Cyril Ramaphosa: The day the giant shrank

2014-08-18 06:45

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cyril Ramaphosa shrank last week.

South Africa’s deputy president entered the Marikana Commission of Inquiry a bold and confident man.

By the time the lawyers were done with him, he was but a little man.

Ramaphosa appeared at the commission to account for his role in the build-up to the massacre of 34 miners in Marikana two years ago.

He was fulfilling an undertaking he made in the aftermath of the massacre that he would be willing to appear before the commission to explain why he used his political influence to intervene on behalf of mine owner Lonmin to get the police to crack down on striking miners.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry on Monday (August 11 2014). Picture: Herman Verwey/Foto24

His detractors would have us believe that Ramaphosa’s call for “concomitant action” to be taken against the miners who were causing havoc in the platinum belt led directly to the killings.

Ramaphosa’s version has been that by asking the police to restore law and order, he was being a responsible citizen.

Last week, the two versions went head-to-head. While neither Ramaphosa nor the lawyers can claim to have won the day, Ramaphosa took heavy blows. The longer he was on the stand, the more his stature diminished.

To understand the shrinking of Ramaphosa, you have to go back to the rise of the man. He was a prince of the liberation movement, an individual who was destined for great things.

As one of the founders of the National Union of Mineworkers, he was an architect of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu). He played a pivotal role in making Cosatu the engine of the Mass Democratic Movement.

History records that in the 1990s he was midwife to South Africa’s negotiated transition and a pioneer of black economic empowerment.

Having lost the duel to become Nelson Mandela’s successor to Thabo Mbeki, Ramaphosa was always expected to return to the political ring once his rival was off the scene.

It was also known that he was never going to fight for the big job and would always wait for it to be handed to him on a platter because, in his mind, he was entitled to it.

Even though he remained on the ANC’s national executive committee, he largely stayed in the shadows, rarely gave interviews and made few public pronouncements. He allowed speculation about his ambitions to swirl and seemed to enjoy a mystery-man status.

During the Thabo Mbeki years of cold and distant leadership, we longed for his warm character. In the bumbling and buffoonish Jacob Zuma years, we long for some brain and integrity. His return to politics in 2012 was accidental.

The Zuma camp needed a sober-minded and presentable person to be his running mate in the race against the more dignified Kgalema Motlanthe. Ramaphosa grabbed the opportunity and put himself in pole position to succeed Zuma.

His return trip appeared to hit a pothole when his behind-the-scenes Marikana manoeuvres became public. People began asking whether this would harm his chances.

But anyone with a little understanding of ANC politics would have known that this would cause no damage. It should have been obvious that a party led by someone who has a hungry wallet and rampaging libido would not pass judgement on a capitalist comrade for selfishly guarding his investment from unruly mobs.

He easily negotiated the pothole and now sits comfortably in the East Wing of the Union Buildings. He is behaving himself, singing Zuma’s praises at every turn, but is most likely hoping he doesn’t have to wait until 2019 to move to the West Wing.

The only thing standing in Ramaphosa’s way is a campaign by some in the party’s ranks to get African Union boss Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to return and leapfrog him when her term in Addis Ababa is up.

This in itself would be a terrible thing because if you thought Mbeki was cold, you have not felt the Arctic wind that is Dlamini-Zuma’s persona.

Before South Africa accepts the inevitability of a Ramaphosa presidency, some questions need to be asked about his fitness to lead.

Although we cannot draw a straight line from Ramaphosa’s exhortations for “concomitant action” to the actual killings, there is no doubt his interventions did a lot to move the police’s reaction stance from code blue to code red.

The fact that as a future president he played a role in the events that led to post-apartheid’s first massacre should matter. This was no small accident on a rural road. It was a seismic event in the life of our republic.

Last week, he conceded that in his interventions he prioritised getting the police to act against the strikers and did not bother giving much attention to getting his company back to the negotiating table.

“One should have sought to find out more closely the actual process of negotiating with the union. I would concede I should?...?have probed that.”

With those words, he shrank and the giant was no more.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.