Another speech, another missed opportunity

2017-04-23 06:00
Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the GEC 2017

Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the GEC 2017 (Cyril Ramaphosa)

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If the cars parked in the basement of the Hilton Hotel in Sandton are any indication of the financial muscle supporting Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to succeed number one, money is not an issue here.

Upstairs, the presidential hopeful is seated next to one of about 10 white men in the room. It is not a good omen given accusations that he is “too cosy with Jews”, but perhaps he was not given a say in the matter.

This is Ramaphosa’s first address after he publicly came out against the recent Cabinet reshuffle. He is being hosted by the Black Business Council (BBC) at an intimate affair attended by about 100 people, including staunch Zuma supporters such as Jimmy Manyi and Vivian Reddy.

The president of the BBC, Danisa Baloyi, is on stage welcoming the deputy president. She rattles off his political credentials. Ramaphosa’s eyes are glued to his phone as she speaks.

“What is so difficult about radical economic transformation after 23 years?” Baloyi asks.

Ramaphosa scratches his face, looks up briefly before looking down at the phone again. Perhaps one of his lobbyists is giving him a pep talk. This is his moment to emerge, to join the race.

“I, as many others, am proud of the fact that you have started taking a stand against the current regime. Please continue to do so, otherwise you are not going to make it in December. We need you to come out stronger, much stronger. You are going to have to fight damn hard against these forces of evil and corruption,” reads one comment on the CR17Siyavuma Facebook page that had 78 782 likes at 13:00 yesterday.

“We rooting for him, but he’s silent, we don’t know what’s on his mind. He mustn’t be like Kgalema Motlanthe, he should speak up now or else we just canvassing for nothing (sic),” reads another.

Baloyi continues to lament the current state of the economy and particularly its hostility towards black business.

Finally Ramaphosa’s turn comes. He is charming and rarely looks down at his speech. It is clear he is well-rehearsed.

“Our economy is currently under great strain, affected by global events, but also local events,” he says, alluding for the first time to the reshuffle.

“We must be courageous enough to recognise the domestic and global conditions that give rise to these challenges. But courage also resides in acknowledging the subjective factors – issues that are a consequence of our own action or inaction – that aggravate the situation.”

He calls for hope in the face of what “may seem to be a silly political season”.

Sensing impatience in the room, he announces that he will be addressing radical economic transformation shortly.

“Yes, get to that,” some call out.

Moments later he does get round to the topic. Borrowing a page from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s book, he throws his full weight behind it.

“Radical means that it must happen immediately. Those who are questioning it must sit down and smell the coffee. The transformation of the economy is non-negotiable, there is nothing abstract about radical economic transformation. It is fundamentally about inclusive and shared growth.”

I get a text from an acquaintance in the room, “lobaba uyasipheka” (this guy is duping us).

Just when it seems he has gone full-blown Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa offers another jab: “Even as some people may want to deploy the concept to pursue selfish personal objectives – or simply to cast aspersions on the revolutionary credentials of others – radical economic transformation has substance and meaning and relevance.”

It is not the great coming-out his lobbyists wanted in the end. On Twitter, many bemoan that he is still too subtle about his intentions. The less loyal of the groupings are already looking to recall their support for him and deploy it elsewhere. Perhaps Lindiwe Sisulu or his brother in law – who pulled a serious Judas Iscariot and showed up in Moria last week – Jeff Radebe.

The diehard advocates say that number two will make his mark at the upcoming policy conference. For his part, Ramaphosa refers to the policy documents seven times during his address, so maybe that is the plan.

As his address draws to a close, he gives one last subtle offering for the road: “We will not allow the institutions of our state to be captured by families and individuals intent on narrow self-enrichment”.

Another address, another missed opportunity. Today he will appear alongside axed deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas in the Eastern Cape to deliver a Chris Hani memorial lecture.

His campaigners live in hope that he will finally give them the green light.

Read more on:    cyril ­ramaphosa

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