Johannesburg - The re-emergence of billionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa to the centre of South Africa’s political stage did not occur out of the blue at Mangaung, but was a consequence of him quietly re-building himself as “an insider” in the ruling ANC. He also did not represent a figure who would shift the country away from the ruling movement’s economic left-of-centre roots towards unfettered free market capitalism.
A politics professor at the University of Cape Town, Anthony Butler – who has updated his 2007 biography of Ramaphosa after his election as ANC deputy president in December, believes the MacDonald’s franchise holder in South Africa has a good understanding of what the business community wants.
But he didn’t “think there is much danger of rampant free market capitalism making an appearance”.
However, difficult economic conundrums in the ANC had not been resolved, but Ramaphosa – who has interests in mining, communications and the retail sector – was an ANC leader “who recognises the enormous damage that can be done to business confidence by the pursuit of the politics of nationalisation”, Butler said.
He believes that Ramaphosa, who is a student of constitutionalism, would bring to public policy making “discipline” and a dedication to the rules. “Those factors are in themselves significant.”
Nevertheless, he did not expect the ANC to shift significantly in any new ideological direction. “Most of its economic policies are broadly a continuation to what happened under (President Thabo) Mbeki.”
At recent policy and elective conferences, there had basically been “a cut and paste” of previous policies, which had then been re-rubberstamped. “Ramaphosa may simply bring more order into (the arena) in which policy is deliberated,” Butler said.
He also argued at the Cape Town Press Club that a study of the history of the ANC did not indicate that because Ramaphosa was elected President Jacob Zuma’s deputy in the ruling movement that it would translate into a free ride to the nation’s highest office. “There is no reason to believe that Ramaphosa will be entitled to step up to the highest office.”
Butler pointed out that the party deputy presidency was re-established for Nelson Mandela in 1990 when Oliver Tambo, the president was ailing. Tambo himself had been deputy president under Chief Albert Luthuli, but the post fell away when he assumed the presidency on Luthuli’s death.
Despite the fact that there was no clear tradition of the deputy president assuming the presidency, “it is difficult to see what will stand in his (Ramaphosa’s) way”.
He also expected Ramaphosa to assume the post of deputy president of the country after the national election next year, when Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was expected to bow out.
Responding to questions about whether there wasn’t a danger of Ramaphosa outshining the president, Butler believed he would be very careful not to do so.
While the implementation of the National Development Plan and Ramaphosa would come “as a package”, Butler believed that its successful implementation would be brought about by a combination of carrots and sticks.
The carrots would be budgetary contributions to departments, “which make proposals in line with the NDP”. However, ministers who bucked the party line – or who were corrupt – might come up against a disciplinarian in Ramaphosa when he assumed the national deputy presidency, an office which also included leader of government business.
He would also have the ability of bringing together labour, business and the government to resolve economic problems, mainly quietly behind the scenes. “I would say that role has not been played (successfully) by (deputy president) Motlanthe at all,” Butler noted.
For Ramaphosa to succeed in this he would need the support “of his president… (but) there is an open question about that support. Nobody I have talked to knows about the personal relations between the two men”, he said.
Noting that Ramaphosa defeated Zuma for the post of general secretary of the ANC in 1991 and that Zuma “did not appear (at the time) to be upset by this (and) Ramaphosa did not appear in any way to offend Zuma”, Butler argued that the president was leading the ANC down “an electoral cul de sac”.
Zuma’s political drawcard was greater in areas where the ANC was already strong. He was weak where ANC support was weakening, such as in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Western Cape.
Ironically, the worse the ANC performed in these areas, the stronger Ramaphosa’s political hand in the ANC became, Butler argued.
Similarly, should the NDP – which had been elevated to the centre of policy making – end up being treated “as a figleaf” rather than a demonstration of a commitment to long-term planning and “evidence-based policy making”, Ramaphosa would most likely not be blamed for its failure.
“Ramaphosa’s position is in some respects counter-intuitive, the more the ANC fails (to implement policy or to grow electorally) the stronger Ramaphosa becomes internally.”
While acknowledging that political scientists had seldom made accurate predictions – such as forecasting the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union – he believed Ramaphosa would not easily be politically sidelined again.
“His personality would lead him not to go quietly, it wouldn’t be a good thing for either the ANC or the country to enter another round of succession,” Butler said.
He argued that Ramaphosa had learnt a few lessons from being sidelined for the post of deputy president when Mbeki got the job. “When he was defeated by Mbeki he was portrayed as an outsider… by the exile leaders.”
He has slowly and quietly restored his position as an insider since the Polokwane conference, when he assisted Zuma in purging the Mbeki faction, in 2007.