Nwabisa Makunga: Is Ramaphosa the man?

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa
File picture: Katlholo Maifadi
Picture: Katlholo Maifadi.

And so, finally, Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency is in full swing.

In recent weeks, Ramaphosa has moved from one podium to the next, across the country, presenting himself as an alternative presidential candidate ready to take the ANC out of its leadership crisis.

Indeed Ramaphosa joined the succession race much later than his main rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Thus, many have already ruled him out of the game with predictions that the balance of forces in the party significantly favours Dlamini-Zuma, who enjoys the backing of the incumbent and his powerful machinery.

While this theory may have merit, it can only be tested in December when party delegates chose Jacob Zuma’s successor.

In the meantime, I have been fascinated by what seems to be growing public euphoria around Ramaphosa.

Last weekend the SACP joined its alliance partner, Cosatu, and its unions in its public backing of Ramaphosa.

Unlike Dlamini-Zuma – whose campaign appears to validate criticism that she is a Zupta Trojan horse – Ramaphosa has attempted to position himself as an embodiment of the moral values of the ANC in its heyday.

He is mindful that in the eyes of the broader South African public – the majority of ANC voters – the ruling party has lost its legitimacy. He is conscious that the ANC may well lose power in 2019 if it continues down its destructive path.

In stark contrast to Dlamini-Zuma’s defensive stance, Ramaphosa has presented himself as a legitimate leader who believes that it is only through introspection and humility that the ANC can regain its place in the hearts and minds of its voters.

“We need renewal,” Ramaphosa told a supportive crowd in Uitenhage last month. “That renewal is coming in December.

“It will make or break whether we have a united ANC or if we are a shell of the ANC. The ANC has lost its position as a leader of society,” he said.

“Society is walking away from us. I am confident – and many in the leadership share this confidence – that the branches of our organisation will use the upcoming 54th national conference to chart a new path of political, organisational and moral renewal,” Ramaphosa said.

So, determined to lead this renewal, Ramaphosa has shown a willingness to confront his own demons.

Responding to a question from a Rhodes University student earlier this month, he stated for the first time that he was planning to visit the families of the victims of the Marikana massacre – a tragedy that has haunted his political career since 2012.

“This is where, as a leader, I am prepared to listen to the advice and counsel of other leaders,” Ramaphosa said.

“Mama Winnie Mandela has said to me, ‘Deputy president, this matter needs to be addressed. I want to take you to Marikana.’ That is what she said to me. I have said, ‘Mama, I will accept your counsel in this regard’,” he said.

Of course you are welcome to debate the timing of his apology.

You may even interrogate his sincerity – he apologised specifically for the language he used in e-mails when he was a Lonmin mine director days before the massacre.

I am not particularly convinced that he would display this kind of remorse if he did not believe it was time to throw everything he has into this campaign.

While I am mindful of his illustrious CV as a unionist, negotiator and constitutionalist, I continue to hold serious reservations about Ramaphosa’s ethical choices.

First, like many, he was witness to numerous scandals under the Zuma presidency, yet found his voice of reason only when it became “safe” and politically convenient to do so.

Of course his supporters often argue that he did in fact speak out much earlier within ANC structures. We are not privy to that and cannot attest to it.

Second, as stated before in this column, my reservations stem from his conduct as a businessman who resisted calls to negotiate with striking Lonmin miners in the months leading up to the massacre.

Again, while I am aware that he was absolved by the Marikana commission of any legal culpability, this does not ethically exonerate him in the handling of the matter.

I am aware that it is not common practice in this country to examine our politicians through a moral lens.

Therefore, many who support a Ramaphosa presidency agree that Marikana is indeed the darkest moment of our democratic history.

But they do not view his role in it as significant enough to relieve him of the grand mandate to save the ANC from the dangerous Zuma empire.

Which brings me to this point: too much is expected from Ramaphosa.

Much of the excitement around his potential presidency – eerily similar to Zuma’s 10 years ago – is based on the agonising need for a leader who will bring relief from the torment caused by the incumbent. While this is understandable, it is a superficial look at the problems that beset the ANC.

Zuma has caused so much destruction in the ANC and the state that his departure will not translate to a new restorative era of politics.

It will not necessarily undo the paralysis in some government departments, nor will it restore good governance where needed.

It is therefore interesting to note that apart from being critical of the current crisis, the narrative around Ramaphosa is yet to demonstrate an incisive ability to reverse the decay and chart a new way.

Therefore, we must ask whether Ramaphosa’s is again a campaign by a diverse group of people whose alliance does not run beyond the common, necessarily goal to rid us of the Zumas?

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