Newsmaker: The Cyril you don't know

2017-12-24 06:04
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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In high school, Cyril Ramaphosa used to sing, dance and preach, which earned him the chairpersonship of the Students’ Christian Movement.

When he arrived at Mphaphuli High School in Grade 11 in 1970, his eloquence and command of English saw him trump the matrics to become chairperson of the debating society.

One of those matrics, at the school in Sibasa outside Thohoyandou, was advocate Maele Mushasha. He shared a hostel dormitory with the newly-elected leader of the ANC.

“He was one grade behind us, but he was a very eloquent speaker who could articulate his ideas clearly and, because of this, he led the debate society. He was a good singer who also used to preach, and he danced a lot,” Mushasha remembered.

“Most of us had nicknames, but only because we used to be naughty sometimes. He was so much of a purist, which is one reason he did not have a nickname and was only known as Cyril.

“In those days, he possessed two elements – worship and politics. It is not surprising at all that he is where he is today.”

Others close to him describe Ramaphosa as a wealthy but down-to-earth businessman who loves traditional food, especially pap, morogo and masonja (mopane worms) “but is trying to cut the pap on dietary advice”.

“He is a passionate farmer and a very private person, very close to his siblings, but has very few close friends. Cyril is deeply connected to his roots in Venda,” one close friend said.

Mushasha and Ramaphosa went to the University of the North, where both studied law, and where Ramaphosa became involved in politics.

The two lost touch, but met again at the negotiations to end apartheid – the Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa).

“By coincidence we met again at Codesa, where he was among the leading roleplayers. Later, we met again during the time of the drafting of the Constitution. From the role he played I knew I was right. This man is a born leader,” he said.

Ramaphosa was born in Chiawelo, Soweto, in 1952 to a policeman father. He went to school in Soweto before returning to Venda to complete high school and attend university.

Speaking at the founding of Cosatu in 1985. The move followed years of talks between unions and labour federations opposed to apartheid. Picture: PAUL WEINBERG

His grandparents come from Khalavha village, near Nzhelele, close to the king’s palace. Last month, Ramaphosa visited the village and attended a church service there. He later met Venda King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, who gave him his blessing and a royal spear and shield to signify the kingdom's support for his campaign.

Royal spokesperson chief Livhuwani Matsila, who is himself close to Ramaphosa, told City Press they were planning a massive celebration of Ramaphosa’s election.

“You can expect cattle to be slaughtered and for him to come celebrate this historic achievement with the royal family and the Venda people. The Venda kingdom is extremely elated at his election,” Matsila said.

“As one of our own, we’re extremely proud to have produced a leader of his calibre. We believe he possesses in abundance the ability to lead the nation out of its current crisis in government.”

Chiawelo residents were as delighted and thousands poured on to Mhlaba Street to celebrate on Monday as one of their own was elected ANC president.

The lounge of Ramaphosa’s family home was packed with friends and family who surrounded his sister Ivy Ramaphosa as she watched the announcement on TV.

Her face was a picture of elation and she battled to hold back the tears.

“We won! We won!” she screamed as she received hugs from friends.

Outside, young and old danced and sang. “Jobs are coming! Jobs are coming! Things will be better under Ramaphosa,” a man in the crowd screamed.

Cyril Ramaphosa looks on as then president Nelson Mandela signs the Constitution into law in Sharpeville on December 10 1996. Picture: Media24

Young resident Billy Mothupi said: “I have never met Ramaphosa, but whenever he is in Chiawelo, his presence can be felt, not only because of his flashy cars, but because he is still connected to his township. We’re expecting him to continue doing so and know that he is our hope, not only for Chiawelo, but for the youth in general.”

Elderly resident Maria Macheke said she saw Ramaphosa grow up in the area. She said she knew, after seeing him standing next to Nelson Mandela moments after he was released from prison in 1990, that he “would go far as a leader.

“Not long ago, he came and celebrated Christmas with the elderly, showering them with gifts like blankets here in Chiawelo, which is something he does every December and we prayed for him. Our prayers are now answered,” she said.

Ramaphosa is married to Dr Tshepo Motsepe and they have four children. A medical doctor, she holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University in the US, and chairs the African Self Help Trust that focuses on early childhood development.

She is the sister of magnate Patrice Motsepe and businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe.

One of South Africa’s wealthiest men, Ramaphosa owns more than 30 properties, among them a large game farm near Bela Bela in Limpopo. In 2013, Forbes magazine estimated him to be worth $675m (R8.6bn). He has held executive positions at the Shanduka Group, which he founded, served as chairperson of Bidvest and MTN and held nonexecutive directorships at Standard Bank and Alexander Forbes. In 2011, he bought a 20-year master franchise agreement to operate 145 McDonald’s restaurants in South Africa. He sold this in 2016.

Ramaphosa takes charge of the ANC with the cloud of the August 2012 Marikana massacre still hanging over his head. At the time, he was a non-executive director at platinum miner Lonmin, in which one of his businesses had an interest. After he called for “concomitant action” against mineworkers on a wildcat strike, police shot dead 34 and wounded scores more, apparently while trying to disarm and disperse them. Although he apologised for the language he used, saying he never indicated mine workers had to be killed, he is routinely condemned for his part in it.

City Press has learnt through sources close to his campaign that he is working hard to mend relations with the families of those killed.

“We have already met some of the widows who are willing to meet him and hear his side of the story. They are willing to forgive him, but they are afraid to meet him because they would be seen as sellouts by those who are not prepared to forgive or at least listen,” said one campaign insider.

As the country’s problems mount, how is Ramaphosa going to spend the festive season?

A close friend said: “He needs time to recharge for the new year. I think he may go on holiday outside the country, but he has a choice of hiding on one of his luxury game farms. All I am sure of is that he needs a good break after this difficult ANC conference.”

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa

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