Cyril Ramaphosa is a shoo-in as the next president of the ANC and the country – but largely as the ANC’s ‘default candidate’.
The quintessential loyal party man. That’s how Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa came across at a recent rare briefing with parliamentary journalists, when he made the astounding assertion that President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet is made up of hard-working, efficient ministers, with high integrity, and management processes to match those of the private sector. This, amid indications that things are pointing south, economically and politically, with South Africa having been downgraded by ratings agencies; the Reserve Bank having forecast reduced growth; and with City Press revealing that at least 19 members of the new cabinet still hold private business interests.
|South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa|
To what should one attribute his apparent optimism? Does he really believe things are hunky-dory? Can he happily be part of a government that has a reputation for corruption?
To some, he may represent a refreshingly different tone and direction, but how influential is he in the ANC and is he to be the country’s next president?
Political analyst Prince Mashele paints Ramaphosa as a fiercely ambitious man who, lacking influence in the party, is playing a cautious hand so as not to offend rivals in the party – most of whom are from KwaZulu-Natal.
Mashele, executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research think-tank, told Noseweek: “Those comments about a good team are nonsense. This is the weakest cabinet we have had since Mandela.” He said Ramaphosa was “very weak” in the ANC’s KZN section, which currently runs the party, and that he was “not influential at all”.
“Quite clearly he wants to rise to the top so he is playing very cautiously, hoping that one day he will be number one.” That goal, he said, is not impossible, depending on factional interplay up to the 2017 ANC conference.
“My sense is he will eventually become president,” said Mashele.
At the media breakfast, held at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town Ramaphosa punted the National Development Plan as the overarching plan for South Africa. He tried to reassure those sceptical about the quality of the cabinet by saying all ministers had signed performance agreements and would be held to account by Zuma for the performance of their departments. Ways would be found to finance South Africa’s energy needs, including the nuclear programme. costing trillions. Nuclear power would form part of the future energy mix, along with natural gas, shale gas, coal and renewable energy. One thing we don’t want is an energy deficit.
“If there’s anything you could hold out as a legacy of President Zuma, it is that he is clear-headed and focused on making sure we have sufficient energy to fuel the growth of the economy,” said Ramaphosa. Without blinking.
Ramaphosa scoffed at suggestions that censorship of the media was creeping into South Africa – but added that “of course we want a patriotic media”.
Ramaphosa was evasive when asked whether he had benefited from BEE, insisting that, as a businessman, he had taken “quite a bit of risk”. He reassured journalists that the process of handing over control of his investments into a trust, to prevent any conflict-of-interest, was well under way.
He said he took in his stride insults and criticism about his personal wealth having increased by R2.6 billion since he entered business.
“When you are in politics you have to have a thick skin, and statements such as that you represent capital – or the devil – are all in the course of politics. They could be motivated by hatred or anything, so you take it in your stride.”
And in the wake of Marikana (it is now known that Ramaphosa called for “concomitant action against criminals” by the police a day before the massacre), Ramaphosa said he had “not really” seen the criticism as an insult.
Mashele said many of Ramaphosa’s assertions on the government’s performance can be shown to be out of touch.
“Most people try and project him as this guy who rose on the basis of his political abilities… but he is Deputy President thanks to the benevolence of the powerful KZN faction in the ANC.
“If we recall what happened before he was nominated as ANC Deputy President, for some time there was a political tussle between two chiefs in the ANC – Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe. It was not clear whether Motlanthe was going to stand. Before then, the name Cyril Ramaphosa did not come up as a potential deputy to Zuma. But, when it became clearer that Motlanthe was going to stand, the KZN faction realised that Motlanthe’s trump card was the perception of credibility while the weakness of the Zuma camp was a perceived lack of credibility. So they looked around and identified Ramaphosa as a number two.
“It does not mean that the KZN faction trusted him or that he is part of that faction. He has never been part of that faction. He was in business, floating and waiting for his moment in the ANC… So his standing in the ANC depends on a powerful ANC faction at the time.”
Mashele pointed out that Ramaphosa had been made deputy chair (under Trevor Manuel) of the National Planning Commission. And “as one of the guys who led the crafting of the National Development Plan, the NPC is essentially Cyril’s baby, so when he became Deputy President, logic would dictate that he should lead the implementation of the important NDP”.
Instead, Zuma had taken away the stewardship of the implementation of the plan and given it to Jeff Radebe from KZN. If Ramaphosa were to be put in a position to provide that sort of technical leadership, he would overshadow the president, said Mashele.
Ramaphosa is not trusted by Zuma, said Mashele. He was not likely to have been consulted when Zuma appointed his ministers, therefore “everything he says about the cabinet comes to zero”.
“His comments [on the cabinet] cannot be trusted… they are not a true reflection of what he thinks. He was trying to play diplomacy so the fourth estate has the impression he is part of the leadership when, in my view, he is not.
“He is on shaky ground politically.”
It was possible for “the factional tide” in the ANC to turn in favour of Ramaphosa as 2017 approached, because Zuma was serving his last term.
“People in the ANC have demonstrated previously that they were capable of shifting political loyalties midway when a president is serving his last term. We saw that with Mbeki. When people saw he was weakening politically, they shifted their loyalties, so it is possible that this could happen.
“My sense is that Ramaphosa will eventually become president. I think he is going to partner with [ANC secretary-general] Gwede Mantashe. They will become a formidable force as we get closer to 2017.
“Mantashe is working as secretary-general for the second time and there is no way he will want to come back to that position. Mantashe wants to become Deputy President – that is most likely to happen if he teams up with Ramaphosa and, if that happens, the KZN faction will find it difficult to field anyone who can stand up to them. Watch that space, that is where we are going.”
Had Ramaphosa’s role in Marikana tarnished his former image as a saviour of the nation waiting to be appointed to a key leadership position?
“He is not a fallen hero,” said Mashele. “There are sections in the ANC, particularly from the labour component of the tripartite alliance, like Numsa, who are critical of him, but in the context of internal ANC politics, I don’t think Marikana has dented him… The spotlight has not been on Cyril, but on the police, with regard to the killings… and because the state played such an important role in that saga, there has been a need on the ANC’s part to consolidate and protect each other. Cyril benefited from that. He did not stand out as the guy who played a unique, decisive role in Marikana. Very few are perspicacious enough to see his important role, but generally South Africans don’t think he played such a decisive role,” said Mashele.
Fellow analyst Susan Booysen says that although strong groupings may see Ramaphosa as a possible “saviour” of a future governent, the ANC’s inner circle still considered him an “invitee” to the position of Deputy President. There was a widespread feeling that he had not really earned the position and that it was the NEC or top leadership’s right to dispose of him – or not.
“But he is working very hard to make himself the chosen one – as we can see in the way he defers to Zuma. He has not shown any personality at all in the position… except to say how great his colleagues are, and how deserving they are of their positions.”
Booysen pointed out that there were two other big contenders, both with KZN links: ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, who was “well-positioned well-off and debonair, with constituencies in the ANC”; while African Union chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma “could fit the bill as a woman president”.
Over the past few years, Ramaphosa had lost acceptance as the authentic voice of workers, said Booysen.
“Workers in the left part of Cosatu certainly have not accepted him for a long time… You cross to business and you lose that… Marikana reinforced that [perception] and brought it home for more people.
“It is clear – to the extent that Ramaphosa came in on the back of the government, in not accepting responsibility for the security forces at Marikana – that he is completely in line with ANC thinking on the topic. But that could enhance his standing.
“Another point, we should not forget, is that he was the ‘executioner’ for Zuma in the Julius Malema matter.
“He was the one on the disciplinary committee that steadfastly worked for Malema to be ousted and he was successful – so there’s a sense he has earned his stripes for loyalty to Zuma, although I am not sure whether that propels him right into the succession stakes… That is in gestation.”
In his own words...
Performance of ministers
“The president and myself… were involved in meeting all the ministers and deputy ministers... getting them to outline very clearly what they are each going to do and… to get ministers to delegate tasks to their deputy ministers. That will culminate in the signing of agreements between the ministers, their deputies and the president... then [we] have a process where [the performance of] each will be evaluated…”
The government’s performance “Coming in new from business, I have found a really impressive resolve among cabinet members and I have found them to be a bunch of people who attend to detail. I sit in some of those meetings and I say, ‘Wow this is refreshing!’ They read every line, they cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’…
“The day after I was appointed Deputy President, there was the induction. Already I had a thick hand-over file... Get into the cabinet process and you will find that documents are thorough… more thorough, in a way, than you find in the private sector. This has been most insightful and impressive… People are focused and serious.”
“President Zuma, believe you me, is very serious about moving this country forward and for me, it’s a real privilege to be in the space where I am now, serving alongside him in achieving all these ideals.”
The nuclear programme
“The programme is targeted to generate up to 9,600MW, which is quite huge, and that will take a long time to build up. We won’t see it generate any energy before 2020. But the planning process has got to begin yesterday. As the economy grows, you have to be generating more energy.Funding will be a major challenge, but we are here to solve problems. Financing should not be a major impediment. This is an investment, not consumption expenditure. There are various financing packages... Vendor financing… is something we will look at. Some of us have also been challenging financial institutions. I said to them, ‘You cost them, you’re the clever guys with MBAs from Harvard and Stanford, you come up with suggestions,’ and they took it well.”
(Ramaphosa has stated his support for shale gas and – gingerly – for the nuclear programme while opinion is still strongly divided on whether nuclear power is the way to go. The National Planning Commission, chaired by Ramaphosa himself, wants to postpone a decision on nuclear energy, although Zuma and his new Energy Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, have strongly backed it.)
‘Parliament is a beerhall’
“Parliaments are often beerhall-type theatres where people enjoy debate. You should see other parliaments of the world. In the British parliament, they have a setting which is quite wonderful because they are so close to each other – just a punch length away across the table, and they go hammer and tongs at each other which I think is wonderful. It enhances debate. I have seen some parliaments where people get into fist fights. Many of them join in the brawl and some come out bleeding. That’s what happens in parliament.
“We still have some decorum in ours.
“Those who were engaged in the [President’s Budget] debate are still new, still getting used to parliamentary exchanges and they were responding to phrases they thought were insulting and inappropriate… It will die down in time as people get used to each other and how people speak in debate. It will go back to normal.”
“It is going to progress and we want to have reached a stage where more and more land will be redistributed to our people. The opening up of land claims is the policy and the decision of the ANC and I support it. It has to be done. There is a huge historic injustice and a wound that needs to be healed and bureaucratic and technical onstraints need to be removed.”
Black Economic Empowerment
“This is another burden that has to be borne by the democratic process. Let us remember that dispossession, exploitation, injustice etc took more than 300 years. And everyone wants this to be wiped off the slate and redressed yesterday... We need the cooperation of all role-players in our economy, be they established businesses, be they emerging businesses that need… to open up space, opportunity, trading opportunities, funding opportunities for black people to get into business.”
“Minimum wages in other countries have reduced inequality and poverty. We need to look at this without fear and angst. We need to come up with a balance and take each other’s interests into account.”
Ramaphosa’s ability to draw disparate groups together makes him indispensable to ANC
When President Jacob Zuma chose Cyril Ramaphosa for his slate at Mangaung, conventional wisdom had it that he’d bring an aura of respectability. Having been an important figure in the transition, and seen as morally upright, many believed Ramaphosa was chosen to help fill a gap in Zuma’s credibility and make it harder for people to rally round the “Anything-But-Zuma faction”. But it was common cause that Ramaphosa was just a stopgap with no real prospects and would be dispensed with when no longer needed as the next ANC conference in 2017 approached.
|Prof Anthony Butler, Cyril Ramaphosa's biographer|
However, Ramaphosa’s biographer, UCT political studies Professor Anthony Butler, believes Ramaphosa has a much more powerful position than that – and that he has made himself indispensable to the party.
“It was not an opportunistic move on Jacob Zuma’s part or just good fortune on the part of Cyril Ramaphosa. In fact, a great deal of planning went into his rise – and the reasons for his rise to deputy presidency of the ANC and to deputy state president are also the reasons he is likely to become ANC president in 2017,” Butler told Noseweek.
Besides being a clean figure who counter-balances the negativity surrounding Zuma, Butler spelt out the strengths he sees as taking Ramaphosa all the way to the top.
His key strength, says Butler, is that he draws disparate groups together who don’t want ethnic Zulu dominance in a party. Ramaphosa does not belong to either of the ethnic groups, Xhosa and Zulu, that have dominated the party. Butler says the ANC is deeply divided by region and ethnicity.
“That has been a problem across the organisation’s entire existence. It has particularly become a problem with the phoenix-like rise of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. The KZN ANC is unique in two ways: it has grown incredibly big incredibly fast, and it has voted as a bloc in the last two ANC conferences… Zuma got more-or-less universal support both times from KZN delegates and also got strong support from other provinces in which there was a big Zulu population, particularly Mpumalanga. That has created a new situation in which there’s a big, powerful and fairly coherent bloc vote, at least potentially, from KwaZulu-Natal.
“If KZN establishes control over the national leadership and is able to replace Zuma with someone else seen to be connected to networks in KZN (see nose171 organogram), that will create an incentive for other provinces to unite against KZN, particularly the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. If a coalition of provinces is pitted against KwaZulu-Natal at the next ANC conference and the outcome is close and contested, the ANC will be in really big trouble.”
Butler continued: “For instance, there is speculation that Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (now African Union chairperson), is being prepared to come back, to allow the KZN networks to continue unchallenged by a president with a different power base… or that Zweli Mkhize, now ANC treasurer-general, after a long period running KZN as premier and ANC chair, might be groomed to become president.
“The rising politicians and business people who surround Zuma now obviously want the presidency to remain under their control and would lobby for people like that. But there is a real danger that someone else – possibly Ramaphosa himself – could build a coalition to oppose this, and that there would be a real fight at the 2017 conference… with KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga – which is also a Zulu- dominated province – on one side and everybody else on the other.
“In that scenario, the ANC would be in real trouble because, how do you resolve a contested election that is divided on regional ethnic grounds?”
The problem for the ANC with both former president Thabo Mbeki and with Zuma, Butler said, was that they were associated with particular ethnic and regional constituencies.
“Nobody likes Cyril particularly, either in KZN or the Eastern Cape, but for that reason alone, a lot of people think it will be good to have him as he’s not associated with a particular regional or ethnic bloc.”
Ramaphosa would be able to play a non-partisan role in such conflicts.
“That is exactly what he did in the National Union of Mineworkers. [Ramaphosa was first general secretary of Num until 1991.]
“Its membership were people from neighbouring countries or from the Eastern Cape and there was always the danger of ethnic conflict on the mines. One thing that helped Ramaphosa was the fact he didn’t come from either of the ethnic recruitment pools of the Num of that period. His style is to be above those conflicts, to listen to both sides and gain the confidence of people from both sides.
“Cyril is a person who can perform that stabilising function in the ANC.”
Ramaphosa’s other key strength, says Butler, is that, with the country in a “terrible” state, “Cyril represents the National Development Plan and the application of reason to public policy making”.
“A lot of people in the ANC feel that’s important, particularly after all the uncertainties of the Zuma period, especially over economic policy. There is a need for thinking about the future in a systematic way, in arguing rationally about policy.”
Ramaphosa’s becoming deputy chair of the National Planning Commission right after the 2009 election “wasn’t a random decision on his part, it gave him a bird’s-eye view of all of the policy challenges in the state and exposed him to lots of expert debate and analysis about public policy”.
A third strength, was that Ramaphosa had a “unique range of constituencies” which included people who at some stage had trusted him, particularly because of his union background. Although there had been hostility towards him from many in Cosatu, the current Num general secretary, Frans Baleni, was behind him, as was Num in general, partly because they are behind Gwede Mantashe.
“Mantashe succeeded Motlanthe, who succeeded Ramaphosa as Num general secretary – all one way or another quite close to each other; effectively a partnership. These are all Cyril’s people. They all looked up to him and respected him enormously in the past and still do. Num is also important as it is connected to another powerful faction, the SACP.”
Another strength was his constituency in business. Butler did not believe that Ramaphosa’s perceived role in Marikana was significant.
“Curiously enough, in many respects Marikana strengthened Cyril. In fact, his biggest political obstacle in the ANC is that he’s been too popular with whites, that the middle class loves him and wants him for president.
“Since becoming a businessman he has found it hard to present himself as a friend of the poor and a promoter of the interests of black Africans. Marikana made the white middle class take a quite different, far more critical, tone on Cyril. It stopped him from being seen as friend of the entrenched white middle class as portrayed in the past.”
Had Ramaphosa’s role in Marikana moved him from a messiah to a fallen hero? “Yes, but primarily for whites. Cyril was never a messiah for anybody else, or for most of the population. Most people had forgotten who he was. He was kept alive in memories from the days of negotiations, as the person who rescued us from what could have been a civil war. But that was never the view of most South Africans. It was a myth.
“It’s true that Marikana has damaged him with that relatively unimportant constituency but that might even have helped him, by making him someone who is attacked by the media and the white chattering classes…”
Butler said Ramaphosa’s “sheer political skills, his ability to deal with very different types of constituencies” tended to be under-estimated. However people were reminded of that during the booing episode at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
“He spoke to different parts of the crowd very calmly. He sang a little bit, he exchanged different kinds of greetings and slogans with people in the crowd and he quietened people down.
“Additionally, he is very good with poor people in rural areas. He spent two years at a rural boarding school in Limpopo, and still has that talent for talking in churches and in rural areas to poor people.
“He can also talk to business people and trade unionists and has an unusual repertoire of styles he can bring to bear. He is entirely unflappable, nothing disturbs his composure.”
In short, it is much harder to stop Ramaphosa becoming president than at first seemed, says Butler.
“To stop him, somebody has to come up with a reason why he can’t be President. He is Deputy President, he is ANC Deputy President, why shouldn’t he become ANC president? How do you argue against Cyril without invoking ethnicity? That leads to that scenario of the ANC becoming divided over the issue nobody wants to see.”
Ramaphosa could also appeal to the next generation, “to people like [newly appointed Home Affairs Minister] Malusi Gigaba, for example, who are very popular.”
Butler believes Ramaphosa’s influence is growing within the party, as he becomes more credible. “The closer we get to the next conference, the more people will be looking for a horse and Cyril is no longer a dark horse. He is one people can back.”
Is Ramaphosa ambitious? “Extraordinarily!” said Butler. “I describe in my book how Cyril was quoted – at the age of 15 or 16 at a Christian camp – as saying he wanted to become president one day. He is incredibly ambitious for that job.”
A question regularly asked these days is: “Has Ramaphosa – once regarded as a political hero and a champion of the working classes – lost his heart and soul to the allure of wealth and riches?” No, said Butler. “Even when Cyril was a young man, he was interested in upward social mobility. He liked driving fast cars. In the book, his attitude to wealth is quite important. He insisted that his Num organisers should travel first class and stay in the same hotel as mining house executives.
“When he was at school, Cyril would save up money, dress up and take the first-class compartment in the train from Soweto to Joburg. That was classic Cyril, product of an upwardly mobile lower middle-class family. He’s always been like that. When he was with Num, he was working 15 to 20 hours a day and didn’t have any spare time. But still, when he drove around the country, he liked to drive in a fast car.”
EFF leader Julius Malema said at a recent press briefing that Ramaphosa was the creation – “single-handed project” – of the Oppenheimers, who had told him “long before the 1990s they will make him president, so Cyril owes his wealth and existence to the Oppenheimer family… that’s why the leadership of the country is so compromised”.
“If something happened to Cyril’s soul, which maybe it did, the change happened when he was detained. Along with other people who spent time in solitary confinement, he didn’t have an opportunity to come to terms with what that did to him.”
He was in Pretoria Central Prison between October 1974 and September 1975 (ending up in Silverton Police Station), part of which was solitary, and he was detained at John Vorster Square from August 1976 to February 1977 (then transferred to Norwood Police Station), much of which was solitary confinement.
“When he came out, for his friends it felt like he wouldn’t befriend them again, that he had discarded them. They didn’t really talk for two-and-a-half or three decades. He didn’t trust them. But these days he sees all of his old friends again.
“The only book they gave him in solitary was the Bible. He read it, but he also lost his faith and, I think, became in some respects a very hard person who became much more difficult to read for people around him. Before that he was somebody everyone loved. Afterwards there was some ambivalence – he can be a hard, ruthless person politically and personally.”
Does Zuma trust Ramaphosa?
“No,” says Butler. “I’m sure these guys don’t trust each other; they know each other too well. But they understand how the game works and Ramaphosa brings this set of factors, including stability, which makes him attractive to Zuma.
“Ramaphosa also brings Gwede Mantashe, which means he brings the Eastern Cape and the SACP. He also brings the NDP and credibility with foreign investors – all the reasons why Cyril is attractive are attractive to Zuma too.
“Zuma knows Cyril is useful for his legacy, that he can stabilise the ANC, keep people on board, rejuvenate the economy – and also do a lot of the work.
“Zuma doesn’t have an appetite for hard detail work – like policy-making and brokering agreements – but Cyril does. He is also very good at dealing with entrenched problems and obstacles. Mbeki had Essop Pahad to do that stuff for him. He was able to go round with the authority of the President and knock heads together. To Zuma, that’s one of the attractions of Cyril.”
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