Is Cyril Ramaphosa The Vanguard of A New South African Era?
South Africa’s newly elected President, Cyril Ramaphosa has walked a journey from student activist to trade unionist, to multi millionaire businessman, and now holds the “Number 1 “ status in the land. Whilst his career has been fruitful, it has not been devoid of controversy.
Ramaphosa was the man who held Nelson Mandela’s microphone on the momentous, 11 February 1990 – As Mandela addressed the world a free man after 27 years of imprisonment.
28 years later, Ramaphosa, now leader of The African National Congress, now holds his own as he looks ahead not only to “unify South Africa” but to also cull the corruption in his the deeply divided African National Congress.
Ramaphosa cut his teeth in politics while studying law in the 1970’s. He joined The South African Students Organisation (SASO) and his political involvement in anti – apartheid activities saw him being detained twice during the 1970’s.
In 1981 he completed his articles and in the same year joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) as an advisor. This led to the formation of the National Union of Mineworkers, in 1982, with Ramaphosa as its first Secretary General.
The NUM led some of South Africa’s largest strikes, which rattled the cages of the apartheid economy.
Ramaphosa was also greatly involved in the negotiations to end apartheid and also contributed to the development of the South African Constitution.
Despite being said to be a firm favourite of Nelson Mandela’s, Ramaphosa lost out to Thabo Mbeki, as Madiba’s Deputy in 1996. This upset saw Ramaphosa withdraw from the political spotlight to focus on becoming a business pioneer in the private sector.
Although he was not as involved in the political arena, Ramaphosa still served in the ANC’s National Executive Committee, a position that his opponents believed provided him with insider information and access to stakeholders in government. Ramaphosa’s shift from a trade unionist to becoming the owner of a lucrative business empire left many skeptical of his ambitions.
Ramaphosa’s business ambitions grew to the point where his Shanduka Group attained a stake in nearly every key sector from telecoms and the media, game farms to beverages and fast food to mining.
In 2014, the former trade unionist became one of the South Africa’s richest men as well as being appointed as South Africa’s Deputy President. As a means to avoid conflict of interest, he disinvested from Shanduka, which at the time was worth more than $580 million.
Ramaphosa’s political career was flourishing, as it had in his younger years. He led the Southern African Development Community Delegation involved in settling the political crisis in Lesotho after the failed coup in 2014. Ramaphosa was also crucial in getting a number of South African parastatals on course. However, he faced great criticism again, this time for staying silent about then President Jacob Zuma’s many corruption allegations and involvement with the Gupta family.
More criticism and blame was thrown in Ramaphosa’s political path when, in 2012, the police killed 34 workers at the Marikana platinum mine.
At the time, Ramaphosa served as the director of the multinational company that owned the mine, Lonmin. The former bastion of trade union movement was blamed of taking the mine management’s side over the workers. Emails emerged showing Ramaphosa referring to the the striking miners as partaking in “dastardly criminal acts.” His role in an auction to bid for a buffalo and her calf for 19.5 million rand (2.3 Dollars) came to haunt him after the Marikana massacre as his critics accused him of spending extravagantly on animals but not paying workers decently.
Ramaphosa later apologized in an effort to save his credibility in the ANC and the trade union movement. Many, including the Economic Freedom Fighters, believe that Ramaphosa was left unscathed by his involvement in the massacre.
Ramaphosa’s bid for the ANC presidency was based on an anti – corruption narrative. Ramaphosa speaks of unity internally in ANC as well as committing to working with other South African political parties to rebuild South Africa. The latter is noble but it is naïve to believe that Zuma was the sole protagonist of all of South Africa and the ANC’s problems.
Ramaphosa’s ANC should also rethink its role as a liberation movement and seek to change the course it is on instead of adopting the same “traditions” of liberation parties particularly in Africa. In addition, the “ two centres of power” policy may come back to haunt the ANC in the same way that Zuma did when he used the ANC to avoid the counts of corruption he faced while in Presidency.
What is also concerning is that the ANC still has not explained the exact reasons for Zuma’s recall. Ramaphosa’s ANC needs to be honest about this complex matter, so as to put the “Zuma problem” at bay instead of sheltering and fostering the divisions Zuma caused for South Africa and not only the ANC.
South African’s breathed a collective sigh of relief when Zuma resigned. History now sees Ramaphosa holding the hopes of South Africa in his hands, as Mandela once did.
With South Africa’s unemployment at 30%, state capture, allegations, corruption and junk status ,Ramaphosa has a difficult task , the world waits to see how he fares .