The sudden winding up of the ANC's newly elected deputy president's businesses to allow him to enter government carries financial risk.
The ANC's newly elected deputy president, the billionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, is likely to feel it in his pocket if he is forced to enter government in haste.
If, as expected, incumbent Kgalema Motlanthe leaves the post on the double following a crushing defeat by Jacob Zuma for the party's presidency in Mangaung, Ramaphosa will have little time to wind up his expansive empire and his long-awaited political comeback could come at substantial financial cost.
Ramaphosa appeared a reluctant opponent at the start of the ANC's 53rd national conference this week, announcing his decision to run only at the eleventh hour, before winning convincingly with 3018 votes to Mathews Phosa's 470 and Tokyo Sexwale's 463 votes.
But it is Motlanthe who now appears reluctant to stay on, after first pulling out of the running for ANC deputy president and then declining to stand for the party's national executive committee.
Should Motlanthe choose not to stay on as South Africa's deputy president until elections in 2014, Ramaphosa may have to wind up his business interests – and quickly.
"From Motlanthe's perspective, it has become increasingly difficult to continue, given the extent of his defeat at Mangaung and the overwhelming victory for Zuma," said independent political analyst Daniel Silke. In this scenario, the new national executive committee, possibly in consultation with Motlanthe, would need to decide whether change would happen immediately. Although Ramaphosa is not a member of Parliament, this is a mere technicality that could be resolved "with the stroke of a pen", if needs be.
"For Zuma, bringing Ramaphosa into the top echelons of government needs to be done sooner rather than later," Silke said. "I expect Zuma would want to have his position clarified before the State of the Nation address [in February]."
Potential conflicts of interest
But the tycoon will need as much time as he can get to figure out what to do with his business interests.
Within hours of his victory at the ruling party's elective conference, concern surfaced about the billionaire's business interests and potential conflicts of interest.
With a 30% stake the Ramaphosa family trust is a majority shareholder in the Shanduka group, which has investments ranging from mining to fast food. Most recently, it acquired a stake in MTN Nigeria. Shanduka is also the major shareholder in Lonmin's empowerment vehicle, Incwala Resources, which must remain intact for the platinum producer to retain its mining licence.
Ramaphosa also holds directorships in many of the companies in which Shanduka is invested.
After Ramaphosa's election, Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi called on him to declare his interests and place them in an inactive trust while in office.
The next day, Ramaphosa announced that he had initiated a review of his interests. "This is necessary to address any potential conflicts of interest and to ensure that I can adequately perform the responsibilities of this position," he said.
As an ANC official Ramaphosa would not be required to declare his business interests to the party, but if serving in government he would have to adhere to parliamentary disclosure requirements as well as the executive code of ethics.
Given Ramaphosa's very late official announcement that he would be standing, he had only himself to blame if he found himself in a difficult position in terms of his business interests, Silke said, but "South Africans and the ANC will expect him to choose soon between the country and his business interests". A mining analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said the appointment should not pose much of a problem. "This has been in the pipeline for a while. He must have structures in place and representatives to take his place.
"His nose is clean. He has done some really interesting deals with neat little companies like Optimum Coal and Mondi," the analyst said. "They've done quite clever things, but Cyril never pretended to be front and centre in those deals. He is not the brain in the business."
The analyst expected Ramaphosa not to sell his stake in Shanduka, but hold it in a trust.
But Hennie van Vuuren, a fellow at the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, said the business interests of Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale had placed focus on the problems with blind trusts. Sexwale's interests are housed in blind trusts, the assets of which are not declared.
In August this year the Mail & Guardian reported that "although the trusts through which Sexwale co-owns Mvela Holdings may now be technically blind and beyond his control, it is inconceivable that he will be truly unaware of what the company which [Mvela chief executive Mark] Willcox runs does with his money".
Listing may be the best option
Van Vuuren said a trust would truly be blind only if it was truly liquid (in which case, Ramaphosa would need to sell off all his interests) and if trustees were managing it. "His exit out of these deals should be orderly. I don't think it should be a fire sale," said Van Vuuren. Ramaphosa would probably need 12 to 18 months to wind up his interests.
He said the billionaire, who is worth about R5.7-billion, according to Forbes magazine, might lose some of his money, but he had made his choice.
Peter Major, a mining analyst at Cadiz Corporate Solutions, said it was a lot harder to sell companies like Shanduka that are not listed. "The average time for unlisted corporate transactions from beginning to end is something like 18 months. And if you're any kind of forced seller and/or in a bind, people will try to take advantage of that.
"In today's environment, where the resources sector is trading at an all-time (50- to 100-year) low on a PE [price to earnings] basis relative to the financial industrial sector, any buyer would get a good deal," Major said.
But the real risk for Ramaphosa is the prospect of there being one buyer instead of an auction of buyers. "It would squeeze him to take an even lower price at this poor phase in the commodity cycle."
If time allows for it, listing may be the best option. "Listing Shanduka during the next 12 months would certainly make his asset divestment much easier. He would have much more control and flexibility if his holdings were listed. Even if you are a saint and you mean well, how do you resolve this huge potential for conflict of interest over the next six to 12 months?" said Major.
Lonmin would be advised to watch the situation closely. If developments at Shanduka affect its empowerment status and subsequently Incwala's historically disadvantaged shareholding, the troubled platinum giant could be in for a great deal more grief in 2013.
Given Ramaphosa's majority sharholding in Shanduka, Major said: "If he were to sell it to a non-black economic empowerment [party], it could jeopardise the deal with Incwala and other of the company's mining investments."
The M&G recently reported that, to facilitate the deal, Lonmin had to extend a loan of $351-million to Shanduka to buy out Incwala's insolvent empowerment partners, of which not a cent has been repaid.
Lonmin did not respond to a request for comment at the time of going to print.
On Thursday, ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu tried to quash rumours of Motlanthe's imminent resignation, saying "no such thing has been discussed".