Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

Facing allegations of extramarital affairs that he says are a smear campaign to prevent him taking over the leadership of South Africa’s ruling party, Cyril Ramaphosa sat calmly next to his wife as an auctioneer sold more than $1 million of his rare Ugandan cattle, buffaloes and antelope.

While he fended off the accusations, which broke on social media on Friday and in the Sunday Independent newspaper two days later, that he had affairs with at least eight women, his adversaries are likely to keep up attacks on the South African deputy president in the run-up to the African National Congress’s internal elections in December.

His wealth may open him up to more criticism.

Ramaphosa, 64, is one of the richest black South Africans and is married to the sister of the country’s only black dollar billionaire, Patrice Motsepe. Opponents previously targeted him for his fortune and an interest in the wildlife industry after he made a 19.5 million-rand ($1.5 million) bid for a buffalo in 2012. Ramaphosa’s shareholding in mines owned by Lonmin Plc and ownership of a local franchise of McDonald’s Corp. were used against him during protests after police killed 34 miners near Lonmin’s Marikana mine five years ago.

“We have seen that being used against him by some, in that there is a sense of distrust of somebody who is wealthy, and that goes to the core of the historical context of South African politics,” said Roland Henwood, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria. “People who are starting to target him for being wealthy are essentially targeting the policies of government that have created the kind of wealth that he has.”

During the auction on Saturday at Zebula Golf Estate near the town of Bela Bela two hours’s drive north of Johannesburg, at least five helicopters and nine small planes were parked on the runway. Ramaphosa’s six-member auction consortium, Stud Game Breeders, sold livestock ranging from Ramaphosa’s Ankole cattle to buffaloes and a rhino for almost 116 million rand in total at a live auction. Ramaphosa sold animals worth 15 million rand from his nearby Phala Phala game farm and a cattle operation.

Ramaphosa is one of the front-runners to succeed President Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC and to become leader of the country in 2019. His main rival is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 68, the former chairwoman of the African Union Commission and Zuma’s ex-wife.

Ramaphosa labelled the weekend claims as part of a “dirty war” ahead of the vote. He admitted to an affair eight years ago in an interview with the Sunday Times, but denied other extra-marital relations.

In the ANC campaign, his main rival is calling for “radical economic transformation” aimed at transferring more wealth to the black majority and has been used to justify policies such as proposed black empowerment mining laws that business groups have said will freeze investment and cause job losses. Ramaphosa has argued for inclusive growth.

Empowerment Opportunity

“I am” in touch with poor people, Ramaphosa, who wore a green shirt emblazoned with a logo of a sable antelope head, said in an interview after the auction. Game farming “really can be a great empowerment opportunity for black people. This is a wonderful opportunity for our people,” he said, because it makes use of land unsuitable for farming.

Of the six members of his auction consortium, the other five are white men. The group includes Norman Adami, the former chairman of SABMiller Plc’s local unit. Adami sold livestock including buffaloes for 48.6 million rand on the day.

During that sale, Ramaphosa sat next to his wife Tshepo for almost five hours, making notes in the auction catalog and eating lunch from a plastic container, while occasionally stepping out of the 1,400-seat tent to talk on his mobile phone.

After the last bid he posed for pictures and held babies, stood still for an occasional selfie, shook hands and made informal conversation with bidders and spectators who simply addressed him as Cyril.

The prices “could have been better,” said Ramaphosa, who also bought sable antelope for himself during the sale.

- Bloomberg

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