My encounter with Cyril Ramaphosa
Hate him or love him, but South African politician-cum-businessman Cyril Ramaphosa is a calculating and very shrewd individual.
Since 1997 when he quit active politics, Ramaphosa has kept the world guessing as to whether or not he was content to remain just a businessman, albeit a very successful one.
I had an opportunity – a very brief one – to talk to Ramaphosa when he was in Windhoek, Namibia, back in 2009, and in that short encounter he remained as inscrutable as ever.
Ramaphosa was attending the initial listing of Bidvest on the Namibian Stock Exchange.
Bidvest is one of his many business ventures, contributing to his mammoth wealth.
I asked him if he planned to get back into mainstream politics, but somehow I found that we were discussing the importance of black economic empowerment and how best it should be pursued, and his views on NEPAD.
Though quite interesting, I really wanted to know what his own political ambitions were, so I steered the conversation back there.
He declared, “I am now done with full-time politics and my best (bet) will be to stay in business and craft the way forward for myself and the once disadvantaged black majority in my country.”
Ramaphosa sits on boards of more than 10 influential companies in Africa including mobile telecommunications giant, MTN Group, Standard Bank South Africa, Macsteel International, and the Shanduka Group.
With such huge wealth (according to one assessment, he is the second-richest black in South Africa after Patrice Motsepe), it is easy to think that Ramaphosa has lost touch with his trade union routes and his upbringing in Soweto.
A fellow businessperson and colleague of Ramaphosa, Michael Spicer, is on record saying, “Cyril's first love is politics … he is not really interested in business … for him, it's just a vehicle for the necessary accumulation of wealth.”
And it is something he touched on that brief encounter in Windhoek nearly four years ago.
He said, “We have enough skills needed for business in our people but more opportunities need to be availed so they can exploit them.
“On the other hand, they should also continue to broaden their business knowledge,e as this will go a long way in boosting their skills.”
Ramaphosa added: “We have made major strides in empowering our people and we continue to do more to advantage our people. However, on the issue of our governments, I think they have made significant progress in empowering our people.
“Black economic empowerment is a long process and from what is on the ground so far, I think efforts by our governments in empowering local people are commendable but more needs to be done to speed up the process.”
And after all that, he reiterated that he would not dabble in mainstream politics again.
Such is the nature of politicians, you never know what to expect – and now Ramaphosa is on the cusp of becoming South Africa’s President.