The Cyril debate – Ramaphosa can get us back on track

2012-12-09 10:00

There is a compelling case for the governing ANC to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as its deputy president in Mangaung.

The case rests on one simple premise: that as a young democratic nation,we’re in danger of going off the rails and we need a leader who can get us back on track.

First, two qualifications: Ramaphosa is a dyed-in-the-wool ANC cadre who is capable of putting the party before the people.

There was a time when this might have been justified as a necessary expedient. This is no longer the case, though only the bravest have ventured to admit it.

The sad fact is that Ramaphosa will be buried in his ANC boots, no matter how badly the party strays from the beliefs that once made it proud.

The second is that he has become exceedingly wealthy.

This is a challenge because no one is above the seduction of mammon.

Bidding for a buffalo that sold for just under R20 million illustrates this.

There is, nevertheless, a strong case to be made for his return to active politics.

He has demonstrated great political leadership before, and there is a high probability that, given the chance, he can do so again.

Ramaphosa is capable.

As a young activist, he built a powerful trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, during a period of intense repression.

Nobody disputes his ability to mobilise people with divergent interests and ideologies; and also to pursue a project with grit, determination and conviction even when the odds are stacked against him.

He has shown that he can bridge divides and find common ground, even where there is deep-seated hatred.

He still commands respect across South Africa’s fractious ideological and racial divides, a rare thing in the current political climate.

As Nelson Mandela writes in his Long Walk to Freedom: “He (Ramaphosa) was probably the most accomplished negotiator in the ranks of the ANC, a skill he honed as secretary-general of the National Union of Mineworkers.”

Also, he would get things done.

He always has – from shop-floor organiser to constitutional negotiator and later businessman.

He entered the private sector as a rookie and made some bad mistakes, but he showed the ability to learn from them.

He has also developed an acumen for spotting people with the skills he lacks, and for good deals.

In government, he would show the same tenacity.

He knows, from a life of hard knocks, that bad things happen but that this is not a sufficient reason to give up.

He would set clear goals, gather able people around him and get down to work.

Policies would be implemented and ministers held accountable.

Order would return to Cabinet meetings and the practice of proper agendas, orderly debates and minuted meetings would be restored.

Decisions would be made and outcomes monitored.

Nor would he have to come up with a grand plan to solve the many challenges we face.

He has got one, the National Development Plan (NDP).

As deputy chairperson of the National Development Commission, he knows the plan better than any current Cabinet minister apart from National Planning Commission (NPC) chair Trevor Manuel.

Assisted by 23 of some of the brightest minds in South Africa, the NPC plenary sessions would have been a treasure trove for Ramaphosa, delivering detailed research and debate about the machinations of government and the complexity of economic policy.

Though not a perfect document, the NDP provides a comprehensive blueprint for governing the nation, devoid of ideological cul-de-sacs and grandstanding.

It has been left to gather dust on a shelf in the east wing of the Union Buildings.

Ramaphosa could, and no doubt would, dust it down, roll up his sleeves and start engaging the nation on how to make it happen.

The NDP is visionary, something Cyril understands because he has vision.

He can see the end-state without ignoring the present in all its messy complexity.

He understands the interconnectedness between people and institutions, and that a weakened state and a disaffected populace are a recipe for disaster.

We could do with some of all of the above. Mandela describes him as “one of the ablest of the new generation of leadership”.

True, these words were written in a different era, because many from the same vintage and with similar struggle credentials have not stood the test of time.

Ramaphosa, for all his flaws, still stands head and shoulders above current, and those toted as potential, incumbents.

» The writer has worked with Ramaphosa in a close professional capacity

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