The recent shooting of striking miners at Lomin’s Marikana mine has put Cyril Ramaphosa in the spotlight.

Julius Malema claimed that the miners were killed to protect Ramaphosa’s shares. With only four months left before the ANC Mangaung conference, Ramaphosa’s name will remain in the news.

Some ANC branches are reportedly considering nominating him for the position of ANC deputy president under President Jacob Zuma’s leadership and consequently he may become the deputy president of SA after the 2014 general elections.

This reminds one of how Nelson Mandela appointed Thabo Mbeki his deputy in 1994. There’s been a lot of speculation over why Mandela did not appoint Ramaphosa as his deputy and successor.

Mandela was reportedly torn between Ramaphosa and Mbeki, and decided to seek advice.

According to Anthony Butler, Ramaphosa’s biographer, people who were consulted included Walter Sisulu, Mbhazima Shilowa, Jacob Zuma, Thomas Nkobi, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, and Joe Slovo. I am not surprised the majority of these people gave the nod to Mbeki.

Had Mandela consulted me, I would have urged him to appoint Mbeki, first because he was politically senior to Ramaphosa, and, second, Mbeki held the ANC’s institutional memory which would come in handy in terms of governance.

In ANC culture you are regarded as uncircumcised if you didn’t go to Robben Island or into exile. In Tshivenda and Xhosa traditions, going to initiation school, where you are circumcised, gives a young man his entry into manhood.

A male who has not gone to initiation school is regarded as weak and immature and so he should not have his own family or occupy a leadership position.

In my view this is wrong.

Remember what happened to Fikile Mbalula? In 2008, one of the ANC leaders, Tony Yengeni, kidnapped Mbalula, taking him to a place where he was circumcised.

But let’s go back to Ramaphosa and his failure to snatch the deputy presidency of SA under Mandela.

Ramaphosa and some of his colleagues who served in the United Democratic Front (UDF) were perceived as not well-rounded cadres because they did not get their political circumcision on Robben Island or in exile. They were seen as politically uncircumcised.

Malema has recently argued that Ramaphosa’s peer in the union movement, Gwede Mantashe, didn’t grow up in the ANC and therefore doesn’t understand the liberation movement because a man of his age should have gone to prison or into exile. Despite the roles played by Cosatu and the UDF, Ramaphosa and his peers were perceived as not having a track record in the Struggle.

The belief that the exiles and political prisoners contributed more to the liberation Struggle than those who remained in the country is opportunistic and false.

The exiles and prisoners did not participate directly in the June 1976 students’ uprising. It is a futile exercise to try to separate the exiles and prisoners on one hand and those who remained in the country on the other.

There was a large overlap between these two groups. For example, the June 1976 uprising led to political imprisonment and the youth swelled the liberation camps in exile. Those who were in exile infiltrated the country and contributed to its ungovernability. Those who were in prison continued with the Struggle upon their release.

Motlanthe is one such person. After serving his term on Robben Island, 1977 to 1987, Motlanthe was embraced by Ramaphosa, who gave him a job at the National Union of Mineworkers. The NUM job enabled Motlanthe to push the ANC’s political liberation agenda.

In other words, the exiles and prisoners strengthened the student uprisings, unions, and UDF, and vice versa. But some people see themselves as politically circumcised and superior to those who neither went into exile nor to prison. Unfortunately, these kinds of people constitute the most powerful block in the ANC.

Addressing the NUM elective congress in May, Zuma lambasted those who questioned whether he was suitable to be the head of state. He argued that his liberation credentials qualified him to lead the country. I found this reasoning questionable.

Zuma is a well-rounded cadre in terms of his Struggle track record – he was active in the unions, served in Umkhonto we Sizwe, was imprisoned on Robben Island and went into exile. But I would have thought you become president of your country based on your leadership capabilities.

n Dagada is a development economist and author based at the Wits Business School. His essays are published at www.rabelanidagada.com