Ev­ery time the deputy pres­i­dent speaks, his fol­low­ers are gripped by ex­cite­ment. But what is he re­ally say­ing? Or is he lead­ing by fol­low­ing? Is the tide more im­por­tant than the prin­ci­ple?

Financial Mail - - FEATURE / CYRIL RAMAPHOSA - Gareth van Onse­len

Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech to the SA Com­mu­nist Party con­fer­ence last week sent the me­dia into apoplex­ies of de­light and af­fir­ma­tion. Head­lines like “Cyril’s slam-dunk speech” and “Ramaphosa 2.0” soon fol­lowed.

In truth though, he said noth­ing new, he rarely does. It is just that the need to be­lieve has many in its grip. Any ex­cuse to see the def­i­nite in the am­bigu­ous will do. And noone ben­e­fits more from this af­flic­tion than Ramaphosa.

Let’s call it Ramathusiasm.

“If you don’t vote, the boers will come back to con­trol us,” Ramaphosa said in 2013. It was a re­veal­ing state­ment, now long for­got­ten. Part of Ramathusiasm is the con­vic­tion that he is a po­ten­tial tonic for all the ram­pant dem­a­goguery that de­fines the pol­i­tics of Ja­cob Zuma and his ilk.

To be­lieve that would be a mis­take. He might demon­strate a lit­tle more self-con­trol — but the base in­stinct to pop­ulism is there, just be­low the sur­face.

“You should re­ally see this, when we go to Davos, we all wear our colour­ful scarves and there is no other coun­try that has claimed that space like we have . . . wear­ing that scarf on [sic] it­self just be­gins to make your mes­sage co­he­sive.” That was Ramaphosa ear­lier this year, in re­sponse to a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion. He was asked about how the ANC could best rep­re­sent SA’S in­ter­ests to in­vestors when it was so fun­da­men­tally di­vided about ideas like rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.

Ra­math­u­si­asts would have it he is a demo­crat, se­ri­ous about ac­count­abil­ity in a way Zuma isn’t. There is lit­tle ev­i­dence for this; he treats par­lia­ment with al­most the same con­tempt the pres­i­dent does. The same kind of inanity marks his ob­fus­ca­tion.

“I for one will not re­main quiet,” Ramaphosa said to the SACP, with ref­er­ence to the Gupta fam­ily. The me­dia lapped it up. His stan­dard line on the sub­ject is to call for a ju­di­cial com­mis­sion of in­quiry. It’s a clever piece of rhetoric al­lows him to ap­pear de­ci­sive; si­mul­ta­ne­ously, vague enough to avoid any real con­fronta­tion with the pow­ers that be. Af­ter all, Zuma him­self says he sup­ports such a call.

Ramathusiasm would have it that he is a bul­wark against cor­rup­tion and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

He isn’t Zuma; that much is true. But then he isn’t Eliot Ness ei­ther. He is com­plicit in the dam­age Zuma has wrought, and he has kept quiet about it all. And much more be­sides, go­ing fur­ther back in time. On all the great mod­ern tragedies — Zim­babwe, HIV/AIDS, Eskom, Nkandla — there is no sin­gu­lar Ramaphosa school of prin­ci­pled thought or deed.

This ap­pears to il­lus­trate that he is not a man of ac­tion, but of words — and se­lec­tive words at that. Ra­math­u­si­asts can­not tell the dif­fer­ence.

There is the idea of Cyril Ramaphosa and then there is Cyril Ramaphosa.

Never shall the two meet — out­side of Ramathusiasm, that is. It is a re­li­gion

What it means: While Ramaphosa may not be Zuma, he is com­plicit in the dam­age Zuma has wrought

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