A fisher of comrades

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa had his charm in overdrive as he took to the streets of KZN this week. Paddy Harper joined him

There’s a massive electrical storm raging outside the Lay Ecumenical Centre in Edendale, Pietermaritzburg, on Thursday afternoon.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s freshly elected deputy president, is unfazed by the flashes and crashes as he works the audience of ANC branch delegates with the delicate touch of the skilled fly fisherman that he is.

It is his third day at the “office” in his new role.

The former NUM general secretary and ANC secretary-general is clearly revelling in his return to big politics after an absence of a decade and a half.

Ramaphosa is in the province along with the rest of the ANC officials – aside from his boss, President Jacob Zuma – to get the faithful into Kings Park Stadium for yesterday’s 101st anniversary rally.

Zuma is out of the country and will only join his advance team on his return.

Ramaphosa takes to his role as if he’s never left the game.

At a business briefing in Port Shepstone on Wednesday, Ramaphosa is Mr National Development Plan (NDP), selling this and the planned infrastructure roll-out as the core of his boss’ legacy.

Ramaphosa’s all suit and collar, facts and figures as he woos ANC funders and the local political elite, over sausages and eggs.

Malusi Gigaba, the public enterprises minister, is paired with Rampahosa for the week.

Gigaba fills in the technical detail to Rampahosa’s broad delivery. The audience love it – they’re hanging on every word.

An hour or so later and the game changes. The CEO is now Comrade Cyril. He arrives at Esibaneni sports field in Umzumbe village. It’s so humid the air’s wet.

There’s an Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) guard of honour and a brass band. Both line up to greet Ramaphosa at a silver Range Rover they assume is his. It isn’t. Ramaphosa is in a far less pretentious Lexus.

The band and MKs quickstep to his door.

On stage, Ramaphosa is quick to point out that Zuma is the man, not him. He hammers this point home, again and again. Ramaphosa greets the audience in the name of “the government of Gedleyihlekisa Zuma’’.

His subsequent rap is 100% JZ. The NDP is Zuma’s baby, his vision, his 20-year legacy to the nation.

Ramaphosa and the rest of the ANC leadership are there to implement this vision.

Zuma, he says, will be the face of the ANC 2014 election campaign.

It’s up to the ANC branches and ordinary members to make sure that the party banishes the “blue brigade’’ (DA) in a year and a bit.

The work starts today, he insists. The next day in Pietermaritzburg is more of the same.

Ramaphosa puts in a surprise appearance at an education department function to explain the rules to small businesses and cooperatives feeding schoolkids.

Education MEC and would-be premier Senzo Mchunu gives him a speaking slot.

Rampahosa reels off figures around the number of participating cooperatives and budgets as if he’s the director-general. The man is sharp.

There’s a taxi rank walkabout and another business briefing.

Ramaphosa has the punters eating out of his hand at both. Businessmen and taxi aunties alike are charmed with relative ease.

Then comes the Edendale cadres’ forum. This is the big one. Here he’s talking to the voting ANC delegates who put him in office.

There are hundreds of delegates in the hall. Ramaphosa has them enthralled for nearly an hour.

He outlines their duties and responsibilities and makes it clear the work for 2014 “starts today’’.

It’s up to them – and him – to make sure the NDP – and Zuma’s legacy – works. The comrades love it. They’re roaring their approval.

Ramaphosa acknowledges their role as kingmakers.

At Mangaung, KwaZulu-Natal’s 974 delegates alone cast more votes for Ramaphosa and the rest of the Zumantashe slate than all the delegates who voted for Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa collectively.

Moses Mabhida, the Pietermaritzburg region, has 45 000 members, more than two of the ANC’s provinces.

Its chairperson, Alpha Shelembe, reminds Ramaphosa of this. The subtext is clear.

If Ramaphosa wins KwaZulu-Natal over so early in his tenure, his run at the ANC – and the republic’s – presidency after Zuma’s second term is pretty much guaranteed.

It’s very early days yet, but if the first week in office is anything to go by, the Buffalo Soldier is already two-thirds there.

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