Ramaphosa: Tough unionist whose struggle has paid off

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) with former President Jacob Zuma
Cyril Ramaphosa was declared President of South Africa on Thursday, an act that finally brought a life of ambition, drive and, to some, a hardheartedness, to a conclusion long sought by the billionaire politician and now leader of one of the continent’s largest economies.

In December, the African National Congress (ANC) elected him party president, setting in motion a series of events that would lead to a well thought out palace coup that would see Jacob Zuma lose his crown and Ramaphosa tactically sworn in as head of state, hours after being elected unanimously by parliament.

Zuma resigned late on Wednesday following accusations of corruption and economic mismanagement.

Like many of those who walked his path but failed to complete their journeys, Ramaphosa has pledged to end endemic corruption that dominates conversation among many South Africans.

“Issues to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state-owned enterprises and how we deal with ‘state capture’ are issues that are on our radar screen,” he said, in a reference to alleged improper influence over government institutions, ministers and state-owned businesses by Zuma’s associates.

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But in a country deeply divided on race and class, will Ramaphosa be the bearer of the magic bullet to the current ills facing the mineral rich country?

Ramaphosa is described by both allies and foes as a dyed-in-the-wool unionist whose credential for the struggle are beyond doubt and when wheels of the apartheid bus looked like they were finally starting to fall off, he was among the many leaders poised to gain greatly from the fall of the white curtain in the soon to be Rainbow Nation.

According to his biography, Ramaphosa: The Man Who Would Be King, he was part of a group of ANC members who called themselves the ‘Internals’, a group of individuals who mobilised communities and trade unions for the sake of the party. By the time Nelson Mandela was released, Ramaphosa had become the General Secretary of this group.

And when he first met Madiba, the young man made an impression that would last with the founding father for the rest of his years.

Reached out

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But even as he was organising his troops back home, Ramaphosa was catching the eye of the leaders of other liberation movements on the continent, and as if building his reputation for a grander future, he too reached out to some of the big boys on the continent’s political arena. Among them, opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The relationship between the two men, having blossomed over the years, came to light in 2008 at the height of Kenya’s worst political crisis. After the bloodletting that led to the death of more than 1,000 Kenyans and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more, both protagonists Raila and Mwai Kibaki finally agreed to a sit down to iron out a power sharing deal.

But before that happened both men selected teams to represent them in talks that would see them bargain for seats in the coalition government; Kibaki had his team of former Cabinet ministers, Raila had his usual suspects.

“All of Africa, now in so much need of inspirational figures, is confident that with your dynamic past and leadership history, the recent continental vacuum will shortly begin to be a thing of the past,” Raila said in a statement soon after Ramaphosa was sworn in.

Almost 10 years after the botched Kenyan mission, Ramaphosa now stands at the cusp of history. A delayed fate that seems to have been written in the stars during the birth of the new South African nation has now borne fruit.

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Not immune

Having survived mutinies and palace coups in his ascendancy within the party, he now sits on the throne, ready to reign supreme but not immune to the currents that swept two of his predecessors away.

Jay Naidoo, one of Mandela’s closest allies, says of Ramaphosa’s fight for relevance within the party and rivalry with Mandela’s successor Thabo Mbeki: “Cyril’s commitment to the negotiations was also to be the undoing of his goal to succeed Mandela. Cyril neglected the corridor politics of the ANC while others were busy building a base from which to seize political power within ANC.”

Patiently he has bid his time. Now he has the reins of power and without a doubt, must keep watch over his shoulder, forever on the lookout for someone like him, someone didn’t let anything stand in the way of his becoming president.

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