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Will Cyril Ramaphosa contest?

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‘Will Ramaphosa stay on dream ticket?” The Weekly Mail’s Gaye Davis asked this question this day 18 years ago, just three weeks before the ANC’s 1994 national conference in Mangaung.

Ramaphosa was evasive on whether he would stand for re-election as the party’s secretary-general.

Is history repeating itself, as it is not clear whether Ramaphosa will abandon his business empire to be President Jacob Zuma’s sidekick?

Coincidentally, the youth league then (and now) did not want him, but the then-ANC president Nelson Mandela (and now Zuma) liked him. But Mandela had to persuade him to stand.

The sulky Ramaphosa was despondent after he was overlooked as the country’s deputy president, turning down Foreign Affairs cabinet post – a move that was described by Kaizer Nyatsumba in The Star as “the first error of judgment”. Ray Hartley aptly summed him up in the Sunday Times: “There is some evidence that Ramaphosa tends to sulk if he doesn’t get his way.”

A unionist told me this week that Ramaphosa didn’t like to take on any political venture in which he would lose.

This is why there was no ambiguity in 1991 when he stood for the party’s secretary-general post. The 38-year-old young unionist defeated Zuma in Durban with 1 156 votes to 450 votes, with Alfred Nzo coming second at 371. Interestingly, Zuma became Ramaphosa’s deputy in 1991.

This means Ramaphosa is likely to stand if he is certain that he would trounce Tokyo Sexwale, whose then PWV (now Gauteng) region backed Ramaphosa in 1994, and Mathews Phosa. Coincidentally, the three men were accused by Mbeki in 2001 of plotting to topple him.

Again, why would Ramaphosa leave his burgers and millions?

Perhaps he eventually wants to become president. In an interview with the Sowetan in April 1996, after he resigned as secretary-general of the ANC, Ramaphosa said: “I think presidents are made of sterner stuff. Being part of the ANC collective, we are not accustomed to saying this is my ambition. It is the ANC that finally decides what we should be and where we should be”.

Should he become the party’s deputy president, he will be leading an organisation that he knows very well. He has never left the party’s national executive committee.

Ramaphosa, was the first secretary-general to warn the unbanned ANC that the party was riddled with problems that made it difficult to govern effectively. In his 1994 report, he told delegates that the party’s internal structures were in a mess, branches were weak, and that the party’s senior leadership was “depleted”.

So Gwede Mantashe’s concerns on the state of the party is nothing new.

However, Ramaphosa’s performance as secretary-general was not that spectacular, according to an internal assessment document leaked to the Weekly Mail in 1993. It accused Ramaphosa of being inaccessible to the branches and that he had no links with the leagues. But he was an excellent negotiator who ushered in a new constitutional deal. Mandela felt Ramaphosa would dilute the ANC’s Xhosa-dominated top leadership. Is the Zuma camp nominating Ramaphosa for the same ethnic reason?


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