Mandela neutral on Ramaphosa reports

Former president Nelson Mandela has taken a neutral public stance on reports that businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has his eye on the presidency of the African National Congress.

“Madiba will remain entirely impartial in this matter,” his spokesperson Zelda la Grange said on Monday, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

“He will let himself be led by the structures of the ANC when it comes to the election of the new president. It will depend on what is decided by the provinces and the national executive committee.”

The City Press newspaper reported on Sunday that Ramaphosa had entered the race for the ANC presidency when incumbent Thabo Mbeki’s second spell comes to an end at the party’s 2007 congress—where new leaders are to be elected. There is no constitutional limit to the number of successive party presidencies that could be served.

Mbeki, whose second term as president of South Africa ends in 2009, has reportedly said he would consider staying on as party leader beyond 2007.

His main contender thus far has been Jacob Zuma.
Mbeki dismissed Zuma from the deputy presidency of the country after Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty on charges that involved a “generally corrupt relationship” between the two men.

Zuma remains deputy president of the party.

The City Press quoted sources as saying Ramaphosa apparently had the backing of Mandela and key business people in his “spirited campaign” for the party presidency.

Ramaphosa, still a senior ANC member, had not shed any light on the speculation by Monday.

“I have no comment from him yet, and I am not sure whether he will comment,” said Maureen Mphatsoe, spokesperson for the Shanduka investment company of which Ramaphosa is the executive chairperson.

“The reports so far have been speculative,” she added.

Roelf Meyer, with whom Ramaphosa led negotiations for the transition from apartheid in the early 1990s, said media reports appeared to be speculative and lacking in substance.

“If they are true, I think he would be a very good candidate,” he told the South African Press Association.

Asked if Ramaphosa had informed him of such a prospect, Meyer said: “I don’t want to make any further utterances.”

Meyer represented the then ruling National Party and Ramaphosa the ANC, then a liberation movement, in pre-democracy talks.

The Reuters news agency on Monday quoted business associates of Ramaphosa as confirming his aim for the leadership of the ANC and the country.

“He is preparing an active bid for the presidency of the party, and by extension the state,” a businessman said to have knowledge of Ramaphosa’s plans told Reuters. “He has not made a definite decision yet, but you cannot win without proper groundwork.”

The ANC could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

The party’s alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said it would not make any comment on the issue of ANC leadership. Some leaders of the trade union federation have in the past voiced support for a Zuma presidency.

“We believe it is a matter for the structures of the ANC to decide,” Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said on Monday. “We will leave it to them.”

A former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Ramaphosa (53) is a former secretary general of the ANC. He was considered a candidate to succeed Mandela at the end of his presidency in 1999.

A biography on the ANC website describes Ramaphosa as a “committed socialist who believes that the dawn of political democracy in South Africa must be accompanied by economic democracy”.

It describes him as a sophisticated political thinker, a powerful negotiator, a leader of great integrity, and one of the “most-outstanding figures of his generation”.

He sits on the boards of several companies.

Ramaphosa and two other senior ANC members and businessmen, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa, were investigated in 2001 in connection with an alleged plot to oust Mbeki. They were cleared.—Sapa

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