Not entirely omniscient
24 April 2014 04:52 (South Africa)
Politics

Analysis: Has Cyril's moment finally come?

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • Politics
business briefs 01

Any day now, the ANC rank-and-file might realise it is thoroughly sick of the current set, and some new blood is needed at the top. While Kgalema Motlanthe has been the man for some years now, when a party grows weary of candidates with naked ambition and questionable morals, it might turn its lonely eyes to one Cyril Ramaphosa. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

Simon and Garfunkel could have easily been speaking of the African National Congress when they wrote Mrs Robinson. There are many interpretations of the lyrics – the most persistent one being that they hastily tossed something together for the film The Graduate – but a really endearing one is that this is a lament for things lost, and things that could have been. Basically, the two great young artists were mourning how the early promise of the 1960s had been wasted.

A Mrs Robinson lyric worth quoting:

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you/

What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson/

Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.”

Simon and Garfunkel needed a symbol for America’s loss of innocence, and none was better than Joe DiMaggio, the great baseball legend. Perhaps best known for his 56-game base hit record (he hit a ball in 56 consecutive games) he set in 1941, which has yet to be beaten, he became a symbol for innocent 40s and 50s America with his on-field gentlemanly manners and his off-field public awkwardness. This reputation was also helped by a very brief and unhappy marriage to Marilyn Monroe (DiMaggio was thought of as the duped party in the arrangement).

At the time when Simon and Garfunkel wrote Mrs Robinson, there was a distinct longing in America for the simpler days of Joe DiMaggio (sometimes nicknamed Joltin’ Joe) when men wore partings, women served coffee and the enemy spoke German or Russian.

Today, within the ANC, you can sense a similar pining for the days when comrades knew their duty and stuck by it. A small but growing portion of the party is slowly getting sick of the politicking, the factionalism and loss of moral authority that has been strangling this once-great organisation under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. And unlike America in 1967, this ANC has its Joe DiMaggio waiting in the wings. It has a leader who embodies the earnestness, discipline and hard work of the ANC that fought so dearly against apartheid, and also worked to build a better country. You may have heard of him: his name is Cyril Ramaphosa.

To explain Ramaphosa’s roots in the ANC is also to explain why he’s been in Kgalema Motlanthe’s shadow all these recent years.

Ramaphosa’s first and very crucial role was his role in the formation of the National Union of Mineworkers – you may have also heard of it. It is a large, loud and very influential trade union – and it is heavily indebted to Ramaphosa for the profile it now enjoys in politics. His successes with NUM lead him to become the ANC’s main negotiator at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, where he squared off against the National Party’s formidable Roelf Meyer – and won more often than not.

When it became clear that the ANC would win the political piece of the pie at Codesa, and very likely lead the country after the 1994 elections, the assumption was that Ramaphosa would become the deputy president of the country. But it wasn’t to be – he was outmanoeuvred by one Thabo Mbeki.

Ramaphosa then almost immediately decided that he had seen enough of active politics, and retreated from the more glamorous positions within the ANC to focus on his business endeavours. He would prove to be just as tough a businessman as he was a politician.

When McDonald’s recently announced that Ramaphosa would own all franchises within South Africa, the Economist wrote a glowing profile of the man. 

“With his formidable connections, negotiating skills and charm, he took to it [the world of business] like a duck to water,” the Economist wrote. “He was one of the first to benefit from the ANC government’s black economic empowerment (BEE) policies, building an empire in mining, energy, property, banking, insurance and telecoms. With investments said to be worth 1.55-billion rand ($224-million), Mr Ramaphosa has joined the 31-strong club of rand billionaires.”

There was no possibility of Ramaphosa finding favour with Mbeki under the latter’s tenure as president; the earlier rivalry made that impossible, as well as the fact that the Ramaphosa’s name was put forward at every opportunity when a replacement to Mbeki was pondered.

Ramaphosa was so officially uninterested in ANC power struggles that his name was barely mentioned when the rise of Zuma first happened. At a later point, there was great speculation as to whether or not he’d run against Zuma and Mbeki as a third candidate. The temptation must have been enormous – even if he couldn’t muster his own winning constituency, the Zuma camp would surely have responded to any credible groundswell on Ramaphosa’s part by inviting him to join their ticket. This scenario wasn’t impossible – the man who eventually ran as Zuma’s deputy was Motlanthe, someone who kept his cards so close to his chest in the run-up to Polokwane that many couldn't discern who he was going to pick between Mbeki and Zuma right until the national conference started. This couldn’t have made Zuma sleep very easily ahead of the conference, and he would have appreciated having his co-runner sign up nice and early just to give him that much more reassurance before facing Mbeki at Polokwane.

This brings us squarely to Motlanthe, a man who has earned the nom de guerre of Keyser Söze at the Daily Maverick. The ANC role that we have so vividly described as belonging to Ramaphosa has been played by Motlanthe over the last many years. Like our cunning businessman, Keyser Motlanthe learned his trade in union politics, and is also a brilliant purveyor of the waiting game in politics. Both men share a keen sense of timing. But Motlanthe could bring his political tools to bear under Mbeki, something Ramaphosa couldn’t do, and became the secretary general of the ANC. This meant that he became tangled in the Oilgate scandal, and while he’s walked away with his reputation only slightly dented, it is dented nonetheless. Recently, his apparent girlfriend has become the subject of unsavoury corruption allegations. As one would expect from Motlanthe, he immediately invited the Public Protector to investigate. And who is behind this latest revelation, as convenient as it is? It could be anybody, the fact is.

Motlanthe has been building a reputation as the man who isn’t Zuma. And while the president is quite powerful and has a habit of squashing enemies when the mood takes him, he hasn’t nailed his deputy yet. Again: who knows why not?

But Motlanthe is no longer a man in the shadows. When he became the caretaker president after Mbeki was unceremoniously sacked, it became clear that he was going to be the clean ANC man. The guy the party could turn to in moments of crisis. The selfless man. But this reputation has been slowly undone by his increasing stature. His success has been his undoing as far as strategy is concerned – he is now someone that anybody who wants to lead the ANC has to contend with. If someone were to taint Motlanthe in the eyes of ANC delegates and branch members as an ambitious schemer, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult.

And here’s the problem: the party foot soldiers are becoming sick of the party ill-discipline. “We didn’t struggle so that comrades could become unruly,” you can almost hear them say it. At the party’s national conference in Polokwane, discipline featured very strongly as a concern. The same thing happened at the party’s national general council in Durban. And as fate would have it, the fall guy (the one chump who would be made an example of) became Julius Malema. Ill-discipline in the ANC has largely occurred as a result of factional politics. And as it is increasingly obvious, Motlanthe is no longer above this sort of thing.

But guess who is completely outside of factional politics, scandal and the other generally dirtier bits of the ANC? Yeah, you guessed it: Ramaphosa is essentially Motlanthe without the ambition and the tainted reputation.

ANC leaders like to claim that they will only lead when the collective asks them to: only one man has appeared to be truly unambitious and power-hungry – Tokyo Sexwale. He tried and failed (where Motlanthe succeeded).

So when an ordinary branch member looks at what the ANC has become in the last 12 years, and they look at who is in power, and who is vying for power, they might feel a distinct sense of discomfort. They might miss them good old days when the ruling party was one of true principle. Before the arms dealers, oil merchants and tenderpreneurs got their claws in. They might feel like it’s time to elect a leader who embodies those years. A Joe DiMaggio of the ANC, if you will.

Ramaphosa happens to have a great deal of pull within the ANC. Say what you will of the ANC, but it has never elected a leader who has no history of service and dedication to the party. Ramaphosa is a member of the national executive committee and the chairman of the party’s national disciplinary committee of appeals, alongside stalwarts like Trevor Manuel and Jeff Radebe. He is the deputy chairman of the national planning commission.

Remember when the ANC had to announce to the nation that Malema, someone who had painted an image of indomitability, was basically being an idiot in his defence of his unconstitutional behaviour? Who did they send to deliver that message? It was a very powerful one, and it needed someone with buckets of credibility to deliver it. Someone who could call Malema naïve and absurd, and everyone, from Hyde Park housewives to street sellers in Cape Town, would understand that this meant that the ANC was greater than any individual. On 4 February, that man was Ramaphosa.

And if those ANC members ever come calling in their numbers, Cyril Ramaphosa can hardly refuse to grant them their wish. That is the true ANC way, isn't it? DMREUTERS/Mike Hutchings




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Photo: Cyril Ramaphosa. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings.

  • Sipho Hlongwane
  • Politics


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