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If the cars parked in the base­ment of the Hil­ton Ho­tel in Sand­ton are any in­di­ca­tion of the fi­nan­cial muscle sup­port­ing Cyril Ramaphosa’s cam­paign to suc­ceed num­ber one, money is not an is­sue here.

Up­stairs, the pres­i­den­tial hope­ful is seated next to one of about 10 white men in the room. It is not a good omen given ac­cu­sa­tions that he is “too cosy with Jews”, but per­haps he was not given a say in the mat­ter.

This is Ramaphosa’s first ad­dress af­ter he pub­licly came out against the re­cent Cab­i­net reshuf­fle. He is be­ing hosted by the Black Busi­ness Coun­cil (BBC) at an in­ti­mate af­fair at­tended by about 100 peo­ple, in­clud­ing staunch Zuma sup­port­ers such as Jimmy Manyi and Vi­vian Reddy.

The pres­i­dent of the BBC, Danisa Baloyi, is on stage wel­com­ing the deputy pres­i­dent. She rat­tles off his po­lit­i­cal cre­den­tials. Ramaphosa’s eyes are glued to his phone as she speaks.

“What is so dif­fi­cult about rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion af­ter 23 years?” Baloyi asks.

Ramaphosa scratches his face, looks up briefly be­fore look­ing down at the phone again. Per­haps one of his lob­by­ists is giving him a pep talk. This is his mo­ment to emerge, to join the race.

“I, as many others, am proud of the fact that you have started tak­ing a stand against the cur­rent regime. Please con­tinue to do so, oth­er­wise you are not go­ing to make it in De­cem­ber. We need you to come out stronger, much stronger. You are go­ing to have to fight damn hard against th­ese forces of evil and cor­rup­tion,” reads one com­ment on the CR17Siyavuma Face­book page that had 78 782 likes at 1pm yes­ter­day.

“We root­ing for him, but he’s silent, we don’t know what’s on his mind. He mustn’t be like Kgalema Mot­lanthe, he should speak up now or else we just can­vass­ing for noth­ing (sic),” reads an­other.

Baloyi con­tin­ues to lament the cur­rent state of the econ­omy and par­tic­u­larly its hos­til­ity to­wards black busi­ness.

Fi­nally Ramaphosa’s turn comes. He is charm­ing and rarely looks down at his speech. It is clear he is well-re­hearsed.

“Our econ­omy is cur­rently un­der great strain, af­fected by global events, but also lo­cal events,” he says, al­lud­ing for the first time to the reshuf­fle.

“We must be coura­geous enough to recog­nise the do­mes­tic and global con­di­tions that give rise to th­ese chal­lenges. But courage also re­sides in ac­knowl­edg­ing the sub­jec­tive fac­tors – is­sues that are a con­se­quence of our own ac­tion or in­ac­tion – that ag­gra­vate the sit­u­a­tion.” He calls for hope in the face of what “may seem to be a silly po­lit­i­cal sea­son”. Sens­ing im­pa­tience in the room, he an­nounces that he will be ad­dress­ing rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion shortly. “Yes, get to that,” some call out. Mo­ments later he does get round to the topic. Bor­row­ing a page from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s book, he throws his full weight be­hind it. “Rad­i­cal means that it must hap­pen im­me­di­ately. Those who are ques­tion­ing it must sit down and smell the cof­fee. The trans­for­ma­tion of the econ­omy is non­nego­tiable, there is noth­ing ab­stract about rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. It is fun­da­men­tally about in­clu­sive and shared growth.” I get a text from an ac­quain­tance in the room, “lob­aba uyasipheka” (this guy is dup­ing us). Just when it seems he has gone full-blown DlaminiZuma, Ramaphosa of­fers an­other jab: “Even as some peo­ple may want to de­ploy the con­cept to pur­sue self­ish personal ob­jec­tives – or sim­ply to cast as­per­sions on the rev­o­lu­tion­ary cre­den­tials of others – rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion has sub­stance and mean­ing and rel­e­vance.”

It is not the great coming-out his lob­by­ists wanted in the end. On Twit­ter, many be­moan that he is still too subtle about his in­ten­tions. The less loyal of the group­ings are al­ready look­ing to re­call their sup­port for him and de­ploy it else­where. Per­haps Lindiwe Sisulu or his brother in law – who pulled a se­ri­ous Ju­das Is­car­iot and showed up in Mo­ria last week – Jeff Radebe.

The diehard ad­vo­cates say that num­ber two will make his mark at the up­com­ing pol­icy con­fer­ence. For his part, Ramaphosa refers to the pol­icy doc­u­ments seven times dur­ing his ad­dress, so maybe that is the plan.

As his ad­dress draws to a close, he gives one last subtle of­fer­ing for the road: “We will not al­low the in­sti­tu­tions of our state to be cap­tured by fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als in­tent on nar­row self-en­rich­ment”.

An­other ad­dress, an­other missed op­por­tu­nity. To­day he will ap­pear alongside axed deputy finance min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas in the East­ern Cape to de­liver a Chris Hani me­mo­rial lec­ture.

His cam­paign­ers live in hope that he will fi­nally give them the green light.

Cyril Ramaphosa

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