Mandela mum on Ramaphosa

2006-07-24 20:56

Cape Town - Former president Nelson Mandela has taken a neutral public stance on reports that businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has his eye on the presidency of the African National Congress.

"Madiba will remain entirely impartial in this matter," said his spokesperson Zelda la Grange on Monday.

"He will let himself be led by the structures of the ANC when it comes to the election of the new president. It will depend on what is decided by the provinces and the national executive committee."

The City Press newspaper reported on Sunday that Ramaphosa had entered the race for the ANC presidency when incumbent Thabo Mbeki's second spell came to an end at the party's 2007 congress - where new leaders are to be elected.

There is no constitutional limit to the number of successive party presidencies that could be served.

Key business people

Mbeki, whose second term as president of South Africa ends in 2009, has reportedly said he would consider staying on as party leader beyond 2007.

His main contender so far has been former SA deputy president Jacob Zuma.

Mbeki fired him from this post after Zuma's financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilt on charges which involved a "generally corrupt relationship" between the two men.

Zuma remains deputy president of the party.

The City Press quoted sources as saying Ramaphosa apparently had the backing of Mandela and key business people in his "spirited campaign" for the party presidency.

Ramaphosa, still a senior ANC member, had not shed any light on the speculation by Monday.

Maureen Mphatsoe, spokesperson for the Shanduka investment company of which Ramaphosa is the executive chairman, said: "I have no comment from him yet, and I am not sure whether he will comment.

"The reports so far have been speculative," she said.

'Would be a good candidate'

Roelf Meyer, who led negotiations for the transition from apartheid in the early 1990s with Ramaphosa, said media reports appeared to be speculative and lacking in substance.

"If they are true, I think he would be a very good candidate," he said.

Asked if Ramaphosa had told him of such a prospect, Meyer said: "I don't want to make any further utterances."

Reuters news agency on Monday quoted business associates of Ramaphosa as confirming his aim for the leadership of the ANC and the country.

"He is preparing an active bid for the presidency of the party, and by extension the state," said a businessman believed to have knowledge of Ramaphosa's plans.

"He has not made a definite decision yet, but you cannot win without proper groundwork."

The ANC could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

The party's alliance partner, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, said it would not make any comment on the issue of ANC leadership.

Some leaders of the trade union federation have in the past voiced support for a Zuma presidency.

'A committed socialist '

A former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Ramaphosa, 53, is a former secretary-general of the ANC. He was considered a candidate to succeed Mandela at the end of his presidency in 1999.

A biography on the ANC website describes Ramaphosa as a "committed socialist who believes that the dawn of political democracy in South Africa must be accompanied by economic democracy".

He sits on the boards of several companies.