South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), has a new president – Cyril Ramaphosa. But who is he?
Ramaphosa cuts a fitting figure to take over government, stabilise the economy, and secure the constitutional architecture that he helped create at the end of apartheid. But to expect more would be expecting too much. He is unlikely to veer far from the traditional economic path chosen by the ANC.
There are some important features we can draw on to make some conjectures about the man.
The early days
Ramaphosa was born in Johannesburg, the industrial heartland of South Africa, on November 17, 1952. The second of three children, his father was a policeman. He grew up in Soweto where he attended primary and high school. He later went to Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, Limpopo, were he was elected head of the Student Christian Movement soon after his arrival, attesting to his Christian beliefs.
He studied law at the then University of the North (Turfloop), where he became active in the South African Students Organisation, which was aligned to black consciousness ideology espoused by Steve Biko. He became active in the University Student Christian Movement, which was steeped in the liberation black theology of the black consciousness movement.
After graduating with a degree in law, Ramaphosa continued his political activism through the Black People’s Convention, for which he was jailed for six months. He went on to serve articles and joined the Council of Trade Unions of South Africa which was to form the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) with Ramaphosa as its first secretary general. He helped built the NUM into the largest trade union in the country, serving as its secretary general for just over 10 years.
Business and politics
His prominence and public stature grew even more when he was elected secretary general of the ANC in 1991. He went on to play a key role during South Africa’s transition, becoming one of the key architects of the country’s constitutional democracy.
Under the auspices of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), he became the ANC’s lead negotiator during negotiations on a post-apartheid arrangement. Following this, he led the ANC team in drawing up a new constitution for the country. It is now considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.
For the next two decades Ramaphosa put his energies into building a large investment holding company Shanduka with interests in sectors ranging from mining to fast foods. The success of the group confirmed his reputation as a skilled dealmaker and negotiator.
During this 20-year period in business, Ramaphosa established deep links in the private sector in South Africa.
This set him at odds with sections of the ANC which believe that the post-apartheid arrangements delivered political power, but not economic freedom. These voices have become louder under President Jacob Zuma’s presidency with calls for radical economic transformation and action to tackle white monopoly capital.
Ramaphosa will have his work cut out for him as he tries to accommodate these demands by driving a more inclusive social compact in the country while simultaneously trying to manage rampant corruption in the private and public sectors.
Road to presidency
Even during his years in business Ramaphosa remained close to the ANC, serving as a member of the national disciplinary committee.
But he made his major comeback onto the political scene at the ANC’s 2012 elective conference in Mangaung, Bloemfontein where he was elected deputy president of the ANC, and later of the country.
Two years prior to this Ramaphosa became deputy chairman of the state-run National Planning Commission. He presided over its diagnostic report, which set out the problems facing the country in clear terms. A plan was drawn up to provide answers to the challenges identified in report. Known as the National Development Plan, it was tabled as a blue print for the type of society South Africa could become.
The plan showed Ramaphosa’s strengths as an architect of social compacts. Since its tabling the plan has been left to gather dust. But it remains a point of reference, and serves as a counterpoint to calls for radical economic transformation.
Ramaphosa is likely to emphasise stability – in government and the ANC. Given his history he is likely to want to stabilise the economy rather than to pursue radical interventions.
Ramaphosa has a personal interest to secure a stabilising social compact akin to the one he negotiated in 1994 given developments that have left the country economically and socially weaker. These have included allegations that parts of the state have been taken over by corrupt civil servants and some private sector interests, high levels of unemployment and increasingly fractious public debates.
Not surprisingly during his campaign trail he moulded his image on the sanctity of the rule of law and on the dictum that social stability hinges on respect of the rule of law.
The big question mark over Ramaphosa is how effective he will be. Although he’s been the deputy president of the ANC and of the country for five years, some believe that his influence has been minimal and that he has not been able to imprint his leadership on the party – or the country.
Will he be able to impose his will on those he now leads? Ramaphosa will be presiding over officials who have big personalities and have enjoyed long periods of political power. They are used to leading, not following.
Rumours that President Jacob Zuma has instructed the South African National Defence Force to draw up plans for implementing a state of emergency may or may not be true. Nonetheless they are evidence of South Africa’s febrile political atmosphere.
But any assumption that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), after winning the race against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will place South Africa on an even keel are misplaced. Indeed, the drama may only be beginning.
It’s useful to look back to 2007 when President Thabo Mbeki unwisely ran for a third term as ANC leader. His unpopularity among large segments of the party provided the platform for his defeat by Zuma at Polokwane. Within a few months the National Executive Committee of the ANC latched onto an excuse to ask Mbeki to stand down as president of the country before the end of his term of office. Being committed to the traditions of party loyalty he complied, resigning as president some eight months before the Constitution required him to do so.
The question this raises is whether South Africa should now expect a repeat performance following the election of a new leader of the ANC. Will this lead to a party instruction to Zuma to stand down as president of the country? And if it does, will he do what Mbeki did and meekly resign?
There’s a big difference between the two scenarios: Mbeki had no reason to fear the consequences of leaving office. Zuma, on the other hand, has numerous reasons to cling to power. This is what makes him, and the immediate future, dangerous for South Africa, and suggests the country faces instability.
Why Zuma won’t go
It is not out of the question that Zuma may say to himself, and to South Africa, that he is not going anywhere. He is losing court case after court case, and judicial decisions are increasingly narrowing his legal capacity to block official and independent investigations into the extent of state capture by business interests close to him.
With every passing day, the prospects of his finding himself in the dock, facing 783 charges, including of corruption and racketeering, also increase.
Zuma will have every constitutional right to defy an ANC instruction to stand down as state president until his term expires following the next general election in 2019, and the new parliament’s election of a new president. In terms of the South African Constitution, his term of office will be brought to an early end only if parliament passes a vote of no confidence in his presidency, or votes that, for one reason or another, he is unfit for office.
In other words, there is a very real prospect that South Africa will see itself ruled for at least another 18 months or so by what is termed “two centres of power”, with the authority and the legitimacy of the party (formally backing Ramaphosa) vying against that of the state (headed by Zuma).
Throwing caution to the wind
As if that is not a sufficient condition for political instability, we may expect that Zuma will continue to use his executive power to erect defences against his future prosecution. He will reckon to leave office only with guarantees of immunity. Until he gets them, Zuma will defy all blandishments to go. And if he does not get what he wants, he may throw caution to the wind and go for broke.
Hence, perhaps, the possibility that he is prepared to invoke a state of emergency.
The grounds for Zuma imposing a state of emergency would be specious, summoned up to defend his interests and those backing him. They would be likely to infer foreign interference in affairs of state, alongside suggestions that white monopoly capital, whites as a whole as well as nefarious others were conspiring to prevent much needed radical economic transformation. Present constitutional arrangements would be declared counter-revolutionary and those defending them doing so only to protect their material interests.
After a matter of time, such justifications would probably be declared unconstitutional by the judiciary. It is then that there would be a confrontation between raw power and the Constitution. If such a situation should arise, we cannot be sure which would be the winner.
South Africa’s army
It is remarkable how little the searchlight that has focused on state capture has rested on the Defence Force. Much attention has been given to how the executive has effectively co-opted the intelligence and prosecutorial service, as well has how the top ranks of the police have been selected for political rather than operational reasons.
It seems to have been assumed that South Africa’s military is simply sitting in the background, observing political events from afar. But is it? Where would its loyalties lie in the event of a major constitutional crisis?
The danger of the present situation is that South Africa might be about to find out.
Were the military to throw its weight behind Zuma the country would be in no-man’s land. Of course, there would be a massive popular reaction, with the further danger that the president himself would summon his popular cohorts to “defend the revolution”.
And South Africans should not assume that Zuma would be politically isolated. Those who backed Dlamini-Zuma did so to defend their present positions and capacity to use office for personal gain. If they were to rise up, the army would then be elevated to the status of defender of civil order.
What is certain is that in such a wholly uncertain situation the economy would spiral downwards quickly. Capital would take flight at a faster rate than ever before, employment would collapse even further, poverty would become even further entrenched.
Reasons to be hopeful
Is all this too extreme a scenario? Hopefully yes. There are numerous good reasons why such a fate will be averted.
Zuma’s control over the ANC is waning, as is his control over various state institutions, notably the National Prosecuting Authority. And the country has a checks and balances in place: there is a vigorous civil society, the judiciary has proved the Constitution’s main defence and trade unions and business remain influential.
Even so, it remains the case that what transpires now that the ANC’s national conference is over will determine the fate and future of our democracy. South Africa is approaching rough waters, and a Jacob Zuma facing an inglorious and humiliating end to his presidency will be a Jacob Zuma at his most dangerous.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa saw his lead over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma narrow in the race for the presidency of the ruling African National Congress as the party’s branch nomination process drew toward a close.
Ramaphosa has secured decisive endorsements from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape, while Dlamini-Zuma was backed by an overwhelming majority in the North West and Free State, and won by a slim margin in Mpumalanga. The deputy president so far has 904 branches to 708 for Dlamini-Zuma, the former head of the African Union Commission.
The contest has divided the 105-year-old ANC like never before, with court challenges, allegations of rigging and outbreaks of violence marring the process of deciding who will attend and vote at the conference. The election has also paralyzed several government departments as officials delay decisions until they learn who the new leaders will be. The winner of the election at the conference to be held on Dec. 16-20 will be the party’s candidate in 2019, when Jacob Zuma is due to end his second term as President.
The remaining three provinces are due to announce their nominations over the next four days. Ramaphosa is likely to be endorsed by Limpopo and Gauteng, while Dlamini-Zuma has strong support in her home province of KwaZulu-Natal, which has the most ANC members.
Ninety percent of voting delegates will come from the branches, and the rest from the ANC’s leadership structures and leagues representing the youth, women and military veterans. While the branch nomination tallies are the best available indicator of who’s likely to win, they aren’t conclusive because some bigger branches are entitled to more than one delegate and there’s no guarantee members will vote as instructed.
Mpumalanga, which will send the second-most delegates to the elective conference and announced its tallies on Friday, is keeping its options open about who it will back, with almost half of its branches declining to name their candidate yet. It’s unclear how delegates from those branches will vote should no consensus be reached on who should succeed Zuma, meaning they could be a swing vote at the conference.
Dlamini-Zuma won the backing of the North West province as expected on Friday, with 291 branches endorsing her to 45 for Ramaphosa. The region is one of the provinces in a rural bloc known as the Premier League that has helped Zuma, her ex-husband, thwart challenges sparked by multiple scandals that prompted calls from within the party for him to resign.
Most investors favor Ramaphosa, 65, a lawyer, former labor union leader and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, who has pledged to revive the ailing economy, reduce a 28 percent unemployment rate and combat corruption if elected. Zuma’s preferred successor is Dlamini-Zuma, 68, who has echoed his call for “radical economic transformation” to place more of the country’s wealth in the hands of the black majority.