Were Cyril Ramaphosa to compete head to head with Jacob Zuma in a presidential election, he would win hands down. Ramaphosa would comfortably defeat Julius Malema too. But what if we were to take the people out of the race and leave only the ideas? Would Ramaphosa’s ideas win against Zuma’s, and against Malema’s? I ask because Ramaphosa did not put land reform on the agenda. Zuma and Malema did. And so SA finds itself in a strange situation; the most popular politician in the country is mapping out his presidency on a terrain established by people who command less support than him. Why is this happening? Do Zuma’s and Malema’s ideas have deeper resonance among South Africans than Ramaphosa’s, despite the fact that Ramaphosa is more popular than both? One answer, widespread among pundits, is no. Ramaphosa is governing on a terrain he did not choose because he is forced to kowtow to his enemies in his own party. Were he free of the ANC, he would be liberated to express the will of the...

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