Every time the deputy president speaks, his followers are gripped by excitement. But what is he really saying? Or is he leading by following? Is the tide more important than the principle?

Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech to the SA Communist Party conference last week sent the media into apoplexies of delight and affirmation. Headlines like "Cyril’s slam-dunk speech" and "Ramaphosa 2.0" soon followed.

In truth though, he said nothing new, he rarely does. It is just that the need to believe has many in its grip. Any excuse to see the definite in the ambiguous will do. And no-one benefits more from this affliction than Ramaphosa.

Let’s call it Ramathusiasm.

"If you don’t vote, the boers will come back to control us," Ramaphosa said in 2013. It was a revealing statement, now long forgotten. Part of Ramathusiasm is the conviction that he is a potential tonic for all the rampant demagoguery that defines the politics of Jacob Zuma and his ilk. To believe that would be a mistake. He might demonstrate a little more self-control — but the base instinct to populism is there, just below the surface.Ramathusiasts would have it he is a democrat, serious about accountability in a way Zuma isn’t. There is little evidence for this; he treats parliament with almost the same contempt the president does. The same kind of inanity marks his obfuscation. "I for one will not remain quiet," Ramaphosa said to the SACP, with reference to the Gupta family. The media lapped it up. His standard line on the subject is to call for a judicial commission of inquiry. It’s a clever piece of rhetoric allows him to appear decisive; simultaneously, vague enough to avoid ...

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