PALLO JOR­DAN:

SEE­ING THROUGH THE VAN­ITY OF LIFE

CityPress - - Front Page - MONDLI MAKHANYA

Cyril Ramaphosa shrank this week. South Africa’s deputy pres­i­dent en­tered the Marikana Com­mis­sion of In­quiry a bold and con­fi­dent man. By the time the lawyers were done with him, he was but a lit­tle man. Ramaphosa ap­peared at the com­mis­sion to ac­count for his role in the build-up to the mas­sacre of 34 min­ers in Marikana two years ago. He was ful­fill­ing an un­der­tak­ing he made in the af­ter­math of the mas­sacre that he would be will­ing to ap­pear be­fore the com­mis­sion to ex­plain why he used his po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to in­ter­vene on be­half of mine owner Lon­min to get the po­lice to crack down on strik­ing min­ers.

His de­trac­tors would have us be­lieve that Ramaphosa’s call for “con­comi­tant ac­tion” to be taken against the min­ers who were caus­ing havoc in the plat­inum belt led di­rectly to the killings. Ramaphosa’s ver­sion has been that by ask­ing the po­lice to re­store law and order, he was be­ing a re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zen.

This week, the two ver­sions went head-to­head. While nei­ther Ramaphosa nor the lawyers can claim to have won the day, Ramaphosa took heavy blows. The longer he was on the stand, the more his stature di­min­ished.

To un­der­stand the shrink­ing of Ramaphosa, you have to go back to the rise of the man. He was a prince of the lib­er­a­tion move­ment, an in­di­vid­ual who was des­tined for great things. As one of the founders of the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers, he was an ar­chi­tect of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu). He played a piv­otal role in mak­ing Cosatu the en­gine of the Mass Demo­cratic Move­ment. His­tory records that in the 1990s he was mid­wife to South Africa’s ne­go­ti­ated tran­si­tion and a pioneer of black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment.

Hav­ing lost the duel to be­come Nel­son Man­dela’s suc­ces­sor to Thabo Mbeki, Ramaphosa was al­ways ex­pected to re­turn to the po­lit­i­cal ring once his ri­val was off the scene. It was also known that he was never go­ing to fight for the big job and would al­ways wait for it to be handed to him on a plat­ter be­cause, in his mind, he was en­ti­tled to it.

Even though he re­mained on the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, he largely stayed in the shad­ows, rarely gave in­ter­views and made few pub­lic pro­nounce­ments. He al­lowed spec­u­la­tion about his am­bi­tions to swirl and seemed to en­joy a mys­tery-man sta­tus.

Dur­ing the Thabo Mbeki years of cold and dis­tant lead­er­ship, we longed for his warm char­ac­ter. In the bum­bling and buf­foon­ish Ja­cob Zuma years, we long for some brain and in­tegrity. His re­turn to pol­i­tics in 2012 was ac­ci­den­tal. The Zuma camp needed a sober-minded and pre­sentable person to be his run­ning mate in the race against the more dig­ni­fied Kgalema Mot­lanthe. Ramaphosa grabbed the op­por­tu­nity and put him­self in pole po­si­tion to suc­ceed Zuma.

His re­turn trip ap­peared to hit a pot­hole when his be­hind-the-scenes Marikana ma­noeu­vres be­came pub­lic. Peo­ple be­gan ask­ing whether this would harm his chances. But any­one with a lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of ANC pol­i­tics would have known that this would cause no dam­age. It should have been ob­vi­ous that a party led by some­one who has a hun­gry wal­let and ram­pag­ing li­bido would not pass judge­ment on a cap­i­tal­ist com­rade for self­ishly guard­ing his in­vest­ment from un­ruly mobs.

He eas­ily ne­go­ti­ated the pot­hole and now sits com­fort­ably in the East Wing of the Union Build­ings. He is be­hav­ing him­self, sing­ing Zuma’s praises at ev­ery turn, but is most likely hop­ing he doesn’t have to wait un­til 2019 to move to the West Wing.

The only thing stand­ing in Ramaphosa’s way is a cam­paign by some in the party’s ranks to get African Union boss Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to re­turn and leapfrog him when her term in Ad­dis Ababa is up. This in it­self would be a ter­ri­ble thing be­cause if you thought Mbeki was cold, you have not felt the Arc­tic wind that is Dlamini-Zuma’s per­sona.

Be­fore South Africa ac­cepts the in­evitabil­ity of a Ramaphosa pres­i­dency, some ques­tions need to be asked about his fit­ness to lead. Although we can­not draw a straight line from Ramaphosa’s ex­hor­ta­tions for “con­comi­tant ac­tion” to the ac­tual killings, there is no doubt his in­ter­ven­tions did a lot to move the po­lice’s re­ac­tion stance from code blue to code red.

The fact that as a fu­ture pres­i­dent he played a role in the events that led to post-apartheid’s first mas­sacre should mat­ter. This was no small ac­ci­dent on a ru­ral road. It was a seis­mic event in the life of our repub­lic.

This week, he con­ceded that in his in­ter­ven­tions he pri­ori­tised get­ting the po­lice to act against the strik­ers and did not bother giv­ing much at­ten­tion to get­ting his com­pany back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. “One should have sought to find out more closely the ac­tual process of ne­go­ti­at­ing with the union. I would con­cede I should ... have probed that.” With those words, he shrank and the gi­ant was no more.

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