Eusebius McKaiser

Which Ramaphosa just stood up?

2012-12-20 12:34

Reaction to Cyril Ramaphosa's election as deputy president of the African National Congress is absolutely fascinating. Those of a more business bent think they have a shot now of more faithful ruling party commitment to business friendly policies. ANC comrades who remember Ramaphosa in the workers' trenches imagine he will remain a friend of the poor. Still others, recalling Ramaphosa the negotiator, imagine he will help various stakeholders in society play nicely with each other.

Yet there is an obvious question that no one can answer with any real certainty: Which Ramaphosa has just stood up?!

One thing's for sure, the profoundly different takes on what Ramaphosa's agenda will be both within the ruling party and (soon) within the state is sympotamic of the ANC's contradictions.

Ramaphosa represents the ideological tensions at the heart of alliance politics. On the one hand, his political CV contains admirable evidence of someone who, at some point at least, had a profound sense of the social and economic injustice suffered by poorly treated workers within corporate South Africa and within the state. He knows what it means to fight the justice-blind interests of the wealthy in order to advance the case of economic reform in the name of substantive equality and economic justice. This Ramaphosa is a hero of the poor, a hero of the worker on the wrong side of our horrible Gini co-efficient.

Yet, the later Ramaphosa is a hero of many within the corporate sector. This Ramaphosa warms the capitalist hearts of captains of industry. They see him as someone who understand the importance of a smaller state than the one we have, and the need for cutting down the cost of doing business South Africa so that more big multinational players like McDonalds may flock to the tip of Africa. For these corporate citizens, Ramaphosa symbolises the prospect of greater labour market flexibility, and a greater degree of respect for the efficiency of markets to deliver us from development evils.

For a third group, not prone to ideological battles, Ramaphosa yet symbolises something else -- compromise. For these folk, Ramaphosa's glory days as the face of peaceful transition towards democracy (next to enlightened Afrikaner politician Roelf Meyer), means a chance of a "social pact" being forged. Perhaps he can do for the economy what he did for us politically; that is, help us negotiate our differences on how to achieve economic justice.

So, which Ramaphosa will we get? We don't know. And we can't know. Only time will tell. If the ANC allowed transparent lobbying then maybe we would know. Of course, the ANC's elections are still a mostly behind-the-scenes affair, so Ramaphosa now occupies a senior position within the party without once having publicly articulated why he accepted the nomination.

We therefore cannot predict which Ramaphosa will emerge in the months and years ahead.

Two things are certain though. First, Ramaphosa is not bigger than the ANC. He is also not the only nor the first or the last uber-rich person within the ANC's leadership structure. To pretend he will be able to impose himself ideologically and operationally on the party and state is to betray ignorance of the party's history of constraining rampant individualism.

Second, the obsession with projecting your favourite hopes onto Ramaphosa is revealing. We are simply nakedly showing our desperation for a hero.

(Anyone seen my Bonnie Tyler album?)

- McKaiser’s book A Bantu in my Bathroom is now available from all leading bookstores. Ebooks can be bought from and epub and pdf versions can be bought on-line from Exclusives Books and

- Eusebius McKaiser is an associate at the Wits Centre for Ethics. Follow @eusebius on Twitter.

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