Clive Ndou
Politics editor
5 minute read
26 Jul 2022
06:28

Opinion | Cyril Ramaphosa’s strategy remains to be seen

Clive Ndou

To many, Ramaphosa’s reluctance to take the nation into his confidence and answer citizens’ lingering questions around the Phala Phala scandal is at best baffling and at worst suicidal.

Clive Ndou, Political Editor.

While it remains to be seen whether President Cyril Ramaphosa’s play-it-safe strategy will work for what appears to be a formidable challenge in the form of the Phala Phala farm scandal, it is a strategy which has served him well in his political career.

To many, Ramaphosa’s reluctance to take the nation into his confidence and answer citizens’ lingering questions around the Phala Phala scandal is at best baffling and at worst suicidal.

However, for those who have been following Ramaphosa’s political career closely, his response to the damaging scandal was predictable.

READ | Phala Phala farm theft: Ramaphosa finally submits answers to Public Protector

Ramaphosa, a man who cut his political teeth in Christian youth activism – and not the unions as some would like us to believe, has since his youth been a strong believer of  the play-it-safe strategy.

Despite growing up in Soweto  in the 60s and 70s – a period when young people of his age were drawn to the ANC and other organisations who at the time were at the forefront of the liberation struggle, Ramaphosa opted to confirm his activism within Christian organisations.

Growing up in Soweto in the 1960s and 1970s, when young people of his age were drawn to the ANC and other organisations which were at the forefront of the liberation struggle, Ramaphosa confirmed his activism within Christian organisations.

When he eventually arrived at the then Turfloop, now the University of Limpopo, for his law degree, he stuck with his Christian youth activism, becoming the chairperson of the Student Christian Movement (SCM).

ALSO READ | Cyril Ramaphosa’s history a red flag – expert

While the organisation was not as militant as the South African Student Organisation (Saso) which was aligned to the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), the SCM was considered to be one of the progressive student movements in the country.

Nevertheless, as SCM chairperson, Ramaphosa had to put up with the stigma of it being regarded in some black quarters as a “yes-baas” movement.

At the time, black students aligned to the SCM were perceived by members of radical youth movements such as Saso, as defenders of the Bible — which black radical political organisations dismissed as an instrument used by imperialists to colonise the African continent.

It later transpired that Ramaphosa used his position in the SCM to raise his profile within the broader university student political network. Once he had penetrated the university’s political network, Ramaphosa went on to contest successfully for a senior position in Saso.

Later, in the 1980s when other political activists were skipping the country to receive military training that would allow them to overthrow the apartheid government, Ramaphosa opted to organise in the country’s mines, where he became the face of the radical National Union of Mineworkers (Num).

In 1994, Ramaphosa went on to contest successfully for the ANC secretary-general position. However, when Thabo Mbeki defeated Ramaphosa in the race to succeed Nelson Mandela, who was ANC and South Africa’s president from 1994 to 1999, Ramaphosa opted to go into business — a decision which helped him to re-establish gradually his networks in the ANC.

In 2014, then president Jacob Zuma appointed Ramaphosa as the country’s deputy president. However, when Zuma become entangled in a web of scandals which dragged the entire country into a vortex of political and economic crises, Ramaphosa reverted back to his tried and tested play-it-safe strategy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa

The now embattled Ramaphosa chose to look the other way rather than confront Zuma, who would easily have removed Ramaphosa had he attempted to stand in the way of state capture largely orchestrated by Zuma’s friends — the Guptas.

In his appearance before the Zondo Commission investigating state capture, Ramaphosa, who acknowledged he had avoided a confrontation with Zuma over state capture, told South Africans how his play-it-safe strategy worked.

“The first option available to me was to resign from the executive. “While I would have earned praise from many quarters, this action would have significantly impaired my ability to contribute to bring about an end to state capture. “It would have caught the big headlines, but that would have been the end of it,” he said.

In plain language, Ramaphosa was saying he would not have had the opportunity to be elected ANC president had he confronted Zuma during the height of the state capture allegation against the former president. However, the truth is that had Ramaphosa confronted Zuma, his profile as a corruption buster would have been boosted.

ALSO READ | Cyril is on the brink of disaster

ANC members and the public would have rallied behind Ramaphosa had Zuma fired him for exposing corruption. But that did not happen as direct confrontation has never been part of Ramaphosa’s strategy.

With calls mounting now for Ramaphosa to step down over the Phala Phala farm scandal, he has once more reverted to his play-it-safe strategy.

Despite the fact that there is a compelling case showing that by stepping down, Ramaphosa’s image as champion of ethical leadership would be bolstered, he has chosen to ignore those advising him to do so.

Instead, Ramaphosa has delegated law-enforcement agencies to decide his future, of course with the hope that they will not have the courage to shoot him in the head. Whether Ramaphosa’s play-it-safe strategy has, like many other strategies employed by great leaders before him, reached its sell by date, remains to be seen.

  • Clive Ndou is political editor of The Witness.