The curious case of Comrade Cyril

17 January 2013

I AM sure you know by now that Comrade JZ has been re-elected as President of the ruling ANC in South Africa. Now, you can say anything you want about Cde JZ, but one thing is for sure: President Jacob Zuma definitely knows how to pull a crowd!


President Zuma has no formal education, yet he is not intimidated by some of his comrades who have PhD’s. You will recall that on several occasions, some forces have tried to eliminate him using corruption and rape charges, but he came out of it unscathed. Remember the shower hour stories?

Just before the Mangaung elective conference in December last year, there were all sorts of stories about the alleged spending of more than R200 million of state resources on the upgrading of his private homestead in Nkandla. There were calls for him to step down, alternatively that he would be impeached by way of a vote of no-confidence in Parliament.

Guess what? At Mangaung, JZ obtained 75 percent of the votes, defeating his former deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, hands down. Motlanthe has now been replaced as ANC deputy president by tycoon and former trade unionist, Cyril Ramaphosa. This piece is about Ramaphosa.

Let me get this out of the way: Ramaphosa has tremendous struggle credentials for any high political office. I have no shred of doubt that he is competent to deliver the goods for the ANC and South Africa. I was a student in South Africa during the 1980’s when Ramaphosa was a firebrand unionist at the helm of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). His charisma and negotiating skills are now legendary.

My interest in today’s piece is to look at his political journey to the top, which had a major detour in private business. His business journey has helped him to amass so much wealth that when you write down his net worth, the zeroes will make you drunk! To be exact, it is estimated that he is worth N$3 billion (N$3,000,000,000!); you see what I said about the zeroes?

Let us start at the beginning. Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa was born in Soweto, Johannesburg in 1952. After completing his high school education in Soweto, he enrolled for a law degree at the University of the North (Turfloop) in 1972. In 1974, his activism at Turfloop caused him to be detained in solitary confinement for eleven months, and in 1976 he was again detained for six months, thereby bringing his university career to an end. However, he continued to study through UNISA and obtained his BProc law degree in 1981.

Ramaphosa was instrumental in the formation of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 1982 and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985. He was the first secretary-general of NUM, a position he held until 1991 when he resigned in order to take up the position of secretary-general of the ANC, thereby enabling him to lead the ANC team during negotiations with the National Party, culminating in the first democratic elections in 1994.

He became an ANC Member of Parliament and was elected chairperson of its Constitutional Assembly on 24 May 1994. However, when President Nelson Mandela anointed Thabo Mbeki to become ANC president, Ramaphosa resigned from politics in January 1997 and joined the private sector, becoming a director of the leading BEE outfit at the time, the New Africa Investments Limited (NAIL).

Ramaphosa’s excursions in the private sector have made him a multi-billionaire, as I mentioned earlier. He is the executive chairman of the Shanduka Group (which he founded himself) that has major investments in the following sectors: resources, energy, real estate, banking, insurance, and telecoms. He is chairman of The Bidvest Group Limited, and MTN. Controversially, he is a shareholder in Lonmin (yes, the same Lonmin of the Marikana tragedy; more about this later).

He is a non-executive director in, among others: Macsteel Holdings, Alexander Forbes, Standard Bank and SABMiller, as well as a non-executive joint chairman of Mondi (paper and packaging company). What made him a really big shot in business is when he acquired the master franchise of all the MacDonald restaurants in South Africa.

So far so good. Clearly, Ramaphosa has been a rising star all his life – in politics and in business. Unfortunately, as the good book tells us, you cannot serve two masters at the same time. Even though Ramaphosa is a self-confessed socialist (and evidenced by his unionist career), it appears that his adventures in business have made him a capitalist by a country mile, as the Brits would say. Does this mean he has ditched his socialist philosophy?

Can one be a socialist and a capitalist at the same time? This personal dilemma for Ramaphosa reached a boiling point last year during the Marikana killing spree, and this could potentially come to haunt Ramaphosa politically. The Marikana massacre came about when the police shot and killed 34 and injured 78 striking mine workers of Lonmin at a hilltop near the Nkaneng shack settlement in Marikana on Thursday, 16 August 2012.

Most of the victims were shot in the back, and there is consensus that this is so far the single most brutal and lethal use of force against civilians by South African security forces of the ANC-led government. The controversial part is that Ramaphosa, as a shareholder in Lonmin, gave his blessings for the police to use brutal force. Leaked e-mails show that he recommended “concomitant action against the criminal protesters”.

I have called this a curious case because it has all the elements of an interesting life drama: a socialist turned capitalist and who OK’s the murder of people in the very same constituency that catapulted him to high office. So, who engineered his return to politics? Is he being used by big business to silence the few remaining radical voices in the ANC?

Does the landslide victory of Ramaphosa at Mangaung mean that the ANC is ignoring Marikana? Is the new ANC now being led by capitalists? Or is it simply a case of ANC rewarding Ramaphosa for his patience and great struggle credentials?

This is indeed a curious case.

Ondjirijo. Hijo.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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