News analysis – Cyril Ramaphosa leaves the back room behind

2014-06-15 15:00

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On Tuesday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked by reporters at the Cabinet ­lekgotla how he felt about standing in for President Jacob Zuma and he ­jokingly answered that he was “shaking like a leaf”.

Ramaphosa was thrown into the deep end this week when Zuma was advised by his doctors and the ANC to rest. He was admitted to hospital for tests last Saturday.

Things have moved quickly for the former businessman, whose return to politics was almost accidental after former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe unsuccessfully challenged Zuma for the ANC presidency at the party’s Mangaung conference in 2012.

It was only confirmed a day before voting that Ramaphosa had accepted nomination for the deputy presidency.

Since then, there has been talk that he is not a universally supported candidate to succeed Zuma as ANC and state president in 2017 and 2019.

But Zuma’s unexpected leave of ­absence catapulted Ramaphosa to the forefront, which can be seen either as a stroke of good fortune or simply as much ado about nothing.

Ramaphosa was forced to take over the running of both the ANC and Cabinet lekgotlas. Both meetings are crucial in charting the new government’s five-year path and defining the contents of Tuesday’s state of the nation address.

Theoretically, this means Ramaphosa will have played a pivotal role in crafting the vision Zuma will present to the nation on Tuesday night. He has been billed to speak at a New Age breakfast on Wednesday, where there will be more in-depth discussion on the contents of the speech.

Before the elections, there was speculation in the ANC that Zuma would not finish his full term and was expected to hand over the reins after two years, but the ANC has denied this.

When asked about Zuma’s health and the decision to rest the president, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the party could not afford “to drive leaders into the ground”.

Mantashe said the work overload had resulted in late ANC leader Oliver Tambo suffering a stroke in 1989 after visiting 14 countries in four days.

“We need to learn from these things. That’s how I see it. We want [Zuma] to deliver the state of the nation

address. He mustn’t come here and show signs of being tired.”

Zuma will be present for the subsequent debate about the speech. Does it follow that Ramaphosa’s prospects to succeed Zuma are therefore enhanced?

By deputising for Zuma, he is only fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities. He is not doing more than is ­expected in terms of his oath of office.

But the reality is that if Ramaphosa gets to grips with his work and helps the country navigate difficult economic times, he will be building a warm nest for himself.

With the ANC dropping support in the national elections this year and ­expected to face tough local government elections in 2016, his supporters might argue that it is better to continue with him than to open up a potentially divisive succession race.

Yet his prominent role might be a poisoned chalice. Without a recognisable constituency in the ANC, Ramaphosa is always at risk of offending ­entrenched political interests. Since his election in Mangaung, Ramaphosa has kept a low profile and refrained from making political pronouncements that do not parrot the party line.

With more authority and responsibility, Ramaphosa will have to come out of his shell?...?and maybe that’s why he was “shaking a like a leaf”.

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