Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC election team lashed out on Wednesday at claims that his campaign is being run by whites. His perceived closeness to white people and business is just one in a basket of challenges the “CR17” team will have to overcome to be successful at the ANC’s December conference. By GREG NICOLSON.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign co-ordinator James Motlatsi and his campaign manager Bejani Chauke said claims that “bossy whites” were dividing his team and limiting electioneering were racist and meant to undermine his attempts to become the next ANC leader.
“Claims that the campaign is run by whites are not only untrue and inherently racist, but they diminish the contribution that those individuals involved in the campaign have made over many years to the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa,” they said.
A Sunday Times report citing “insiders” claimed white Ramaphosa aides were acting as gatekeepers, in charge of finances and fundraising, and limiting the election efforts of senior politicians, such as former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Senzo Mchunu. The report said some in Ramaphosa’s team were considering quitting the campaign out of frustration. Chauke and Motlatsi called the report “inaccurate, insulting and racist”.
“The claims made in the article appear to be part of a narrative perpetuated by those opposed to Cyril Ramaphosa’s candidacy about his supposed ‘closeness’ to whites. Ramaphosa’s record in the ANC, government and business underscores his unwavering commitment to non-racialism and to the empowerment of black and women South Africans,” they said. “The campaign is concerned about how race is being increasingly used as a political weapon to undermine the integrity of comrades.”
Ramaphosa’s team did not detail who was doing what in the campaign. It said management and staffing followed the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism. A political committee oversees the campaign and its national management includes 12 people, all experienced members of the ANC.
The report claimed that Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation CEO Donné Nicol, who also worked as Ramaphosa’s executive assistant, and Marion Sparg, who previously ran Ramaphosa’s ANC office, were in charge of the campaign’s administration and were causing divisions. Both have a long history in the ANC.
Roelf Meyer was also linked informally to the campaign, but Meyer and the team both denied the claim. Meyer represented the National Party, opposite Ramaphosa, in the negotiations to transition into democracy. In June, Meyer spoke glowingly of Ramaphosa: “I think Cyril will be a very good leader. I will give him all the support he deserves. He has the ability to lead the country and I hope it will happen.”
Professor Susan Booysen from the Wits School of Governance said her first thought on reading the story was that somebody probably has an axe to grind. She said Ramaphosa’s campaign included senior and proven comrades and it was unlikely Nicol and Sparg had sole responsibility for key issues. She said they were well known in the ANC and had close relationships with Ramaphosa.
“I don’t think anybody before now had questioned their racial character,” she said. Booysen warned that Ramaphosa’s campaign would have to be “extremely sensitive” to perceptions that he is too close to whites or “white minority capital” as the ANC leadership race gets nasty.
Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are seen as the frontrunners to lead the ANC after the party’s December conference, but Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete and Matthews Phosa have all put their hands up for the top job.
Independent political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said Ramaphosa’s campaign has challenges “both inside and outside the ANC”, adding, “There will be an attempt to paint him as, to use an American term, to project him as a house negro,” he said, noting EFF leader Julius Malema’s claims that the deputy president is solely out to please whites.
Matshiqi said there were “both genuine and dishonest fears” that would be peddled about Ramaphosa’s perceived civility to whites, as well as business, international investors and the markets, that could hamper necessary economic transformation.
“He has bigger problems than that,” said Matshiqi. If Ramaphosa did not win in December it would be because of a range of challenges. His biggest would be creating a new majority in the ANC for support and, in particular, getting backing from KZN.
The CR17 team would welcome the current divisions in KZN, said Matshtiqi, but it may unite behind a single candidate from the province to maintain patronage networks and fend off the IFP in the 2019 elections. The ANC Women’s League has said it wants a women president, which will also limit Ramaphosa’s chances.
Attacks regarding race or his proximity to business won’t alone be enough to derail Ramaphosa’s campaign, said Matshiqi, but the combination of challenges could. DM
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the No Confidence Motion in President Zuma debated in parliament, November 2016. Photo: Nic Bothma (EPA)