mbeki be­came Man­dela’s heir ap­par­ent.

As Man­dela later coun­selled Ramaphosa, he had the time to go into busi­ness, stand back from front­line pol­i­tics, and re­turn to the fray a decade or two down the line. And that is ex­actly what he has done.

When he was sub­jected to two ex­tended pe­ri­ods of de­ten­tion and soli­tary con­fine­ment in 1974 and 1976, he care­fully sur­veyed the ter­rain ahead.

He iden­ti­fied the trade union move­ment as the key ve­hi­cle for anti- apartheid mo­bil­i­sa­tion. A decade of as­ton­ish­ing suc­cess with the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers fol­lowed.

Af­ter Man­dela asked him to leave pol­i­tics, he re­mained in the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the ANC and qui­etly built up his se­nior­ity.

A suc­cess­ful ANC lead­er­ship cam­paign de­pends on the cre­ation of a cross-na­tional coali­tion of sup­port that draws to­gether var­i­ous pro­vin­cial fac­tions, pow­er­ful re­gions, and other part­ners.

The fact that Ramaphosa has no par­tic­u­lar pro­vin­cial power base is a chal­lenge but also an op­por­tu­nity.

He is pri­mar­ily a Gaut­eng politi­cian. That field is now largely his be­cause for­mer ri­vals there, such as Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa, are no longer in the game.

The deputy pres­i­dent also has ca­pa­ble al­lies, most no­tably ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe. Ramaphosa’s pro­tégé from his NUM days may help him se­cure sup­port in the Eastern Cape. More­over, given the im­por­tance of pro­ce­dural ma­nip­u­la­tion in in­ter­nal ANC elec­tions, Man­tashe’s role as sec­re­tary-gen­eral could be­come crit­i­cally im­por­tant.

The anti-Ramaphosa stance of pa­tron­age politi­cians, such as the so­called “premier league” of ANC chair­men, will boost his chances of se­cur­ing SACP back­ing. Whether or not the hol­low shells of the youth league and women’s league, or a di­vided Cosatu, sup­port Ramaphosa mat­ters far less than it would have done in the past. Why is Ramaphosa so quiet? First, he has pa­tiently es­tab­lished him­self as one of the two most “se­nior” can­di­dates in the field. By per­pet­u­at­ing the myth that the deputy pres­i­dent al­ways suc­ceeds to the ANC pres­i­dency, his sup­port­ers have made him the can­di­date to beat.

Sec­ond, the ANC’s lead­er­ship se­lec­tion pro­ce­dure pro­motes twohorse races. This is be­cause prov­inces can nom­i­nate only one can­di­date for each top-six po­si­tion.

The con­test now shap­ing up be­tween Ramaphosa and AU Com­mis­sion chair­woman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is there­fore in the deputy pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ests. It will take po­ten­tially more dan­ger­ous ri­vals, such as trea­surer-gen­eral Zweli Mkhize, out of the run­ning.

Mkhize is likely to fall in be­hind Dlamini-Zuma. At his age he can­not sit out two Ramaphosa terms and he would doubt­less pre­fer the age­ing AU chair­woman as a prob­a­ble one-term pres­i­dent.

Third, the other pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, in­clud­ing Dlamini-Zuma, are in one way or another as­so­ci­ated with the ANC’s po­lit­i­cal pow­er­house of KwaZulu-Natal. But it is un­likely that any of them can unite that now­di­vided province in the way that Ja­cob Zuma was once able to do. Only overt eth­nic mo­bil­i­sa­tion can now ac­com­plish this; and that would pro­voke a counter-re­ac­tion around the coun­try that would bol­ster Ramaphosa’s cam­paign.

Ramaphosa has a long road to travel be­fore he can re­alise his child­hood am­bi­tion to be­come South Africa’s pres­i­dent.

But most of his cur­rent de­trac­tors have been bet­ting against him for a long time now, and look at the heights he has al­ready scaled.

But­ler is the au­thor of “Cyril Ramaphosa” (Ja­cana Media, 2013). He teaches pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Cape Town

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