Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Is Ramaphosa the ethnic unifier the ANC needs?

2017-12-08 08:16
ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the party's policy conference. (AFP File)

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the party's policy conference. (AFP File)

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

Nelson Mandela memorably preferred Cyril Ramaphosa as his successor to deal with the perception that the ANC – and by extension – the country was run by Xhosa people.

There probably was another reason: Ramaphosa had gained prominence as a leader at Codesa. No doubt the negotiation skills he had developed while he was the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers worked well for the ANC delegation at Codesa.

Thabo Mbeki had his strengths. By the time of the Codesa negotiations in the early 1990s, he had already won the confidence of Afrikaner leaders. At the behest of Oliver Tambo in the late 1980s, he had met and impressed them in London where the seeds for "talks about talks" were planted. Mbeki invited Jacob Zuma to some of the meetings. In one meeting Zuma complained about "too much corruption in Africa".

Mbeki worked with Tambo and carried his instruction to talk to Mandela by phone while he was still in prison. The apartheid regime had already hinted at willingness to talk, but Mandela had insisted that he wanted the ANC leaders in exile to be involved and he could only take instructions from them.

It would be surprising if Mbeki had not, in a way, seen himself as a natural successor by virtue of his closeness to Tambo and having had the privilege to take direct instructions from him. It was not a small matter that he was an integral part of the trio that included Tambo and Mandela who, in the main, decided the approach the ANC needed to take towards the negotiations with the apartheid government.

The fact that all three of them were Xhosa speaking didn't seem to bother Mbeki. If he was bothered he never showed it. Which might also explain why he never obsessed about using his position as president to develop his village or build a mansion in rural Transkei.

His anointment by Tambo might have come through in 1989 when Tambo said to him: "Look after the ANC and make sure we succeed. You will know what needs to be done."

Despite Mandela's wishes and ethnic considerations, it would have been difficult for Ramaphosa to fight a battle with someone so close to Tambo, a leader who commanded near-universal respect.

Ramaphosa, who gained prominence in the United Democratic Front and trade union movement, had no option but to wait for his time. This could be another plausible explanation for Ramaphosa's decision to shift his focus to business. The popular view is that he was elbowed out of the 1997 leadership race.

Ramaphosa gave credence to the popular view by showing lack of appetite to contest the presidency even when there was a leadership crisis that needed a unifier. Kader Asmal desperately wanted him to enter the Polokwane presidential race in 2007 to serve as a "unity candidate". He failed to convince him.

His supposed lack of appetitesome say sulking – worked for him because when he was invited by Jacob Zuma's campaigners to join his slate in Mangaung in 2012, they strongly believed they were using him only temporarily. He had no constituency and was therefore not a threat to their ambitions beyond 2017.

The people who invited him onto Zuma's slate almost immediately started a succession plan for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. They were never interested in seeing whether Ramaphosa would demonstrate signs of being a good leader. Clearly, they were not looking for a good leader to succeed Zuma. They were looking for anyone who would perpetuate Zuma's rule. Ramaphosa would remain some sort of accessory to provide credibility to Zuma's successor. So they thought.

Mandela's ethnic consideration aside, there was a very negative campaign from KwaZulu-Natal's traditional leaders. This tribal-based negativity was told by FW de Klerk in his autobiography The Last Trek: A New Beginning. In January 1994, President De Klerk hosted traditional leaders from KwaZulu-Natal at the Union Buildings. Among them were King Goodwill Zwelithini and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

They were very concerned that the proposed Transitional Executive Council, the product of Codesa negotiations, would take over the administration of KwaZulu and thus compromise their wish to curve an independent Zulu kingdom. One of the princes told De Klerk in the meeting: "We tolerated British rule. We tolerated rule by you [Afrikaners]. We tolerated apartheid, but we will not tolerate rule by the Xhosas. We want our sovereignty!"

De Klerk's quotable Zulu prince was totally ignorant. Zulu wars, dating back to the pre-colonial era, are well known. The suggestion that they "tolerated" all these things, including apartheid, is obviously false.

But De Klerk couldn't miss the emotions around the ethnic question. He therefore gave it prominence in his book. He wrote that the delegation was particularly contemptuous of Ramaphosa.

The Transitional Executive Council was seen as a product of Ramaphosa's negotiation tactics. The anger was directed at him. The princes, according to De Klerk, found it inconceivable that "Venda (sic) should dare to think that he could come impose his will on sons of heaven [the Zulus]". Strangely, there have been no objections to the tribalism recorded in De Klerk's book.

Ramaphosa is, however, not stuck in narrow regionalism. He visited Zwelithini recently, presented him a special breed of cattle and they had a good time together. He won his blessings. He got similar blessings from traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape.

Though not entirely fluent, he speaks Zulu when he's in KwaZulu-Natal, Xhosa in the Eastern Cape, Tsonga and Sepedi in Limpopo. He hardly speaks Venda, his mother tongue. Symbolically, it's a good thing as it has a unifying feel about it.

Will delegates at the national conference care about his appreciation of the country's linguistic diversity and give the ANC its first truly multilingual president?

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  thabo mbeki  |  tribalism  |  anc
X
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

24.com 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
12 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

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 24.com network.

Settings

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.