The Africa Report
PROFILE / Team Ramaphosa
After the initial euphoria, critics now say Cyril Ramaphosa does not have the foot soldiers to govern effectively. In the face of popular protests and factionalism in the ANC who can he count on to help rebuild South Africa?
Past ANC leaders have quickly asserted their authority. President Cyril Ramaphosa – who prefers a more consultative style – is having a rougher time. If he is to succeed in fixing South Africa’s problems, his key ministers and officials need to know that he has their backs
TThe early September World Economic Forum (WEF) was meant to be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s big moment: addressing African peers and global business to ramp up the investment drive so desperately needed. South Africa had different ideas: xenophobic attacks and protests against an upsurge of violence towards women in the country grabbed centre stage.
“Where is the President?” went up the cry. It took more than 24 hours to get a response from him. To many people’s surprise, Ramaphosa cancelled his WEF address and sent finance minister Tito Mboweni in his stead. Protesters refused to sing the national anthem, chanting “Enough is enough!” and singing the struggle song ‘Senzeni Na’? (‘What have we done?’).
‘Ramaphoria’ – the term coined when Ramaphosa took office in 2018 – was shortlived. Many saw in Ramaphosa’s background as a union leader, business leader and constitutional negotiator (TAR107) the skills needed to turn the country around quickly from the rot promoted under the leadership of former president Jacob Zuma.
So who is in his corner? Who are the women and men who are driving his agenda? And when will they finally be able to get to work?
Right now Ramaphosa’s crisis-management teams have their jobs cut out for them. In late August, the CR17 scandal erupted about leaked emails from Ramaphosa’s campaign for the African National Congress (ANC) leadership in 2017. While the economy convulses – with an all-time high unemployment rate of one in three people without a job and the mismanagement of parastatals like South African Airways and Eskom being felt every day – South Africans got to see the millions of rand Ramaphosa had spent and received. Leaked bank statements
detailed donations from the prison services provider Bosasa (implicated in the state capture probed by the Zondo Commission) and payments to a host of cabinet ministers including Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Fikile Mbalula and deputy minister Zizi Kodwa. Ramaphosa had promised a “new dawn” but things quickly took on an air of business as usual.
These moments also fuel intra-anc rivalries, just at the moment where Ramaphosa and his allies need to keep the governing party together and ensure that secretary general Ace Magashule does not plan a move against him at the 2020 National General Council. There is no doubt that Ramaphosa is under tremendous pressure, not only on the economic front but in politics too.
After the CR17 crisis broke out, a confident Ramaphosa addressed parliament for his quarterly question-and-answer session. Ramaphosa
was forthright and to the point, answering some hard questions on the funding scandal and on the state of the economy. He said: “Unemployment is the single biggest risk the country is facing – particularly amongst young people. Businesses are now panel-beating various job proposals. We have to move much faster and quicker. It’s a national challenge. We all need to work together to address it. It’s a major, major risk.”
Listening intently were key cabinet ministers and allies like international relations minister Naledi Pandor, minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu and deputy minister for state security Zizi Kodwa. Compared to Zuma’s backers this may seem a thin crew.
Factions running deep
Throughout Jacob Zuma’s tenure as president, his supporters were a force to be reckoned with. Even during his testimony at the Zondo Commission into state capture, former ministers Malusi Gigaba, Des van Rooyen and Mosebenzi Zwane, and Umkhonto we Sizwe chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe, were there to back Zuma, to name but a few.
This imbalance has led Ramaphosa critics to say he lacks a strong constituency, which has made governing difficult. Former ANC member of parliament and ambassador to Ireland Melanie Verwoerd tells The Africa Report: “I do not buy that […]. What we know is factionalism is very deep, and I feel at times his supporters are less vocal than Jacob Zuma supporters. And I am not always sure how they organise the fightback in the Ramaphosa camp, or whether they’re just focusing on governing.”
Former senior Congress of South African Trade Unions executive Tony Ehrenreich is also fighting Ramaphosa’s corner. “He is clearly the only one that can take the country forward. No one else has the trust – half of the ANC is discredited and fighting factional battles. He is the only one in the country standing between us and a bailout from the IMF.”
Ehrenreich also credits Ramaphosa’s choice of team members. In the ministerial appointments announced in May, Ramaphosa had a free hand on two choices, with the rest agreed on with the ANC leadership. He picked the GOOD party’s Patricia de Lille to be public works minister (see box) and Ebrahim Patel to be minister for trade and industry. Ehrenreich tells The Africa Report: “I have seen countries going to war because of the tensions. And Ramaphosa is measured. He has some good ministers, like Ebrahim Patel in trade and industry. There are clear plans and actions […]. You have competent people with no greed and the focus is on people.”
The consensual style also jars with the political culture of the past. The author of Ramaphosa’s Turn, Ralph Mathekga, tells The Africa Report: “The ANC is a traditionalist party – it thrives on authority. [People] are asking, where is the authority? [...] With CR, we have a different approach to leadership. He might not be aware. He comes from the United Democratic Front, the movement [where] no one knew who was the leader.”
Ramaphosa’s past is significant, of course, and will be for as long as the his generation is still around. Unlike Zuma and many of Zuma’s supporters he was in ‘inzile’ – mobilising civil disobedience from within rather than planning armed struggle from exile. Many of Ramaphosa’s trusted allies share this history – Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan and Maria Ramos to name but three.
While intra-anc rivalries are less visible in cabinet, they are on display in the ANC’S choice of parliamentarians. Secretary-general Magashule had a key role in appointing people like Zuma supporter Zwane, ousted North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and disgraced communications minister Faith Muthambi. Mthembu used to be Ramaphosa’s enforcer in parliament as chief whip. Now parliamentary speaker Thandi Modise has stepped into the enforcer’s role, challenging public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane as she targets Ramaphosa and his appointees.
Zuma’s people are still a force to be reckoned with at the grassroots of the ANC. An ANC MP says: “Importantly, some [of Ramaphosa’s key people] are not rooted in their branches. This means they are not on the ground to hear what ANC branches are saying. If you do not do that, then there will be problems.”
Another senior ANC member adds: “We as ANC members feel CR is too reliant on outside opinions, especially from business. This means he is not listening to what the rumblings are within the ANC, and that means he does not have the foot soldiers needed when he is attacked.”
It can sometimes feel like Ramaphosa would rather not have the political fight, but would prefer to concentrate on business. He regularly turns to his wider pool of friends from the business world for advice and to help overhaul state-run institutions. Former Absa head Maria Ramos and Smile Telecoms chief executive Irene Charnley, who worked with Ramaphosa during his MTN days, have been brought in to the Public Investment Corporation’s board
He regularly turns to friends from the business world for advice
to oversee its clean-up after the ousting of former PIC chief executive Daniel Matjila.
Political analyst William Gumede says that white English-speaking business leaders like former Bidvest CEO Brian Joffe, Discovery CEO Adrian Gore and Investec CEO Stephen Koseff are close to Ramaphosa. An insider who requested anonymity adds: “There is also so much arrogance in the private sector. When I hear how they talk and around economic issues, they know they have the ear of the President.”
Outside of government, politician Roelf Meyer is one of Ramaphosa’s trusted advisers. He keeps a low profile but when it comes to key policy issues Ramaphosa calls on him – as with the land expropriation debate, where Meyer was dispatched to speak to key business and farm owners. Their relationship dates back to the negotiating of the constitution in the 1990s.
Given his history, Ramaphosa has deep connections to the mining and energy sectors. But James Motlatsi, who came up with Ramaphosa in the National Union of Mineworkers, protests he does not have the president’s ear. “We have been working together since 1982,” he told ENCA. “We are friends, but I am not his adviser!” Motlatsi oversaw the fundraising for Ramaphosa’s election campaign.
Billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, however, is close – he is Ramaphosa’s brotherin-law. Eyebrows were raised when Motsepe was seen accompanying the President on an official trip to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Also along for the ride was Jeff Radebe, a long-serving minister and Ramaphosa confidant who is married to Bridgette Radebe – the older sister of Ramaphosa’s wife, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, and herself active in the mining sector.
Other than challenges like fighting corruption, turning around ailing parastatals and improving the economy, Ramaphosa and his team have been slow to come up with detailed
Team CR has been slow to come up with detailed plans for change
plans about what they want to change in South Africa. With the first few big programmes announced, the reception has not been very warm, even amongst factions on Ramaphosa’s side.
Finance minister Mboweni is a lynchpin of Ramaphosa’s economic team and came back into government after last being Reserve Bank governor in 2009. While Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters have been outflanking the ANC on the left, Ramaphosa’s main economic team members favour neoliberal economics.
After Mboweni’s Treasury published a framework for South Africa’s economic transformation in September, the South African Communist Party (SACP) – part of the governing tripartite alliance – came out guns blazing for Mboweni. The SACP’S Blade Nzimande panned the plan to the media: “It’s a one-sided call for the poor and the working class to make sacrifices, without saying what sacrifices it’s expecting from the rich.”
The Mbeki crowd
Mathekga, the author, says that he finds it very interesting how Ramaphosa has brought back a lot of people that were prominent under former president Thabo Mbeki – himself a fiscal conservative – like Maria Ramos and former Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus to lead the PIC probe. “It’s very interesting who he has been bringing. [...] The problem is that they were not as bad as JZ people, but when you bring them in you resuscitate the old guard because this is also making the Zuma people hardened.”
Not much is publicly known about Ramaphosa’s big ideological influences. He has the reputation for being a pragmatist and a keen negotiator. Those who know him say that religion shaped his worldview at an early age. He is an avid reader and often uses poetry – especially from the generation of struggle artists – in his pronouncements. He invoked Hugh Masekela’s ‘Thuma Mina’ lyrics in his first major State of Nation address and ended it by quoting from a poem by Nigerian writer Ben Okri: ‘Our future is greater than our past.’
Ramaphosa’s first term will be judged not so much by what he reads but by how he leads and how the teams he chooses are able to address the country’s biggest challenges on the ground (see left). That means finding ways to attract the investment needed to create jobs, provide quality and affordable education to the country’s young people, keep the lights on and balance the books so that the country does not go into debt that it will struggle to pay off. Ramaphosa will have to play the long game if he wants to shift the dial, as weeding out corruption and turning around huge loss-making state-owned enterprises take years of sustained effort that can easily be derailed by the day-to-day news cycle