The Man Who Would Be King
Will 'come-back kid' Ramaphosa go on to succeed President Zuma?
As is already well-known, the elective Conference held by South Africa’s ruling ANC in December 2012 saw the return of billionaire businessman and former chairman of South Africa’s Constitutional Assembly, Cyril Ramaphosa, to mainstream politics as party Deputy President.
Ramaphosa has not been in the ANC limelight since he lost out in the race for the deputy presidency to Thabo Mbeki back in 1994, subsequently leaving active politics in 1997 after reportedly turning down Nelson Mandela’s offer to head the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
In the 2007 biography titled “Cyril Ramaphosa”, Anthony Butler said the man who is now ANC Deputy President sulked so much over the loss to Mbeki that he did not attend Mandela’s inauguration as President in 1994.
Butler indicates Ramaphosa, who founded the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 1982, had aspirations to hold higher office.
Writing for the Mail & Guardian just before the Mangaung Conference that saw the ANC’s prodigal son return, Lloyd Gedye said: “In fact, there are several quotes from comrades, colleagues, friends and former employers recalling the young Ramaphosa's ambition. These quotes generally follow the pattern of ‘When I am president …’”
Butler explains in the biography, “It was Dr Nthato Motlana, Mandela's old physician from Soweto, who approached the President, arguing that Ramaphosa's skills could be used in business, particularly by Nail, the empowerment company set up by Motlana, Dikgang Moseneke, Franklin Sonn, Paul Gama and Sam Motsuenyane.
“At the age of 43, Ramaphosa could afford to wait out a Mbeki presidency and return to fight again as a relatively young man.”
And in a nutshell, that is how Ramaphosa set out on the business path that has resulted in him being said to be worth R3 billion today.
Given the background of his ambition to hold high office, and the reality that he is a billionaire in a South Africa that is often referred to as one of the most unequal societies on Earth, can Ramaphosa go on to succeed President Jacob Zuma?
The Present and the Future
Ramaphosa’s ascension to the Deputy Presidency of the ANC places him in pole position to lead South Africa after President Zuma.
Since 1994, all party Deputy Presidents have gone on to hold the top job, though for Kgalema Motlanthe – who lost to Ramaphosa at Mangaung 2012 – this was only in a caretaker capacity between the reigns of Presidents Mbeki and Zuma.
Given his business background, that community has certainly welcomed Ramaphosa’s return to the fray, more so, in the context of the ANC Youth League’s radical drive to nationalise key economic sectors such as the mines.
It is also felt that his links to trade unionism can be used to quell the growing dissent in a labour force that last year experienced a massacre of some 40 people by the police as they went on strike for better pay.
Ironically, the workers were from Lonmin, the platinum miner on whose board Ramaphosa sat.
The ANC Youth League said Ramaphosa had “delivered the more than 40 people to their death at Marikana”, adding that he had “blood on his hands”.
This was after it emerged that Ramaphosa had sent an email a day before the Lonmin Marikana Mine massacre calling on the government and police to take “concomitant action”, while describing those on strike as “dastardly criminal”.
Ramaphosa has, naturally, vociferously denied he agitated for live rounds to be fired on the workers.
Writing in the Sowetan last year, Mondli Makhanya said Ramaphosa would have to work hard to convince his critics that he still has the interests of the downtrodden black majority at heart.
He pointed out that Ramaphosa presided over the expulsion of the hugely popular Julius Malema from the ANC, something that won him both plaudits and censure.
“As chair of the ANC's (disciplinary) appeals panel, he increased Malema's five-year suspension to complete expulsion, a move that neutered Malema's power and removed one of the biggest threats to Zuma's re-election.
“The Malema disciplinary hearing thrust Ramaphosa back into the public spotlight and marked the beginning of his re-emergence into public life. A controversial re-emergence, it must be added,” he said
Added Makhanya: “Presiding over Malema's expulsion earned him the ire of the youth leader's supporters, who portrayed him as Zuma's lapdog.
“His public image was to be further dented by his decision to mount an R18-milion bid for a buffalo at a Free State auction. Dressed in Afrikaner khakhis, Ramaphosa cut a striking figure at the auction. So much so that nobody remembers who the successful bidder was. In the public mind, Ramaphosa bought the buffalo.
“The buffalo bid was seen as an extremely insensitive act by the unionist-turned-businessman – an indication that he no longer cared about the
masses. This attitude was to be further exacerbated in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre.
“When it emerged that he was a shareholder in Lonmin, the company in whose name the massacre was perpetrated, Ramaphosa was targeted as the face of the company.”
Although he has managed to overcome these perceptions to rise to the position of ANC Deputy President, much will need to be done to show that the billionaire is not out of touch with the poor.
Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri, who lectures International Relations at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe, said Ramaphosa’s return meant radical changes in the management of the South African economy were now more remote than at this time last year.
“I think President Zuma opted for Ramaphosa, as a way to convince investors that he will continue to pursue policies that are friendly to their interests and also to deflect criticism that has characterised his first term of office.
“As to where the ordinary South African will be after this, it remains to be seen. But it is unlikely that any revolutionary methods will be adopted to address the myriad inequalities that still exist in their society up to this day,” he said.
Dr Mhiripiri, however, said the ANC would one way or the other have to deal with issues of poverty and inequality if Africa’s oldest liberation movement is to remain relevant to the aspirations of millions of poor South Africans.
“If you look at events in South Africa in the past year, starting from the Malema expulsion, the massacres at Marikana and other strikes at major mines, it is a wake-up call for the authorities there and I doubt no action will be taken to address those grievances.
“The fact that state Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe challenged President Zuma at the conference in December is an indication that there are some within ANC who are not happy with the policy direction so far, so I think the bigger picture is that they (ANC) have to act,” he said.
The Next President?<br /> In many ways, it is no longer a question of if Ramaphosa will succeed President Zuma, but rather of when.
The next general election is in 2014.
South Africa does not directly elect a present, and instead uses the party list system. In essence this means the parties come up with lists of their favoured leaders in descending order.
The person at the top of the list is the most popular in the party structures and that party’s MPs then elect that person for the Presidency in Parliament.
In 1997, despite having been sidelined for the Deputy Presidency and by implication the Presidency, Ramaphosa had the most votes at the elective conference.
More ominously for President Zuma, at Mangaung, Ramaphosa garnered more votes than the party boss.
So does this mean Ramaphosa might be tempted to go for the big job at the general election, or will he back President Zuma for a second term and then make a go for it in 2018?
There is the possibility that the party structures will put him on number one on the party list for 2014, but that will largely depend on how he assuages his many critics and – more critically – if he still possesses that desire for higher office that he had back in 1994 when he refused the post of Foreign Affairs Minister.
Ranjeni Munusamy, writing for the Daily Maverick, opined that, “(President) Zuma will know that, now that the ANC has a much more worthy candidate for Head of State, his chance of topping the ANC's election ticket in 2014 is diminishing, particularly with the many controversies besetting his administration and his plummeting popularity outside the ANC.
“The return of Ramaphosa to the ANC leadership has been welcomed in many quarters and there is new hope that his presence might help to undo the corrosion and leadership weaknesses…
“Ramaphosa also faces an uphill battle from the left in the alliance. COSATU and the SACP supported (President) Zuma's re-election but did not want him to replace Motlanthe.
“They felt safe with Motlanthe but distrust Ramaphosa, believing he has traded in his worker credentials and now represents the interests of business.
The business sector and investor community, on the other hand, is ecstatic and relieved by Ramaphosa's election as ANC Deputy President, and the prospect of him replacing President Zuma in the near future.”
As the cliché goes, only time will tell. But it will be hard to bet against South Africa having a billionaire black President in this generation.