🔒 Cyril Ramaphosa: Juggling power, wealth, and a fractured nation – Dirk Hartford

President Cyril Ramaphosa faces a daunting challenge at the helm of the ANC, a political giant unravelling at its seams after 111 years. Amidst extreme economic inequality in South Africa, his leadership is being tested from both sides – the opportunistic EFF tearing at his left and the DA, struggling for identity on his right. Ramaphosa, a master of organizational politics, lacks visionary zeal but excels at gathering organisational support. From his early political triumphs to navigating the business world, his journey is marked by personal power and wealth accumulation. As South Africa grapples with political instability, Ramaphosa’s ability to hold the ANC together becomes crucial, though questions linger about his vision and approach to corruption within the party. This story explores the intricate dance of power and interests around the person of Ramaphosa.

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By Dirk Hartford

Spare a thought for President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

At the end of the day the head of one of the oldest political organisations on the planet (the ANC is 111 years old) and the President of the most economically unequal society on earth (with a Gini score of 63)

Both his organisation and his country are literally tearing apart at the seams. 

To his “left” he has the opportunistic, divisive, and rabid EFF apparently growing like wildfire, also by shredding chunks from his organisation. 

To his “right” he has the staid, liberal, and placid DA effectively standing still as it casts about for suitable blacks to lead it from its white-tainted purgatory.

In the middle stands his organisation, the ANC, still commanding and still destined to command the enviable political centre (where the mass of voters traditionally pin their hopes). 

Unless…..unless the centre cannot hold, everything falls apart and “mere anarchy is unleashed upon the world”.

His main job must be, indeed, to try and hold the whole bang shoot together. You can be sure he sees it that way, too.

Here’s the thing about Ramaphosa. That is his greatest gift. He is not, and never has been, a dynamic visionary leader who could lead his organisation or his country anywhere. He is good at organisational politics, holding it all together, biding his time, and holding it together.

What he has pursued with uncanny precision and deftness from his days as a student and then trade union leader till now is personal power and wealth. And he has excelled at both.  But he doesn’t have a vision.

Some people are born to “greatness” and he is one of them. He has a natural gravitas that manages to coalesce a lot of political (and business) energies around him. He is a master, for example, at remembering names. And he is not clubby, cliquey, or conspiratorial. He is self-interested.

His good at gathering people around him including and especially those who can assist him get what he wants. True to his Scorpionic star sign and nature, he doesn’t brook betrayal and trades on loyalty, which he gives back to those loyal to him.

His first major triumph was when he was delegated to make the opening speech at the founding congress of Cosatu in 1985, from which platform he went on to be the Mass Democratic Movement’s “chief representative” up until Mandela’s release. He didn’t write the Cosatu speech – he just read it as he has been reading other people’s speech writing ever since.

Despite being Mandela’s initial favourite to succeed him, Ramaphosa was pipped to the post by Mbeki. He stepped down from the ANC Secretary General position when he saw this writing on the wall and skulked off to the business world where he became an almost instant billionaire as white business fawned all over him. 

He has the same self-effacing style and even mannerisms of Harry Oppenheimer who, along with other prominent white business families, taught him a lot.

But was he a great businessman? Not really. He just knew where his bread was going to be buttered – white “BEE” largesse – and pursued that with devotion. Ironically, he only really met his match in business when he came up against his erstwhile NUM/Cosatu comrades Marcel Golding and Johnny Copelyn (representing HCI) in the battle for control of Johnnic in 2005. 

HCI won that brutal battle. They knew what they were up against and were taking no prisoners. “We meet, we laugh, we hug” Ramaphosa said of his comrade adversaries at the time in his trademark urbane manner. He resigned with immediate effect from the Johnnic Board shortly after.

His second marriage was into the Motsepe family, where his comrade Jeff Radebe –  the ANC’s longest-serving cabinet minister from 1994 till 2019 – also found himself. Not to mention his multi-billionaire brother-in-law Patrice Motsepe – the 3rd richest man in SA and one of the richest in Africa. 

When you think of Ramaphosa and where his interests lie do as you should do with anyone else – just follow the money. Imagine the discussions at the Motsepe/Ramaphosa/Radebe table at Xmas time. Mega-wealthy global clans like these need to have politicians in their pocket and they got the President.

Ramaphosa is as interested in political stability as any sensible capitalist should be. That is why he is for now the mortal enemy of the EFF/RET brigade. They regard Ramaphosa as corrupt not only because he has hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stashed away in his game ranch couches. 

They think his corrupt because he, and others like him, became billionaires because they were and are in the pockets of super white capitalists like the Stellenbosch mafia/Johan Rupert et al.

Zuma, the Guptas and the RET types think they are entitled to squeeze every last cent out of the state through state capture as the only road open to them to mega wealth. For them it’s the moral equivalent of Ramaphosa and the early BEE billionaires squeezing what they could out of the white capitalist class. That wealth was “stolen” from the people anyway, they reckon.

This might explain why Ramaphosa has been so tardy in moving against them and the endemic corruption in the ANC and government.

When it comes to holding these disparate forces together in the ANC and government, so far, he has not done so badly. Even if it means he has basically not done very much at all. With the notable exception of Malema and his EFF, everyone who has left or been expelled by the ANC, has ended up in the political wilderness. Cope, Niehaus, Magashule anyone ? 

Even Mbeki, though still a member, can only chirp in various quasi-academic forums these days with zero impact on the ground. His dark disingenuous warnings recently that anonymous “counter-revolutionary” forces were busy destroying the legacy of the ANC went almost completely unnoticed.

What did Mbeki mean anyway ? Who are these counter-revolutionary forces ? You could be forgiven for thinking it was those behind the KZN insurrection in 2021 (the Zumaites and RET types who now control the ANC’s biggest region completely and openly defy national directives) who were responsible for Mbeki’s nemesis.. 

But no. Turns out Mbeki was basically calling out and warning against those who are “undermining the democratic state” by opening the door to privatisation and thereby depriving the downtrodden masses of the services the ANC government had promised. Read the Ramaphosaites are the counter revolutionaries basically.

Its a truism in the ANC that its far better to be inside the ANC tent pissing out, then outside pissing in. As the Eagles sang in Hotel California “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”

Zuma and the RET faction know that very well which is why they are still their biding their time. Ramaphosa knows that very well too which is why he is there just keeping them at bay while keeping his and big business in general own economic interests alive.

How he is doing that and what his chances of success are in the run up to the election will be looked at next time.

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