FEATURES / PROFILE / Ramaphosa’s destiny
Ramaphosa facing Oppenheimer at a Weekly Mail debate
ORGANISER Building the base
ILLE DE VLIEG
When she first met Ramaphosa in the 1970s it was clear to Patricia de Lille – the firebrand secretary general of the South African Chemical Workers’ Union – that he had the toughness to resist repression and to build a political movement in the unions. After release from detention, Ramaphosa joined the Black People’s Convention (BPC), an organisation in the Black Consciousness Movement under Steve Biko, and resumed legal studies. He was arrested in 1976 and detained for six months in the notorious John Vorster Square police headquarters after the 16 June uprising in Soweto against apartheid education policies.
De Lille first met Ramaphosa at the Council of Unions of South Africa, where he was working as a legal
NEGOTIATOR From national resistance to political power
In the most dramatic decade in Africa since the independence era – the 1990s – Ramaphosa was at the centre of revolutionary change in South Africa. He started the era as a socialist trade unionist and ended it as a leader among the country’s new black business elite, with plenty of peaks and troughs in between.
South Africa’s business and political leaders were now talking to the ANC in Lusaka, and to Nelson Mandela in jail in Western Cape. Ramaphosa had become one of the ANC’s most important cadres.
At Mandela’s release on 11 February 1990,
Ramaphosa was in the reception committee for the revered leader. Ramaphosa went from being the man who held the microphone for Madiba to heir apparent. It looked a surreal elevation for the 38-year-old union organiser.
Popular with the left and the unions, as well as having the backing of exiled Communist leader Joe Slovo, Ramaphosa was catapulted into the ANC hierarchy at the party ’s conference in South Africa in July 1991.
In his autobiography, Mandela gave this accolade: “Ramaphosa was elected secretary general,
evidence that the torch was being passed from an older generation to a younger one. Cyril was a worthy successor to a long line of notable ANC leaders. He was probably the most accomplished negotiator in
‘He was probably the most accomplished negotiator in the ANC’ NELSON MANDELA
the ANC.” The same conference elected Mandela as president and Thabo Mbeki as his deputy.
Snuki Zikalala, president of the ANC Veterans’ League, tells The Africa Report that Ramaphosa’s promotion was welldeserved: “Cyril was running the engine room of the ANC, delegates felt he was highly competent, a hard worker and the right man to lead the ANC’s office.”
Fishing trips Earlier, Ramaphosa had emerged as leader of the the ANC delegation at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa
26 THEAFRICAREPORT/N° 107 / APRIL-MAY-JUNE 2019