Is Ramaphosa still a shoo-in?

The powerful nexus of Cyril Ramaphosa's wealth and power could win him the ANC's top job in 2017. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The powerful nexus of Cyril Ramaphosa's wealth and power could win him the ANC's top job in 2017. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)


In 2010, I asked Cyril Ramaphosa if he was still a socialist, given that he’d become one of the richest people in South Africa. He answered: “Yes, I am. But I have coined my own phrase, which in many ways describes what I am.
I am a socialist but I operate in a capitalistic world. I am therefore a capitalist with a socialist instinct.”

Would a more accurate reply have been that he is a socialist with a capitalist instinct?

His many detractors on the left would refute his socialist credentials, particularly in the light of his role before the Marikana massacre. They also refer to his readiness to bid nearly R20?million for a buffalo cow just a few weeks after that tragedy.

But then many former ANC leaders, including those who became very rich, still regard themselves as Marxists.

Our politics today is immersed in business and money. Ramaphosa has power as deputy president and as a probable billionaire. Will this powerful nexus win him the top job at the ANC’s next elective conference, in 2017? That is a crucially important question for both the ANC and the future of South Africa.

How Ramaphosa conducts himself over the next two years is just one factor that will decide his fate. What is key is whether a beleaguered Cosatu and the South African Communist Party will support him for the ANC presidency.

Frans Baleni’s recent failed bid for re-election as National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary is likely to affect what happens there. That Ramaphosa is a former NUM leader does not, now, guarantee their support for him.

These strategic questions may be more important than what happens in ANC branches. Cosatu’s expulsion of its former general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, plus the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters and the formation of the United Front, have radicalised our politics, which will increasingly shift left, especially in the context of a worsening South African and global capitalist crisis.

It is in this altered landscape that an appraisal of Ramaphosa’s presidential prospects must be made. To be honest, they don’t look very good. His staggering wealth is, in fact, a less alienating factor than his role in the Marikana massacre. It was his worst moment in post-apartheid South Africa and the biggest obstacle in his way in the run-up to 2017.

Yet Ramaphosa isn’t without a conscience: he would probably agree that it was the worst moment of his life when he faced the angry relatives of those massacred black miners, in the full glare of international television, at the Farlam commission. The families were almost baying for his blood.

One senior ANC leader told me that SACP chief Blade Nzimande will never allow Ramaphosa to become president of South Africa. I was told this long before Marikana and the infamous buffalo auction. This antipathy may have driven Ramaphosa’s recent praise for the SACP.

Nzimande can’t have serious problems with Ramaphosa over Marikana, for it was he who said of the striking miners: “The ringleaders must be dealt with and separated from the mass of misled strikers.”

And yet, ironically, I would still prefer Ramaphosa for the presidency, despite the regret and shame of Marikana. He is not a corrupt politician and could be a huge asset in the fight against corruption, the biggest scourge in the ANC government since 1994. Stamping out corruption would make many billions of rands available for social justice.

If Ramaphosa can provide exemplary leadership in a campaign against corruption, that alone might make his presidency worth supporting. I don’t think his possible rivals for the presidency, Zweli Mkhize and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, are serious presidential material and there are no other serious contenders.

Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer, analyst and author.

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