South Africa

Whatever happened to Cyril?

By Greg Nicolson 21 September 2012

Cyril Ramaphosa was awfully quiet on Marikana until he appeared on radio on Thursday. GREG NICOLSON heard not the man we’ve been waiting for to save the ANC, but a symptom of problem that runs through the party.

Cyril Ramaphosa has been viewed as the ANC’s prince for a long time, a knight who will one of these days come riding into the leadership battle to slay the dragons of poor leadership, corruption and mismanagement. His fans point out that he has the experience and talent to transform the ruling party while remaining sufficiently separate from the splinters of factionalism to put his abilities to work.

Some of the adoration comes from his absence: his withdrawal from public politics means he’s one of the few remaining anti-Apartheid leaders who have avoided scandal and controversy. But much of it comes from his CV.

Ramaphosa played the central role in establishing South Africa’s biggest trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, and was active in the Mass Democratic Movement. He proved himself in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa and is a former secretary general of the ANC. To top it all off he’s built a business empire worth R3-billion, making him the country’s 15th richest person.

Yet, all those successes worked against him Thursday as he spoke to SAfm’s Xolani Gwala. Despite being a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, Ramaphosa is more comfortable talking business these days, happy to leave the juicy topics to his comrades at the peak of the party.

But there’s an email doing the rounds that accuses Ramaphosa of being the Dr Evil behind the Marikana massacre. It alleges that a company he owns has been sub-contracting workers to Lonmin and taking a cut that would make the worst labour brokers jealous. “How could Cyril Ramaphosa exercise such influence over Lonmin’s executive board to be able to effectively bend it, and potentially the board of Xstrata too, to do his bidding,” asked the email’s author, Arthur Mackay, who described himself as “an analyst of global and economic political issues”.

Ramaphosa dismissed the claims out of hand on Thursday. He called the email, which spins a collection of lies and half-truths into a conspiracy, “ludicrous”. “This is a serious allegation and quite a sensational one for that matter – the truth is neither Shanduka (Group) nor I own a company involved in labour broking – because that is precisely what the allegation is.”

Ramaphosa, who has a 9% stake in Lonmin, placed responsibility for the Marikana strike and deaths on a broad group of stakeholders. “I think a lot of us stakeholders are to blame. Marikana should not have happened. We are all to blame and there are many stakeholders that should take the blame. But taking the blame should mean that we make sure it never happens again.”

To stave off a repeat of the disaster, he suggested government use its authority to implement the Mining Charter and withdraw the licences of non-compliant companies. “The issue of the mining licence is a critical one and that’s the power the government has… If that’s in force we’ll see more and more regulatory compliance and even as an investor in this mining business I would say, ‘Yes, I do want my government to regulate very closely and make sure that we comply.’”

The interview was one of damage control, and he got lost on a number of questions. Discussing international salary standards he was stuck on the example of Australia, where the mining industry is radically different. He came off as open to nationalisation, but favouring private investment. Instead of strong responses, Ramaphosa offered listeners the prevaricating answers of a man worried about share prices.

The interview took a dive when he apologised for bidding on a buffalo cow and her calf. In April, Ramaphosa bid R19.5-million for the buffalo but was outbid by a Bloemfontein businessman. “It was a mistake. I regret it. It was a mistake to even put up my hand to do so and I’ve been chastised by some of my good comrades and even before they chastised me I did admit that was a mistake. I regret it because it is an excessive price in the sea of poverty. I belong to a community and it was one of those moments when I was blind-sighted.”

The buffalo response was more sincere than what he offered on Marikana. Since Ramaphosa’s Shanduka took control of Lonmin’s Black Economic Empowerment partner, Incwala Resources, there seems to have been no effective improvement in transforming the work or social conditions of its employees. His silence on the matter has been inexcusable, given the regular reports of the dismal conditions the miners face.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa referred to his days leading the NUM, saying he “spent nine years with mine workers fighting for their rights”. A worthy candidate for president or deputy president would be able to say how he’s still trying to fight for their rights, but Ramaphosa has avoided that criticism while he works in the corridors of business, his absence from politics only increasing his appeal. 

But the SAfm interview showed Ramaphosa the businessman is dominant, not Cyril the freedom fighter. It isn’t a unique transformation of a struggle hero into a capitalist mogul: those who will have the most influence on the ANC’s Mangaung election have deep investment in business – Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa. Kgalema Motlanthe’s partner Gugu Mtshali has already been involved in scandal. 

Ramaphosa’s a symbol of that party-wide problem. For years the ANC has been in stuck in the balance between being the party of the people and coddling big business. It’s an unholy marriage that doesn’t produce leaders. It benefits insiders. In that sense, what happened to Cyril is what happened to the ANC. DM

Read more:

  • “Has Cyril’s moment finally come?” on Daily Maverick
  • “Cyril, what for art thou, Cyril?” on News24

Photo: Cyril Ramaphosa (Reuters)


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