Ramaphosa’s early days as Deputy President (2014)

Ramaphosa to the res­cue in ab­sence of Zuma

Business Day, 7 Nov 2014

Anthony Butler

WITH Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ap­par­ently van­ish­ing into thin air in re­cent weeks, Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa has been able to dom­i­nate the do­mes­tic news agenda. He has stepped into the con­flicts tear­ing apart the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Although lead­ers of the Na­tional Union of Me­tal­work­ers of SA dis­missed him as a cap­i­tal­ist fat cat, he came through the me­di­a­tion process with his rep­u­ta­tion en­hanced.

He has taken re­spon­si­bil­ity for restor­ing or­der in labour re­la­tions and for lead­ing de­lib­er­a­tions about the role that min­i­mum wages might play in mit­i­gat­ing in­equal­ity and poverty. Last week, meet­ing farm­ers in Paarl, he called for a “mora­to­rium on the evic­tions of farm work­ers”.

Ramaphosa has also made head­way on the other side of the cap­i­tal-labour di­vide. The World Bank’s res­i­dent di­rec­tor ar­gued this week that the em­ploy­ment and growth tar­gets set out in the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan (NDP) may be am­bi­tious but are not un­re­al­is­able. In or­der to achieve th­ese goals, the in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment pro­gramme must be put back on track and the labour re­la­tions en­vi­ron­ment must be sta­bilised.

As Deputy Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas con­firmed this week, pub­lic sec­tor spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture will have to be sup­ple­mented by pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment, and this will re­quire tar­geted ini­tia­tives to re­move ob­sta­cles to this. The gov­ern­ment will need to fo­cus on in­vest­ments that support pri­vate sec­tor job cre­ation, such as stronger trans­port sys­tems and broad­band in­fra­struc­ture, rather than squan­der­ing re­sources on “glam­orous in­vest­ments or white ele­phants which re­sult in lit­tle or ques­tion­able value”.

As chair­man of the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, Ramaphosa has now be­come the key cham­pion of the NDP within the gov­ern­ment, sug­gest­ing that his bro­ker­ing and deal-mak­ing role will con­tinue to keep his pub­lic pro­file high.

On top of this busy do­mes­tic sched­ule, Ramaphosa has been ac­tive ad­dress­ing con­flicts and chal­lenges in Le­sotho, Sri Lanka and South Su­dan. In­deed, it is dif­fi­cult to see how he could be­come any more prom­i­nent and ac­tive in lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs — ex­cept per­haps by bring­ing about world peace or free­ing Earth from dis­ease and hunger.

Ramaphosa’s key com­peti­tors for the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) pres­i­den­tial suc­ces­sion have, like Zuma him­self, all but dis­ap­peared. After an enor­mous pub­lic re­la­tions ex­er­cise to sur­round Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma with an aura of com­pe­tence, she has floun­dered at the African Union.

ANC trea­surer-gen­eral Zweli Mkhize is ly­ing low after his sys­tem of charg­ing direc­tors-gen­eral for their jobs was ex­posed. Party fi­nances have ap­par­ently come close to col­lapse.

Long-shot suc­ces­sor Malusi “Gupta” Gi­gaba (so named be­cause of his re­la­tion­ship with the fa­mous fam­ily of en­trepreneurs) has been re­moved from the Depart­ment of Pub­lic En­ter­prises after a dis­as­trous term. He is now dec­i­mat­ing the tourism in­dus­try.

The re­lent­less flood of news about Ramaphosa’s good works, grow­ing support for him in Gaut­eng and the East­ern Cape, and the de­bil­i­ta­tion of his ri­vals to­gether raise the prospect of a po­ten­tially smooth trans­fer of power from Zuma to Ramaphosa at the ANC’s 2017 elec­tive con­fer­ence.

All of this good news for Ramaphosa, how­ever, can­not wash away the stain of Marikana. It seems highly im­prob­a­ble that the Far­lam com­mis­sion will find Ramaphosa per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for the mas­sacre. But a pic­ture emerged dur­ing the hear­ings of a busi­ness­man over­stretched by mul­ti­ple board mem­ber­ships, inat­ten­tive to the liv­ing con­di­tions of work­ers, and serv­ing as a bro­ker be­tween the company, the ANC, the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers and the gov­ern­ment.

Ramaphosa has been a cham­pion and lead­ing prac­ti­tioner of the form of eq­uity-based black em­pow­er­ment that the Lon­min deal ex­em­pli­fied. Pre­sum­ably he will need at some point to ex­plain how it can be made to serve wider in­ter­ests than merely those of a company’s own­ers.


But­ler teaches pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

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