Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to active politics in late 2012 on the express understanding with President Jacob Zuma’s lobbyists that at the next ANC elective conference they would support his bid to be president. This deal was sealed post the Marikana massacre, with the full knowledge Ramaphosa’s role would be investigated. Now, after Ramaphosa has been cleared by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry of being the ‘cause’ of the massacre, and despite the Economic Freedom Fighters initiating a private prosecution, he remains the most likely candidate to succeed Zuma. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
In December 2012, four months after the Marikana massacre, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as ANC deputy president by 3,018 votes at the party’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung. His challengers were Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale who received 470 and 463 votes, respectively. There was absolutely no doubt that he had the overwhelming support of the ANC delegates. He even polled more votes than President Jacob Zuma, who received 2,983 votes, compared to Kgalema Motlanthe’s 991, to become president.
Ramaphosa has walked the line since then, careful not to be seen to be ambitious before his time, choosing his words carefully and singing Number One’s praises even when he is not required to. Speaking in Parliament recently, Ramaphosa said to Zuma: “We thank you for being steadfast in your resolve to lead our people despite those who would divert you”. He added, “I appreciate your guidance and your wisdom in leading us”.
The only time when Ramaphosa showed some individual flair was when he tried to negotiate a peace deal between the ANC and opposition parties in November last year to restore order to Parliament. This was after riot police were first called into Parliament to contain opposition MPs. Ramaphosa distinguished himself as a negotiator during the transition to democracy and the constitutional negotiations, as well as in international mediation roles. He tried to use these skills to defuse the hostile atmosphere in Parliament. However, he was curtailed by his own party’s refusal to suspend disciplinary action against the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance’s insistence on tabling a motion to censure Zuma.
Ramaphosa has been treading cautiously for two reasons. The first is not to outshine the boss or to be seen to be campaigning for the top job. Campaigning for senior positions in the ANC is career suicide; leaders must appear to be chosen by the branches even if all manner of skulduggery happens behind the scenes.
The second reason Ramaphosa has been minding his step was to await the outcome of the Marikana commission. Had he not been elected ANC deputy president and been appointed as Zuma’s deputy in the state, he would have probably embarked on public relations exercises to repair the damage to his image. But he is tightly hemmed in, having to abide by protocols of the ANC and the state, and therefore cannot go on his own frolic.
Ramaphosa had to sit tight as the Farlam Commission unfolded and wait for the report to be released. Advocate Dali Mpofu, acting for the mineworkers who were injured and arrested after the Marikana massacre, argued that Ramaphosa’s intervention as a Lonmin shareholder “triggered a series of events which determined the timing of the massacre”.
“He knew exactly what he was doing and he is the cause of the Marikana massacre, as we know it. It was demonstrated that he has a case to answer on 34 counts of murder and many counts of attempted murder as well as intent to do grievous bodily harm,” Mpofu told the commission.
Mpofu had argued that Ramaphosa’s intervention in the dispute was “infested with a litany of conflicts of interest”. His argument was based on the fact that Ramaphosa was a member of the ANC national executive committee at the time of the massacre and therefore had access and influence over members of the Cabinet, which he used to further his business interests.
But Judge Ian Farlam said in his report that Ramaphosa had no reason to believe that the police would launch “ill planned and poorly commanded operations, which caused the deaths of 34 strikers”. “There is no basis for the commission to find even on a prima facie basis that Mr Ramaphosa is guilty of the crimes he is alleged to have committed,” Farlam said. He said Mpofu’s accusations were “groundless”.
Ramaphosa’s reaction to the report has been muted, mostly because it would appear insensitive for him to be applauding his exoneration on 34 murder charges. His office did however issue a curt statement following the EFF’s announcement that it would be laying charges against Ramaphosa, former police minister Nathi Mthethwa, Lonmin and the National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. It said the findings of the Farlam Commission relating to Ramaphosa personally were “clear”. “Accordingly, Deputy President Ramaphosa has nothing further to add.”
But there was more Farlam said with regard to Ramaphosa’s role. In the report, Farlam said he agreed with the following submission by the evidence leaders: “It is certainly true that the underlying labour dispute also needed to be addressed. It can be contended that Mr Ramaphosa, as a non-executive director, was insufficiently attentive to the underlying labour dispute. His response to this contention was that this was a matter for management (including Shanduka’s representative on the management committee, Ms Ncube) to deal with.
“We submit elsewhere in this submissions that Lonmin management did not respond adequately to the violently conflictual situation which had arisen. It may well be that the directors, and perhaps particularly Mr Ramaphosa given his background, should have appreciated the need for urgent action to address the underlying labour dispute, and should have intervened actively to ensure that management took such action.
“While the matter had to be dealt with in part as a policing matter, that was not likely to be sufficient. It was also necessary to address the underlying labour dispute. There was certainly no reason to be confident that if some strikers who had allegedly committed the murders had been identified and arrested, that would have brought an end to the violence.”
That, perhaps, could have posed a problem for Ramaphosa on his journey to the presidency. “Given his background”, should Ramaphosa’s sympathies not have been with the workers? Should he not have “intervened actively” on behalf of the workers, not against them? Such a damning finding would have been difficult to explain to the ANC’s working class constituency.
But in order to become ANC president, Ramaphosa needs to win support among the powerbrokers and kingmakers, and those who control ANC provinces and regions. It is these people who will influence the vote at the next ANC conference in 2017.
Issues such a private prosecution being pursued by the EFF, which is unlikely to succeed, as well as Ramaphosa “selling out” the constituency that shaped him into a political figure will not matter to such people. What will matter will be who Ramaphosa undertakes to serve when he becomes president.
Perhaps in the past Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) might have objected to a candidate who is so overtly tilted towards business and who is on record calling for harsh action against striking workers. But in their respective weakened states, both these organisations are scouting for leaders to back in the next leadership race. Candidates who might have been out of the question a few years ago are all possibilities now, as long as they service the needs of Cosatu and the SACP’s leaders.
Ramaphosa ideally would have wanted to present himself as Mr Clean with none of the scandal baggage that has plagued the incumbent. But the betrayal of the workers at Marikana will loom over his political career, although not enough to jeopardise his rise to power. It will be used by the opposition but not by those inside the alliance fold who will be part of the 2017 succession debates.
While there is talk of other candidates who might challenge Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency, there is no certainty that anyone will stand against him. Although Ramaphosa does not yet have universal support in the ANC, he is the only visible contender and he is manoeuvring strategically to ensure that he will be the party’s candidate for president in 2019.
The only danger Ramaphosa faces is from the enemy within. Those who promised in 2012 to support Ramaphosa’s presidency when the time came could revoke it if they found someone who served their interests better. There is little Ramaphosa can do to hold them to that deal.
And as the workers of Marikana know all too well, betrayal is a bitch. DM
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking about the SoNA at the New Age Business Briefing breakfast at Grandwest in Cape Town. 18/06/2014 Kopano Tlape GCIS
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine