Ramaphosa’s return at Mangaung

Ramaphosa en­gi­neered his own come­back

Business Day, 8 Mar 2013

An­thony But­ler

IT IS now more than 16 years since Nel­son Man­dela told the na­tion that Cyril Ramaphosa would be leav­ing Par­lia­ment. The would-be pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal prospects seemed to di­min­ish with ev­ery elec­tion cy­cle there­after. For this rea­son, Ramaphosa’s elec­tion as deputy pres­i­dent of the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) at its na­tional con­fer­ence in Man­gaung has some­times been greeted as “op­por­tunis­tic”.

Ramaphosa’s ad­dress to 500 con­gre­gants at the Pen­te­costal Ho­li­ness Church in Rusten­burg last week­end is a re­minder that we should not take neg­a­tive prog­noses for Ramaphosa’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture at face value. “We as Chris­tians”, he some­what im­plau­si­bly be­gan, “need to be­come the mo­ral con­science of our coun­try”.

Ramaphosa’s ad­dress to 500 con­gre­gants at the Pen­te­costal Ho­li­ness Church in Rusten­burg last week­end is a re­minder that we should not take neg­a­tive prog­noses for Ramaphosa’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture at face value. “We as Chris­tians”, he some­what im­plau­si­bly be­gan, “need to be­come the mo­ral con­science of our coun­try”.

Ramaphosa even gave a plug for the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan, en­cour­ag­ing the con­gre­ga­tion to read it and to as­sist in its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Such a bravura per­for­mance, de­liv­ered with a straight face, is a re­minder that Ramaphosa is a mul­ti­fac­eted cam­paigner with the flair to cul­ti­vate di­verse con­stituen­cies.

He can talk to busi­ness, labour, the churches and the ur­ban youth. Like Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, but un­like al­most all of his peers, he can even cam­paign suc­cess­fully in deep ru­ral ar­eas.

He can talk to busi­ness, labour, the churches and the ur­ban youth. Like Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, but un­like al­most all of his peers, he can even cam­paign suc­cess­fully in deep ru­ral ar­eas.

There are four rea­sons to be­lieve that Ramaphosa’s re­turn was the prod­uct of his own ac­tions. First, he learnt from his rout­ing by Thabo Mbeki that he needed to em­brace ANC con­ven­tions in or­der to suc­ceed. Since 1996, he has con­sis­tently de­nied any lead­er­ship am­bi­tions. A one­time out­sider in an ex­ile-dom­i­nated lead­er­ship he has slowly trans­formed him­self into an in­sider.

Sec­ond, his po­lit­i­cal re­birth did not be­gin at Man­gaung but at Polok­wane. When Mbeki’s at­tempt to se­cure the life pres­i­dency of the ANC was de­feated, Ramaphosa im­me­di­ately se­cured chair­man­ship of the na­tional dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee of ap­peals.

Sec­ond, his po­lit­i­cal re­birth did not be­gin at Man­gaung but at Polok­wane. When Mbeki’s at­tempt to se­cure the life pres­i­dency of the ANC was de­feated, Ramaphosa im­me­di­ately se­cured chair­man­ship of the na­tional dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee of ap­peals.

Third, when Zuma be­came state pres­i­dent in May 2009, Ramaphosa’s de­ci­sion not to be­come a min­is­ter was well judged (as the tra­vails of Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter Tokyo Sexwale have demon­strated) and not a sign of marginal­i­sa­tion.

Ramaphosa in­stead agreed in 2010 to be­come deputy chair­man of the re­cently es­tab­lished Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, which of­fered him an al­most per­fect van­tage point from which to ob­serve the many in­ter­re­lated chal­lenges con­fronting SA — and so to pre­pare for a role in the government. It could also al­low for his man­aged en­try into a min­istry in the Pres­i­dency if cir­cum­stances dic­tate a need for this.

Ramaphosa in­stead agreed in 2010 to be­come deputy chair­man of the re­cently es­tab­lished Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, which of­fered him an al­most per­fect van­tage point from which to ob­serve the many in­ter­re­lated chal­lenges con­fronting SA — and so to pre­pare for a role in the government. It could also al­low for his man­aged en­try into a min­istry in the Pres­i­dency if cir­cum­stances dic­tate a need for this.

Fourth, Ramaphosa’s ac­tions sug­gested he took a Zuma sec­ond term for granted, or con­sid­ered the cost of de­feat­ing him too great for the ANC to bear. Rather than build­ing un­easy al­liances with his Gaut­eng con­tem­po­raries, Sexwale and Mathews Phosa, he sup­ported a sec­ond term for Zuma, but also for his own pro­tege, Gwede Man­tashe.

Malema’s sec­ond show trial was presided over by Ramaphosa. Zuma’s bat­tle for trade union sup­port was won only when the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers, the union Ramaphosa cre­ated in the early 1980s, ral­lied be­hind Zuma.

Busi­ness success proved to be an as­set rather than the hand­i­cap many of Ramaphosa’s en­e­mies pre­dicted. His con­sis­tent sup­port for black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment was po­lit­i­cally pro­duc­tive. And his for­tune, es­ti­mated at $675m by Forbes mag­a­zine last year, brought au­ton­omy from money bro­kers.

Busi­ness success proved to be an as­set rather than the hand­i­cap many of Ramaphosa’s en­e­mies pre­dicted. His con­sis­tent sup­port for black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment was po­lit­i­cally pro­duc­tive. And his for­tune, es­ti­mated at $675m by Forbes mag­a­zine last year, brought au­ton­omy from money bro­kers.

Zuma has needed above all to re­store con­fi­dence among busi­ness­peo­ple and in­vestors. He al­most begged Tito Mboweni to re­turn to pol­i­tics; but to have Ramaphosa on his ticket was the ul­ti­mate prize.

Ramaphosa’s plan­ning and tac­ti­cal aware­ness en­sured he was on pro­vi­sional Zuma-camp slates in 2011. When nominations for­mally opened in Novem­ber last year, a deep reser­voir of per­sonal cred­i­bil­ity was also re­vealed. Ramaphosa needed some luck to re­turn from the po­lit­i­cal grave. But he has, through his own ac­tions, be­come the last man stand­ing from the gen­er­a­tion that falls be­tween Zuma and Mbeki and young chal­lengers from the prov­inces, such as Zweli Mkhize and Paul Mashatile.

Ramaphosa’s plan­ning and tac­ti­cal aware­ness en­sured he was on pro­vi­sional Zuma-camp slates in 2011. When nominations for­mally opened in Novem­ber last year, a deep reser­voir of per­sonal cred­i­bil­ity was also re­vealed. Ramaphosa needed some luck to re­turn from the po­lit­i­cal grave. But he has, through his own ac­tions, be­come the last man stand­ing from the gen­er­a­tion that falls be­tween Zuma and Mbeki and young chal­lengers from the prov­inces, such as Zweli Mkhize and Paul Mashatile.

But­ler teaches pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Cape Town.

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