BOOK REVIEW: The enigma that is Cyril Ramaphosa
Veteran journalist and editor Ray Hartley explores some of the events and people who shaped the ANC’s new leader, writes Xolisa Phillip
Cyril Ramaphosa is synonymous with the Constitution-drafting process for the "new" SA, having been handpicked by Nelson Mandela to lead negotiations for drawing up a road map to a post-apartheid state.
His time as a trade union organiser at the country’s mines during the height of apartheid made him the ideal candidate for the task, having experienced firsthand the might of the apartheid state machinery as well as having faced off with mining industry titans.
However, Ramaphosa, who had been integral to the negotiated transition to democracy, skipped out on Mandela’s inauguration after having been overlooked for the ANC deputy presidency, which went to Thabo Mbeki.
The politician is a man of many parts, as sketched out in Ramaphosa: The man who would be king, by veteran journalist and editor Ray Hartley.
The book is a 10-chapter and 198-page exploration of the many components that have contributed to the makings of the political enigma that is Ramaphosa, a lawyer-turned-unionist, a unionist-turned-politician and politician-turned-businessman who made a dramatic return to the political arena in Mangaung on President Jacob Zuma’s ticket.
The opening chapter, entitled Consciousness, charts Ramaphosa’s formative years and some of the ideologies that influenced his early politics, a key one of these being the Black Consciousness Movement.
Over the years, Ramaphosa has carved out a niche as a moderate voice of reason and become known for hiding behind carefully chosen phrasing that gives nothing away. But this first chapter reveals another, more radical side to Ramaphosa the union boss.
"Who the f*** do you think you are? You can’t give me instructions. None of you can give me instructions. Don’t you ever dare tell me what I have to do," a young Ramaphosa, the founding general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told a mine manager in 1985 during tense wage negotiations.
This is symbolic of Ramaphosa the organiser, the man who gave tycoon Harry Oppenheimer a public dressing down and the trade unionist who led the 1987 mining strike, which marked a key historical moment for the country. His credentials as one of the founding fathers of the NUM — and his significant contribution in turning the organisation into a force to be reckoned with in the mining sector — are unquestioned.
Hartley writes that Ramaphosa demonstrated tactical astuteness in the late 1980s, sensing a swing in the tide, when the unionist threw in his lot with ANC-aligned anti-apartheid formations.
Two of the men who would become his allies in the ANC — Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe — also served as NUM secretaries-general at the height of the union’s popularity.
Throughout the years, Ramaphosa had deep admiration for Motlanthe’s intellectual depth; perhaps the former president’s inclusion on the Ramaphosa ANC national executive committee slate is a nod to this quality.
The book also delves into Ramaphosa’s successful foray into business, his role in helping to craft black economic empowerment legislation and that infamous buffalo auction.
Hartley reminds the reader in a chapter on Marikana that it was Ramaphosa who played a hand in Julius Malema’s expulsion from the ANC. This would come back to bite Ramaphosa in August 2012, when the Marikana massacre unfolded.
Malema took Ramaphosa to task when the tragedy evolved and Dali Mpofu — who represented mine workers during the Farlam commission of inquiry and is part of the EFF’s leadership — tore into Ramaphosa when the much-followed inquiry was in session.
Although his damning e-mail exchanges and phone calls with Lonmin executives and members of the executive — Susan Shabangu and Nathi Mthethwa — were submitted as evidence that Ramaphosa had had a hand in the massacre, the final Farlam report came to a different conclusion. Despite this, Hartley writes, there was a sense that Ramaphosa, as a member of Lonmin’s transformation committee, should have been attuned to the workers’ conditions on the ground.
His response to Marikana and his continued stay in a Zuma Cabinet are at odds with Ramaphosa’s espousal of radical economic transformation and his supposed anti-corruption stance, points out the author.
But Hartley also notes that Ramaphosa’s name does not appear in the treasure trove of Gupta e-mails detailing how deep the tentacles of state capture run.
During the latter months of 2017, Ramaphosa demonstrated an appetite for showing his hand on key issues affecting the state, especially its capture. This is perhaps as a goodwill gesture to his backers in the alliance — the South African Communist Party and Cosatu — which have both been vocal about rising corruption and state capture.
There are a few tasks at hand for Ramaphosa. One of these is taking economic decisions that might prove unpopular with the alliance partners. Another is how Ramaphosa will deal with those implicated in state capture without triggering another rupture in the ANC.
A tough road lies ahead.