Johannesburg - Cyril Ramaphosa was due to make his political comeback on Sunday – after 16 years of absence in the government – when President Jacob Zuma names him as his deputy.
Except for standing in for the president whenever he is out of the country, or representing him in official events, Ramaphosa’s specific duties are yet to be revealed.
However, an informed source said Ramaphosa’s chief role will be to run the economy and restore investor confidence. This was corroborated by two other sources who asked not to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to the media.
While Ramaphosa is due to continue with his mediation duties in war-ravaged countries such as South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the sources said, he would be tasked mainly with executing the National Development Plan (NDP), the ANC’s cornerstone policy for economic growth, aimed at achieving its target of creating five million jobs by 2020, and ultimately 11 million by 2030, among others. With concerns that the NDP is yet to be implemented and with mixed messages about its viability, Ramaphosa is seen as the ideal person to oversee its implementation because of his background in business, said one source.
Ramaphosa was among the ANC leaders who helped draft the NDP. Sources said the government was concerned about the fact that Nigeria recently eclipsed South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy and that South Africa’s credit ratings have been falling. Ramaphosa was seen as the man to stabilise the economy.
An astute negotiator and politician, Ramaphosa co-founded the National Union of Mineworkers and served as its first secretary general. He also played a pivotal role in the negotiations that ended apartheid rule and he was central to the drafting of the country’s constitution.
He quit politics in 1996 after Thabo Mbeki pipped him to the position of Nelson Mandela’s deputy. That Mandela had preferred him as his heir is well documented – as is the story of his being thwarted by those in the ANC who preferred Mbeki to succeed Mandela.
Despite being spurned and though he ventured into business, Ramaphosa has remained loyal to the ANC and served on its national executive committee (NEC).
His popularity among the rank and file of ANC members had also remained intact throughout – always topping the list of the party’s senior leaders who amassed more votes in the party’s successive national elective conferences.
Ramaphosa made his original political return in December 2012 when he was elected as the ANC’s deputy president at the Mangaung elective conference. He was named in second place behind Zuma on the ANC’s candidate list for the National Assembly.
Independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said Ramaphosa would be the ideal candidate to steer the floundering economy and enable the ANC to salvage the votes it lost in the recent election.
“They might deploy him where there is a crisis, which is in business and in reaching out to the middle class (because of Zuma’s lack of appeal to this type of electorate). So his role will largely be in stabilising the economy and the markets,” Matshiqi said.
He added: “There is also the expectation that he is the man who will head the NDP and play that moderator effect when it comes to state intervention and radical economic reform. The fact that Ramaphosa returned to politics – albeit as a comprise candidate for the Zuma camp to counter Kgalema Motlanthe’s challenge to Zuma in Mangaung – shows that he still harbours the ambition to become the state president.
As he goes about his duties, Ramaphosa would also have his attention firmly fixed on the ANC’s 2017 national conference, where the new leadership is to be elected.
During Mandela’s term, Mbeki gradually began to enjoy more powers and had a measure of free rein in the government, especially during Mandela’s third year in office when he began to scale down his responsibilities.
In contrast with Mbeki, Motlanthe saw his executive powers increasingly curtailed towards the end of his term as Zuma’s deputy. Except for his role as a mediator in the strike-torn mining sector, his duties became more and more of a ceremonial nature.
Matshiqi warned that Ramaphosa – for all his acumen as a shrewd politician with charisma – might find himself in a similar situation. His role in business and as a mediator in war-torn African states, Matshiqi said, could be a double- edged sword that had the potential to work either for or against him.
“The fact that he is deployed in South Sudan and Sri Lanka shows he is not going to play the role of an executive (in Zuma’s cabinet). He is not given space to campaign for 2017. The best way to checkmate him is to keep him busy in order to ensure that he doesn’t mobilise. Already he is facing challenges from the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, given the pressure of having a president from that province and a woman president.”
Another political analyst, Lesiba Teffo, agreed, saying Ramaphosa’s role could – contrary to popular belief – be just ceremonial, with no real powers to advance his chance to become president.
“Zuma is operating in a space fraught with factions and there is a bit of ambivalence and anxiety about Ramaphosa: a lack of trust about what they (Zuma’s faction) thinks he might do afterwards (when he becomes the state president),” Teffo said, referring to the outstanding court wrangling around the “spy tapes” that led to the dropping of the corruption charges against Zuma.
“The influential bloc within Zuma’s camp might say he (Ramaphosa) is not one of us and that he is the deputy president by default. He came in as a compromise candidate because the name that was being punted as the front-runner was that of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Some people in both factions are beginning to see her as the person who can heal and reconcile the conflicts. She is impeccable, competent and respectful (but) I think they are planning the gender card. It doesn’t look like it is going to be a rosy path (for Ramaphosa).”
Also counting against Ramaphosa, Teffo said, was “the others”. He could be “lumped up with the capitalists” by some, especially from the leftists in Cosatu and the SA Communist Party who may be resentful of him for amassing wealth in the face of poverty.