Thapelo Tselapedi
4 minute read
23 Dec 2017
5:27 am

Ramaphosa at a glance

Thapelo Tselapedi

There are some important features we can draw on to make some conjectures about the man.

The governing party, the 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.

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 secondary school.

He later went to Mphaphuli High in Sibasa, Limpopo, were he was elected head of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) soon after his arrival – attesting to his beliefs. He studied law at the then University of the North (Turfloop), where he became active in the SA Students Organisation, which was aligned to black consciousness ideology espoused by Steve Biko.

He became active in the SCM, which was steeped in the liberation black theology of the black consciousness movement.

After graduating with a law degree, 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 National Council of Trade Unions, which was to form the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Elected its first secretary-general, he helped build the NUM into the largest trade union in the country, serving in the post for over 10 years.

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 SA (Codesa), he became the ANC’s lead negotiator during negotiations on a post-apartheid arrangement.

He then led the ANC team in drawing up a new constitution – which is now considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. In 1994, Ramaphosa lost the contest to become President Nelson Mandela’s deputy.

Having Thabo Mbeki appointed, instead, was a blow but, persuaded by Mandela, he went into business.

For the next two decades Ramaphosa put his energies into building a large investment holding company with interests in sectors ranging from mining to fast foods. Shanduka’s success confirmed his reputation as a skilled dealmaker and negotiator.

During the time in business, he established deep links in the private sector.

This set him at odds with sections of the ANC, which believe 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, while simultaneously trying to manage rampant corruption in the private and public sectors.

Even during his years in business he remained close to the ANC, serving in the national disciplinary committee.

But he made his major comeback onto the political scene at the ANC’s 2012 elective conference in Mangaung, where he was elected ANC deputy president, and later of the country.

Two years earlier he had become deputy chair of the state-run National Planning Commission, presiding over its diagnostic report, which set out problems facing the country in clear terms.

A National Development Plan was drawn up to provide answers to the challenges identified. The plan was tabled as a blue print for the type of society South Africa could become.

It 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.

He 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.

While he’s been ANC deputy president and of the country for five years, some believe his influence has been minimal.

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.

This edited article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original at

Ramaphosa’s six economic priorities

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