The Cyril Who Will Never Be President

2017-04-18 10:08

"Flashes of brilliance won’t light up the night sky, it will take a flame that is both bold and constant”. These are the words of a little-known poet decrying the intermittent, ultimately ineffective actions of reluctant heroes. These are people whose sputtering acts of good are inconsistent, incoherent, uncoordinated and unconvincing. Much like one Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa.

The recent missteps of his nemesis who fired the hard-working Jonas and Gordhan while retaining (some would say promoting) the disastrous Faith Muthambi and Fikile Mbalula in the cabinet were a godsend for Ramaphosa and his aspirations for higher office. The downgrading of the country’s sovereign credit rating to junk status by two ratings agencies; the resignation of former cabinet ministers from parliament; the consternation expressed by society at large and business in particular; the outspoken defiance by members of parliament like Dr Makhosi Khoza and many other forms of the post-reshuffle fallout came together to form the political storm that could catapult him to the pilot’s wheel of a sinking vessel, the Good Ship Afurika Tshipembe, as it is called in his native tongue.

The stage was set for him to assume the role of the moral compass of the ANC, the voice of reason in a sea of cacophony dominated by the likes of Nomvula “dirty voters” Mokonyane and not so young, youth league head Collen Maine. Initially, there were signs of hope. He found his voice and expressed his dissatisfaction with the firing of the finance minister and his deputy along with other cabinet members, pouring scorn on the flimsy excuse given for their firing. This was the most definitive statement distancing him from the unmitigated disaster that has been the Zuma years.

Many questions were asked. Would he go for the jugular and resign from cabinet and refuse to be associated with this madness? Would he force an internal revolt by those sympathetic to him in cabinet, parliament and broader alliance? Would he throw the Zuma camp’s succession planning into disarray by forcing Zuma to name a new deputy president from one of the many people who have reportedly been offered the presidency once Zuma goes?  Would he, for the first time in the road to the December elective congress, be the one setting the agenda? Would he do something to counter effects of his challengers’ campaign which has been marked by a flagrant abuse of party and government resources which flies in the face of the rules the ANC has set for the succession race? No! He chose something else. He showed us the Cyril who would never become president. He chose to “remain and serve the people while in government”. His earlier angry words were an incredulous tale, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Ramaphosa’s response was, in effect, much like the derided poster from the #SaveSA march that read “I’m very upset!”.

There was once a different Cyril whom Mandela saw as a suitable successor, one entrusted with negotiating some of the more delicate parts of the political compromise that would become the “new” South Africa at the CODESA talks. One who led the process of the drafting of the building block or social contract, if you will, that is the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. This Cyril had in the past founded the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) using money from some of the original proponents of what we now term “White Monopoly Capital” in South Africa, the Menell family. The patriarch of that dynasty, Slip Menell, was one of the founders of the AngloVaal Group which gave rise to what was once the 5th largest gold producer in SA. It has since been spun off into entities like construction giant AVENG, food group AVI Foods and AVMIN, the precursor to Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals (ARM). Together with James Motlatsi and Elijah Barayi, Ramaphosa was responsible for what was the longest and most costly gold mining strike that the mining majors and the country had ever seen. All of this during the dark days of apartheid.

During the new dispensation, this Cyril chaired the board of Brian Joffe’s Bidvest as it established and maintained a hegemony in the services sector. He also chaired MTN as they became a telecommunications behemoth on the African continent and beyond with the help of Phuthuma Nhleko. We saw flashes of this particular Cyril when he sat on the National Planning Commission that was tasked with penning the now-abandoned blueprint for government action, The National Development Plan. There was also the “Comrade Concomitant” Cyril on whose shoulders some have placed the blame for the Marikana massacre. His response to the tragedy, an apology and donation of millions of Rand towards the burial costs of the slain miners, is still, sadly, more than the sum total of what the government itself has done in terms of compensation of the victims’ families.

As the year waxes on and we draw closer to the ANC elective conference that will decide his political fate, Mr Ramaphosa will have to decide which Cyril he wants to be. He can choose to be the firebrand pioneer of NUM fame who dons overalls traversing the physical and figurative mine shafts of South Africa canvassing for support or he can be the Motlanthe-esque, rule-keeping corporate type who, when away from the leafy lanes of Hyde Park, dons his khakhis to sell antelope and other wildlife by auction at his game farm.


*Akani writes in his personal capacity.

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