Ramaphosa’s chances at Mangaung (from 2012)

ANC needs lead­ers who un­der­stand busi­ness

Business Day, 26 Oct 2012, An­thony But­ler

CYRIL Ramaphosa has come un­der fire from many direc­tions since the Marikana mas­sacre. For­mer and cur­rent lead­ers of the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) Youth League have con­demned him for fail­ing to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of work­ers. Such at­tacks be­gan when Ramaphosa chaired dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings against Julius Malema that re­sulted in his ex­pul­sion from the ANC. An­i­mos­ity was fu­elled by Ramaphosa’s emer­gence as a po­ten­tial ANC deputy pres­i­dent on Ja­cob Zuma’s Man­gaung slate, a de­vel­op­ment that threat­ened to de­rail the league’s cam­paign for Kgalema Motlanthe and Tokyo Sexwale to seize the ANC’s most se­nior of­fices.

Ad­vo­cate Dali Mpofu claimed at the Far­lam com­mis­sion of in­quiry into Marikana ear­lier this week that Ramaphosa has been at the heart of a “toxic col­lu­sion” be­tween the state and busi­ness. Scep­tics have ob­served that the e-mail cor­re­spon­dence that Mpofu flour­ished in sup­port of this claim does not, on the face of it, in­di­cate such col­lu­sion. In­stead, it sug­gests Ramaphosa was pre­oc­cu­pied with the an­tiu­nion vi­o­lence and killings that had al­ready oc­curred at the mine, and that he was will­ing to use his re­la­tion­ships with union and gov­ern­ment lead­ers to ad­vance a res­o­lu­tion.

Mpofu seemed to dis­cern some sin­is­ter mean­ing in the phrase “con­comi­tant ac­tion”. (It is pos­si­ble he con­fused it with “ter­mi­na­tion with ex­treme prej­u­dice”, which he may have heard at the movies.) A dic­tio­nary con­sul­ta­tion sug­gests that the word “con­comi­tant” sim­ply means some­thing that hap­pens at the same time as some other thing, while be­ing in some way con­nected with it.

The lawyer’s cred­i­bil­ity was al­ready ques­tion­able as a re­sult of his in­volve­ment in the change fac­tion in the ANC and his work as Malema’s le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive. His per­sonal hos­til­ity to Ramaphosa ap­par­ently dates back more than 20 years to the union leader’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Man­dela Cri­sis Com­mit­tee that tried to rein in the ex­cesses of Mpofu’s then lover, Win­nie Man­dela.

Mpofu’s in­ter­ven­tion may have re­minded some older ANC ac­tivists that Ramaphosa stead­fastly faces down bul­lies such as Malema rather than, like Sexwale and Motlanthe, ac­com­mo­dat­ing them.

Un­for­tu­nately for Ramaphosa, po­ten­tially far more dam­ag­ing claims have now been made: that he has be­come a heart­less cap­i­tal­ist. One prom­i­nent pro­po­nent of this po­si­tion, Adam Habib, is a deputy vice-chan­cel­lor at the Univer­sity of Johannesburg who has spo­ken out pas­sion­ately on so­cial is­sues in re­cent years. His moral author­ity in soft left cir­cles is such that many aca­demics at Wits Univer­sity sup­port his quiet cam­paign for their soon-to-be-va­cant vicechan­cel­lor­ship.

Habib re­port­edly de­scribed Ramaphosa ear­lier this week as a per­son who “mean­ing­fully con­trib­uted” to the end of apartheid but is now trapped in a po­si­tion of priv­i­lege and power. It is true that such a criticism (ex­cept for the part about a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion) could be di­rected at many other South African lead­ers — in­clud­ing Habib him­self, whose own salary pack­age is only marginally less gen­er­ous than Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s. But what Habib in­sight­fully ob­serves is that par­tic­i­pa­tion in busi­ness has turned many cel­e­brated strug­gle icons into sym­bols of so­cial division.

If Habib is right, the as­so­ci­a­tion of Ramaphosa with eco­nomic priv­i­lege will make his as­cent to the high­est of­fice in the ANC all but im­pos­si­ble.

The ANC, how­ever, has a col­lec­tive lead­er­ship. The move­ment’s pres­i­dency might be re­served for a man of the peo­ple, such as Zuma or Motlanthe, who en­joys sim­ple plea­sures (al­beit, in the case of Zuma, sim­ple plea­sures that are enor­mously ex­pen­sive). There might be a pref­er­ence for an or­ganic in­tel­lec­tual such as Gwede Man­tashe to oc­cupy the sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s of­fice. But there is also, and per­haps more ur­gently than ever be­fore, a need in the “top six” for a leader such as Sexwale or Ramaphosa who fully un­der­stands the chal­lenges con­fronting South African busi­ness. It is still far from im­pos­si­ble Ramaphosa will emerge in that role at Man­gaung.


But­ler teaches pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: