Comment and Analysis

Ramaphosa epitomises corporate-state collusion

Patrick Bond

Is a sober look at Cyril Ramaphosa, presumed successor to President Jacob Zuma, finally possible a month after Mangaung?

Cyril Ramaphosa is being touted as ailing South Africa’s knight in shining armour. But his history suggests he will continue to foster a cosy relationship between big business and the state. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The reaction of most elites was akin to the Bible's Revelation 19:11: "I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True."

To whom is Ramaphosa faithful and true? Gushing descriptions are conveyed by Richard Calland ("ANC: The battle for power is about to begin", January 18): "a moderate, one-nation leader who is so comfortable in his own skin, and with such an extraordinary curriculum vitae."

Can we all breathe easier, knowing the "supremely talented" Ramaphosa is attempting "to rebuild the centre ground within the ANC, the 'sensible left'"?

Optimistically, Calland wills that Ramaphosa's "now-extensive know-ledge of the corporate boardrooms of South Africa [be] deployed to put real pressure on big business, to ensure that it plays its part in creating jobs and being open to the changes necessary to build a labour-intensive, low-carbon economy that is fit for global competitive purpose and, moreover, that treats its workers fairly and decently".

But such Ramaphosa boosterism, which is especially virulent in Business Day, requires overlooking contrary career evidence since 1994.

Real pressure
"Put real pressure on big business"? Right from the outset, Ramaphosa ran a Constitution-making process whose Bill of Rights uniquely granted mega-corporations – "juristic persons" – the same human rights we mortals should enjoy; in reality this means profits trump public interest (as I learned in July 2010 when arrested for "ambush marketing" – that is, handing out leaflets for a Durban anti-xenophobia rally at the beachfront, because it had become Fifa's private Fanfest property).

That done, Ramaphosa next publicly advocated the relaxation of exchange controls, a policy that contributed to our becoming the world's most risky emerging market by the time of the 2008-2009 crash, according to the Economist, because  vast sums of rich white people's loot, not to mention the financial headquarters of our largest companies, soon vanished offshore. This is one reason our foreign debt is now five times larger than in 1994, which puts much more "real pressure" on the social-democratic project than on big business.

A "labour-intensive economy" that "treats its workers fairly"? As the deputy chairperson of the national development plan, his advocacy of hundreds of billions of rands' worth of new infrastructure – much of which will be Gauteng highway-style PPP privatisation robbery – leans heavily towards subsidising more capital-intensive mining and transport investments that "resource curse" our economy and society.

As a Lonmin director, Ramaphosa's infamous email of August 15 had the effect of rallying North West province police troops to fire on thousands of Lonmin workers sitting on a hill relatively far from Lonmin property.

Those men were engaged in what "cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal[s] and must be characterised as such. There needs to be concomitant action to address this situation." (Ramaphosa's denial to CNN earlier this month was unconvincing: "I was calling for peace, I was calling for the saving of lives.")

Low-carbon economy
"It's a long line of emails under, in the same vein, effectively encouraging so-called 'concomitant action' to deal with these 'criminals', whose only crime was that they were seeking a wage increase," said Dali Mpofu, the lawyer who represents 270 arrested Lonmin mineworkers. "At the heart of this was the toxic collusion between the South African Police Services and Lonmin at a direct level. At a much broader level it can be called a collusion between the state and capital."

A "low-carbon economy"? In another case of collusion, the Mail & Guardian's front-page story (November 9-15 2012) quoted a respected government source revealing how Environment Minister Edna Molewa feared she would lose her job if Ramaphosa was prosecuted for operating his high-carbon coal mine without a water licence.

Molewa apparently arranged an out-of-court settlement that, water experts fear, will hasten the degra-dation of the critical catchments feeding agriculture, communities, the Kruger National Park and Mozambique.

Throughout, Ramaphosa's own dubious wealth accumulation was linked to the Sam Molope Bakery tragedy and the Brett Kebble JCI farce, not to mention obesity-inducing fast foods, exploitative banking and the company called the "unacceptable face of capitalism" by British prime minister Edward Heath in 1973 – Lonmin.

This is not to personalise the crisis we all face. More to the point, in a society that is the world's most unequal, with corporations now capturing a much larger share of the economic surplus (and moving it to London) than in 1994, resulting in what may be the world's highest per-capita rate of social protest, Calland should first ask: Can any billionaire really ride a white horse?

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Civil Society in Durban

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