Ramatlhodi – the fighter and reluctant leader working behind the scenes
'I never really wanted to be a leader; that is the reason I trained to be a soldier,' says President Ramaphosa’s new special adviser.
Former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi. Picture: Neil McCartney.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new special adviser, Advocate Ngoako Ramatlhodi, is a man who likes to work behind the scenes … out of choice.
After campaigning for Ramaphosa to become ANC president, he could have landed himself a post as a Cabinet minister. In fact, Ramatlhodi was offered one but he declined because he had had enough of government.
“I don’t want to be in government, I have been part of the government since 1994,” Ramatlhodi said. “Besides, I am turning 63 on August 21 and that doesn’t make me any younger any more. I grew up in the ANC and I think I will die in the ANC.”
But Ramatlhodi is still angry that former president Jacob Zuma abruptly fired him as minister of public service and administration. He claimed he was chopped because he refused to appoint a Gupta-linked official as director-general in the department of mineral resources. He stood his ground, arguing that the person was not qualified for the position … but Zuma and the Guptas wanted the official.
“What Zuma did to me was humiliating; he didn’t talk to me about it. I won him the 2009 election against [the Congress of the People] but he and Malusi Gigaba removed me just like that,” he said. “The Guptas wanted to capture me through Duduzane, but I refused.”
Ramatlhodi was subsequently demoted to parliament, where he became chair of the portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development and, later, deputy minister of correctional services.
“I humbled myself, I did not demand anything, I worked diligently and with dignity. I am not in the ANC for positions,” he said.
It is quite ironic that the two – Ramatlhodi and Zuma – became enemies, yet they were comrades in arms in plotting the removal of former president Thabo Mbeki.
Ramatlhodi told The Citizen in an interview that he and Zuma worked hard in the lead-up to 2008 to have Mbeki removed as ANC in (2007) and South Africa’s (2008) president. He said as victims of Mbeki, both he and Zuma ensured Mbeki was recalled by the ANC and it became Ramatlhodi’s personal mission to ensure that the police’s crime-busting unit, the Scorpions, was disbanded.
“I was at the heart of the machinery to dismantle the Scorpions,” he admitted. “We fired Thabo Mbeki; he is my brother and somebody I love and admire, but we had to get rid of him because he was harassing us.”
Ramatlhodi described the anti-Mbeki and anti-Scorpions campaign as a “war”. “In a war if you don’t kill, you get killed.
“We got him out of office, we removed this man who became the worst president of the country.”
Ramatlhodi was angry and determined to punish Mbeki because he refused to endorse Ramatlhodi’s appointment by the ANC as head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The NPA job was given to advocate Vusi Pikoli and Ramatlhodi was subsequently investigated by the Scorpions on corruption allegations.
So, by hiring Ramatlhodi, a self-confessed enemy of Mbeki as his special adviser, Ramaphosa has made it clear he is not ready to reconcile with Mbeki, contrary to his stated mission to unite and renew the ANC.
Since the national elective conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, Ramaphosa had been preaching unity among ANC members. But he was quiet about what he planned to do about Mbeki, who is still energetic.
Instead, Ramaphosa was selective and he and his deputy, David Mabuza, invited the EFF’s Julius Malema and United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa to “come back home” to the ANC. But the president had not extended the same olive branch to Mbeki or Mosiuoa Lekota, who founded Cope after announcing a divorce from the ANC in 2008.
Any new ANC leader would have been eager to tap into Mbeki’s massive experience on African issues and international diplomacy. Mbeki brokered a peace deal in South Sudan and the 2008/09 political agreement between former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe and the late Morgan Tsvangirai that resulted in the opposition MDC offered posts of prime minister, deputy prime minister and finance minister by the ruling Zanu-PF.
Political observers attributed the president’s attitude towards Mbeki to an old tiff when Mbeki allegedly accused Ramaphosa and party veterans Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa of plotting to overthrow him.
Ramatlhodi grew up in the ANC and is a trained Umkhonto weSizwe combatant. In exile, he was speech writer and secretary to the late ANC president Oliver Tambo and, on Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, he became his speech writer.
While he was chairperson of ANC Northern Province, Mandela appointed him as Limpopo premier in 1994, becoming the second youngest to occupy the position after Northern Cape’s Manne Dipico.
Born at Tauyatswala village outside Polokwane, Ramatlhodi went to Thabo Yabatho School in Hammanskraal and matriculated at Tembisa High School in Gauteng in 1975. He obtained his BA law and LLB degrees at Roma University in Lesotho and a master’s in international relations in Zimbabwe.
Ramatlhodi openly brags about having single-handedly integrated the homeland administrations of Lebowa, Gazankulu, Venda and Northern Transvaal.
“I gave Limpopo its name and I changed the town names. What you read there today is what I did as premier of Limpopo,” he said.
He was part of the team that drafted the famous Harare Declaration together with Mbeki, Pallo Jordan, Joel Netshitenzhe, Steve Tshwete, Neo Mnumzana, Penuel Maduna and others.
A father of three, Ramatlhodi is passionate about teaching, having lectured law students at the then University of the North (now Limpopo) prior to becoming the premier.
“I never really wanted to be a leader; that is the reason I trained to be a soldier.
“I am comfortable in my space, I don’t need any accolades.”
Mbeki’s aide, Thami Ntenteni, said Mbeki usually did not comment on opinions such as those expressed by Ramatlhodi.