Insights into Ramaphosa’s persona

When I wrote this book review, storm clouds had dramatically gathered at Luthuli House, headquarters of the century old African National Congress (ANC) with a cacophony of voices vying for President Jacob Zuma’s head, as his presidency has been marred by a litany of scandals such as the Nkandla debacle, erratic judgments and a tumultuous economy, which global rating agencies have downgraded to junk status. For the first time since apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation dream appeared elusive, as corruption, state capture and cronyism threatened to tear apart the very fibre upon which the nation stands.

Title: Ramaphosa: The Man Who Would Be King
Author: Ray Hartley
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers, Cape Town & Johannesburg
Year of Publication: 2017

There was rare consensus among ANC and its alliance stalwarts, civic society leaders, opposition political parties, big business, students and the clergy that the South African ship under Zuma was on the brink of capsizing and sinking into the cataracts. The nation is now pinning their hopes on Cyril Ramaphosa, as the man who can turn on the lights and resurrect the fortunes of the ruling party, which is faced with watershed elections in 2019. Who is Ramaphosa and is he the right candidate to lead South Africa? These are the questions that Ray Hartley asks, as he interrogates and dissects the candidature of Ramaphosa.

The battle to control the soul of the ANC, as Hartley dissects, lies in three camps: The Robben Islanders (Mandela, Sisulu, Zuma among others), then those who were abroad mobilising against the apartheid regime (exiles) such as Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo among others and lastly those who remained in the country mobilising and unionising workers such as Cyril Ramaphosa (in-xiles). After the banning of the ANC and incarceration of Mandela as well as other senior ANC cadres and the subsequent escape of several others into exile, the political space in South Africa became toxic and claustrophobic. Ramaphosa, as Hartley observes, oxygenated the political space through his impeccable organised planning and unionisation of workers and founded the formidable Union of Mine Workers of South Africa. Such unions got aligned to the ANC and furthered the fight for freedoms and rights. An astute lawyer born to a middle class black family whose father was a policeman, Ramaphosa quickly became a household name. Because of his radicalism in advancing the cause of workers’ rights, Ramaphosa rubbed the regime the wrong way and got himself detained.

“When I was in detention, I realised that friends are like teabags. You boil the water. And you use them once,” Ramaphosa reminisces the horrible and traumatising experiences of a soul in detention.

Activism in South Africa under apartheid required some kind of eclecticism. The furnace of the struggle overheated from the 1970s right through the 1980s and the apartheid regime targeted and imprisoned any luminary voices that manifested. This is how the likes of Steve Biko were caught and murdered. When Mandela came out of prison in 1990, Ramaphosa was a key ally in the reception committee that welcomed him.

The media then projected Cyril as the obvious guy to deputise Mandela. Mandela particularly admired Ramaphosa’s negotiation skills especially during Convention for a Democratic South Africa negotiations. He was legally astute, had meticulous attention to detail, was eclectic when analysing issues and appeared level-headed compared to his peers. He demonstrated his legal acumen when he chaired the committee that successfully drafted democratic South Africa’s constitution.

But Mandela consulted other senior leaders of the movement, who suggested that Ramaphosa’s time had not yet come. Mandela opted to give him the foreign affairs ministry, which Ramaphosa declined. Mbeki was the preferred candidate. Ramaphosa then opted to go into business, where he subsequently cut several Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deals for former cadres of the movement such as the Johnnic Communications Inc. deal which housed several entities. Today, Ramaphosa owns companies, whose net worth goes into several hundreds of millions of rand.

Ramaphosa has nine lives like a cat. He survived the frivolous treasonous charge alongside Matthews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale by Mbeki. Ramaphosa re-entered politics at the Mangaung elective conference, where 2 500 branches nominated him to stand for ANC deputy presidency.

Fortuitously, since Ramaphosa had chaired the commission of inquiry that recommended the expulsion of Julius Malema, an outrageously energetic youth leader, who had engineered the expulsion of Mbeki from power in 2008 and also who was now threatening the intricate network of cronyism around Zuma, for now Ramaphosa appeared a pliable ally for Zuma. When Zuma survived Mangaung, defeating Kgalema Motlante, he felt relief. Knowing his extravagance and bloated family set-up, the Guptas staged a palace financial coup through their surreptitious corporatocracy and kleptocracy. Initially Ramaphosa maintained silence until Zuma fired Pravin Godhan, who was then Finance minister.

After seeing that Zuma was now becoming a liability and also that ANC was fast losing its grip on power as evidenced by the loss of key symbolic metropolitan cities such as Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, Ramaphosa started coming out vociferously against corruption and irresponsibility among leaders. Zuma then tried to smuggle in Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as his preferred successor. This became his Achilles’ heel as several ANC stalwarts rejected the possibility of a Zuma dynasty and Nkosazana lost her bid for the presidency at their last elective conference against Ramaphosa.

But Ramaphosa has one dark cloud around him: the Marikana massacres. He was chairing a board of a company, whose workers were shot at by the police leaving 34 dead. As a former labour unionist, the court ruled, Ramaphosa should have handled the matter with due diligence and care. The Marikana incident gave the impression that when one stays in comfort for too long they ultimately forget the cause of the down trodden workers they purport to represent. However, in the land of the blind a man with one eye ultimately becomes the king. In the absence of an outright best, Ramaphosa becomes the best for South Africa.

Nevertheless, the markets, big business, the workers, civic society and the neighbouring countries appear to favour a Ramaphosa presidency after Zuma. This is a fascinating book by a journalist, who has travelled with Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma. It is a must read for those wanting to know more about the incoming South African President.

 Mufarowashe Gunduza is professor at Mount Carmel Institute of Business Intelligence. He can be contacted at

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