While business and investors have hailed Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the Presidency, he inherits a wounded country and ravaged economy. He will also have to live down his role in the Marikana massacre, tackle land reform and bring about a more equitable distribution of wealth. Can he pull it off, asks Dr Desné Masie.
It will be a difficult juggling act for Rampahosa, who is the darling of investors and moderates, but regarded as an enemy of workers and the poor by many on the radical left. He has also been heavily criticised for benefitting from the spoils of black economic empowerment.
Ramaphosa’s political career began in student politics and black radicalism in the 1970s; by 1982 he had helped establish the National Union of Mineworkers, and in 1985, Cosatu. He became instrumental in the release of Nelson Mandela and in 1991 became General Secretary of the ANC.
Ramaphosa became known for being a skilled negotiator in the talks towards South Africa’s democratic transition. And though he was known to be Mandela’s favourite, lost out to Thabo Mbeki in the 1996 presidential competition. This is said to have led to him throwing himself into business over politics.
Ramaphosa has a fortune estimated at between $450m and is one of Africa’s richest men. His business interests, put into a trust to enable his return to politics, span the McDonalds and Coca Cola empires through his powerful Shanduka group, founded in 2001. Crucially, Shanduka also had a stake in Lonmin PLC’s South African operations, where he was also a nonexecutive director. It is this involvement with Lonmin that will haunt Ramaphosa’s presidency.
Though a former trade union leader himself, Ramaphosa was heavily censured, and called a ‘murderer’ by unionists and activists for his role in summoning armed police to Marikana, where 34 miners were killed at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine on 16 August 2012 after miners embarked on a wildcat strike and became violent.
Saftu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said in a statement on 11 February that unions “demand the immediate arrest of those all those in government, Lonmin and police management who planned, organized and approved this murder. They, including former National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, former Mining Minister Susan Shabangu and former President Jacob Zuma, must be arrested and charged with murder.
“Cyril Ramaphosa, using his influence in the ANC, called for the ‘concomitant action’ and labelled the strike ‘plainly dastardly criminal’.
So said a man who President Ramaphosa watching a parade by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at Kimberley, Northern Cape on Armed Forces Day, 21 February had championed the rights of mine workers before, but once he crossed the class divide and participated in the class oppression and exploitation, made a 360 degree turn. He too can’t escape with a lousy apology. He is as guilty as those who under pressure from him, organised the brutal killing of workers.”
Ramaphosa, despite all this, is still generally perceived to be above board by the business community.
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