Ramaphosa joins ANC leadership race

Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has joined the African National Congress (ANC) presidential succession race, reports the Sunday Times.

The ANC’s OR Tambo district in the Eastern Cape has formally stated that it will nominate Ramaphosa for the presidency. The district, which incorporates Port St Johns and Ntabankulu, is one of the party’s most powerful regions.

Regional secretary Mlamli Siyakholwa told the weekly that “we have been lobbying Ramaphosa, I must admit”.

Siyakholwa said Ramaphosa had been approached as a unifying candidate in the interests of the party’s unity, in order to avoid a divisive battle between President Thabo Mbeki and his deputy, Jacob Zuma. While the region is pro-Zuma, the provincial leadership’s stance is that Mbeki should serve a third term as ANC president.

“It is not because we do not want JZ [Zuma] any more. We feel that with the serious contestation of KwaZulu-Natal strongly in support of Zuma and Eastern Cape strongly in support of Mbeki, the ANC will suffer if either of these two comrades wins,” said Siyakholwa.

The Mail & Guardian reported in August that a sense of frustration was creeping into various groupings within the tripartite alliance and the business community that wanted Ramaphosa to enter the succession race for the leadership of the ANC and the country.

Sections of the business community worried that the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) might be running out of time because he had not yet indicated an interest in running for the ANC’s top job.

Having stayed clear of the divisive succession debate, Ramaphosa enjoys the support of several leaders in big business. He is said to be receptive to views that he should stand for the party presidency, but has been absent from any of the leadership tussles.

Support

As a former unionist, Ramaphosa is expected to rely on the support of the NUM, the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Yet Ramaphosa will be supported by the NUM only if Zuma does not stand.

Optimists suggest Ramaphosa could win the hearts and minds of cadres in Gauteng, where the broad tripartite alliance is not united behind one candidate.

Although Ramaphosa was Mbeki’s rival in the past, political analyst William Gumede has suggested he might be able to count on Mbeki’s support this time. He says Mbeki would be more comfortable with Ramaphosa as the guardian of his legacy.

“Ramaphosa is unlikely to undo Mbeki’s economic reforms — and the president knows that — but before backing Ramaphosa openly, the president would need some assurance that his successor would not allow the critics who are silent now to erode his legacy with retrospective public judgement,” Gumede says in his book Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.

Repeated attempts to reach Ramaphosa, who was former president Nelson Mandela preferred choice to succeed him, proved unsuccessful, said the Sunday Times.

In July last year, Ramaphosa had denied having any interest in becoming president of the ANC. “I have not engaged, nor sought to engage others on my behalf, in any campaign with respect to the presidency of the ANC, and have no interest in being a candidate,” he said at the time.

Incumbent Thabo Mbeki’s second spell comes to an end with the party’s 2007 national congress — where new leaders are to be elected.

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