Will Cyril step up to the presidential plate?

2012-04-21 16:05

Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa’s name has been punted as a possible future successor to President Jacob Zuma by both Zuma’s supporters and those who want to see change ahead of the ANC’s national elective conference in Mangaung in December.

Ramaphosa has been among one of the most popular leaders in the party for the past two decades, and he has previously served as its secretary-general. He was also punted as a successor to former president Nelson Mandela, but was pipped to the post by Thabo Mbeki.

Ramaphosa was recently thrust into the political spotlight again because he heads the ANC’s national disciplinary committee of appeal. He is expected to rule on ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s appeal against his expulsion soon.

While this is an opportunity for Ramaphosa to assert his political seniority and wisdom, Malema’s supporters have accused him of quietly campaigning for the top position because his rulings haven’t been more lenient.

Does Ramaphosa have ambitions of becoming president now, and what are his chances? University of Cape Town political analyst Anthony Butler, who authored the biography “Cyril Ramaphosa”, answered a few of City Press’s questions on the businessman.

Do you think Ramaphosa has presidential ambitions? Has he ever had them?

Like many political leaders in their early years, Ramaphosa decided that he would one day be president before he was even 16 or 17 years old. In his twenties, he continued to joke about what he would do when he was president. Later on, he actually had good reason to believe he might be the successor to Nelson Mandela. It is difficult to believe that he has put such ambitions behind him.

Do you think he would make himself available for election as president?
It is difficult but not impossible to see circumstances in which Ramaphosa might compete for the ANC presidency this year. Kgalema Motlanthe is currently a more likely compromise candidate for anti-Zuma campaigners – and he is acceptable to other factions because he would probably serve only one term.

At least one lobby group from Limpopo has nominated Ramaphosa to become deputy president with Zuma as president. What conditions could Ramaphosa possibly attach to a nomination for one of the two ANC top spots?
It is impossible to attach such conditions and to ensure that they are respected. However, Ramaphosa might seek to be an activist deputy, rather in the manner of then deputy president Thabo Mbeki in the later years of Mandela’s presidency.

Ramaphosa is a more convincing executive leader than Zuma or Motlanthe and this is widely recognised in the ANC. One attraction of the deputy presidency is that it might place Ramaphosa in an advantageous position in 2017 when the ANC would almost certainly elect a new president.

Which leaders does Ramaphosa consider allies to team up with if he were to decide to put in a bid for president?
Ramaphosa has not attempted to build factional alliances in the manner Tokyo Sexwale has done. He does not have permanent allies. He would attempt to tap the rational centre of the ANC while drawing on his trade union background. Despite his business success, his strength is probably greatest in the union movement.

Which leaders do you reckon Ramaphosa is unlikely to team up with for a presidential or deputy presidential bid?
Ramaphosa has certain rivals who are the same age as him – notably Sexwale and Mathews Phosa. Although they might work with one another, they might equally confront difficulties in working for one another.

In terms of his businesses, is Ramaphosa in a position to let them go or put them on ice should he be nominated for a top position?

Sexwale has shown that this can be accomplished with relative ease. He could resign from his directorships and place his shares in a blind trust. Sexwale’s business career, however, had become stagnant. Ramaphosa’s businesses, by contrast, have recently performed extremely well, and they are maturing and diversifying in interesting ways. 

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