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Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected ANC deputy president, is widely expected to bring more respectability to the ruling party leadership and, with the 2014 elections close at hand, his appeal to business and the middle class may prove to be a trump card.
According to analysts, however, it remains to be seen how Ramaphosa will find his feet amid the possible fallout from a bruising, factional succession battle – even if President Jacob Zuma quickly moved to call for unity, emphasising the right of anyone to contest leadership positions, and gave the assurance that the ANC’s elective conference was not a “reshuffling conference”.
Yesterday, Zuma indicated Ramaphosa would have his hands full: part of his brief is to travel the country and check on branches.
However, the political career of his predecessor in the party’s deputy presidency, Kgalema Motlanthe, now an ordinary member, has moved in a different direction: as the newly appointed head of the party’s political schools he will drive a key Mangaung conference resolution – political education for a better cadre.
UNITY OF PURPOSE
Ramaphosa, in his first act as ANC deputy president, delivered the conference declaration emphasising the party’s “unbreakable unity of purpose”.
“There is going to be an attempt to make him (Ramaphosa) the acceptable face to some people,” said Steven Friedman, director at the Centre for the Study of Democracy.
But he added: “The kind of belief the messiah has arrived, complete with mass support, is an illusion.”
However, both Friedman and Susan Booysen, a professor at the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management, said Ramaphosa’s election had strengthened those in the ANC who had remained in South Africa during apartheid.
Friedman said Ramaphosa’s style was “comfortable to a lot of people in business, in a way the exile style is not”, while Booysen highlighted that for many it seemed the United Democratic Front (UDF) was now represented.
Ramaphosa’s popularity among the more than 4000 ANC delegates was clear from the rousing applause he received when the election results were announced on Tuesday. He was patted on the shoulder while guards battled to ensure he could make his way to the stage.
This stood in stark contrast to the ANC Youth League’s sharp words earlier this year when Ramaphosa headed the ANC’s disciplinary appeals committee, which confirmed the expulsion of enfant terrible Julius Malema.
The former trade unionist – he was crucial to the formation 30 years ago of the National Union of Mineworkers – turned to business and became one of South Africa’s wealthiest men.
He is widely credited as a key architect in the drafting of the constitution, alongside the then National Party’s Roelf Meyer. Since late 2010 Ramaphosa has served as deputy chairman of the National Planning Commission, whose National Development Plan to tackle South Africa’s long-term socio-economic challenges infused the ANC’s Mangaung conference.
Political commentator Adam Habib said Ramaphosa’s return to active politics was “by chance”, due to the ANC’s internal factionalism, and closely linked to Zuma’s ticket.
While many anticipated “a sense of respect” coming into the ANC presidency, Habib said, this may be a double-edged sword for Ramaphosa if the scandals surrounding Zuma also surround him.
Going into the Mangaung conference, Zuma was criticised for the R240 million so-called security upgrade at his Nkandla homestead, while the saga around the withdrawal of corruption charges against him continues to play out in the courts, following the DA’s determination to obtain a review of that decision.
Habib also raised questions about Ramaphosa’s grassroots credentials as the Marikana killings of 34 Lonmin miners by police – and 10 people amid labour tensions the preceding week – highlighted appalling living conditions of miners. Ramaphosa serves as non-executive director at Lonmin.
Public disapproval over the use of political connectivity arose when it emerged before the Marikana commission of inquiry that Ramaphosa had sent a series of e-mails saying he would speak with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and had contacted Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu on behalf of Lonmin.
In one e-mail to the company’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson, he described the wildcat strike as “plainly dastardly criminal acts (which) must be characterised as such”, needing “concomitant action”.
However, on Wednesday, Ramaphosa announced he had started reviewing his business interests.
“This is necessary to address any potential conflicts of interest, and to ensure that I can adequately perform the responsibilities of this position (as ANC deputy president).”
Ramaphosa, who was elected ANC secretary-general in 1991, became an MP in 1994 and left politics in 1997, when Thabo Mbeki was appointed as the country’s deputy president under Nelson Mandela.
However, Ramaphosa remained an NEC member.
Fifteen years later, at this week’s ANC leadership election, there was a sense of irony as Ramaphosa stood against Tokyo Sexwale, the human settlements minister, and Matthews Phosa, the out-voted ANC treasurer, for the deputy presidency.
It was in 2001 that then safety and security minister Steve Tshwete claimed the three were plotting to overthrow then president Mbeki. The claims, made ahead of the ANC’s 2002 Stellenbosch national conference, were ultimately shown up as false. -Saturday Star