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