Ramaphosa to the rescue in absence of Zuma
Business Day, 7 Nov 2014
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.