FEATURES / PROFILE / Ramaphosa’s destiny
For 90 minutes on 7 February, Cyril Ramaphosa held parliament in his hand as he set out the ambitions for his presidenc y. In a sombre grey suit and tie, fitting his soubriquet as ‘South Africa’s CEO’, Ramaphosa reeled out his agenda for the coming elections: inclusive growth, jobs, better schools and training, stepping up the fight against corruption and strengthening the state to meet the people’s needs.
“It was 100% Cyril,” said a veteran African National Congress (ANC) cadre in Cape Town’s parliament square afterwards. “Thoughtful, well-crafted, something for everyone.” Then he paused: “But can he deliver on any of this? His house is divided. The looters are not in jail. Growth is worse than stagnant and we’re losing more jobs.” So why the euphoria after Ramaphosa finished speaking? “Because we all want to believe in him. He’s won the ANC over 55% of the vote already. Job done.”
Ramaphosa has set the ANC on course for a victory that would suit him. It has to be over 55% of the vote to reverse the party ’s decline during Jacob Zuma’s era, but not a landslide – which could encourage complacenc y. To lead the ANC now – 25 years after its victory in South Africa’s first free elections – requires an extraordinary set of skills.
That Ramaphosa – the student activist, the militant unionist, the political organiser, constitutional negotiator and then corporate titan – has those skills is evident. Less obvious are his people skills. Many who have worked closely with Ramaphosa say they do not know the man.
Proudly announcing “I’m an enigma,” Ramaphosa revels in this psychological inaccessibility, rare among such ubiquitous public figures. Outgoing and gregarious, Ramaphosa works a room with a natural gift for recalling faces and personal stories. Rising at 5am, he has taken to power walking, with security in tow, chatting animatedly to the early-morning workers he meets en route.
In the popular mind, that somehow offsets his country-gentleman-style enthusiasm for fly fishing, golf and expensive herds of Nguni and Ankole cattle. Allies say it points to Ramaphosa’s chameleon-like qualities, which have steered his career: from pushing Harry Oppenheimer to raise miners’ wages to becoming a mine owner himself.
24 THEAFRICAREPORT/N° 107 / APRIL-MAY-JUNE 2019