Daily Dispatch

Inside look at the rise of a leader

Author reveals what we did not know and what we should know about South Africa’s newly elected president


Cyril Ramaphosa: The Road to Presidenti­al Power

Anthony Butler


Anthony Butler first considered writing his book on now president Cyril Ramaphosa 20 years back. Today the book, in its third edition, brings readers to verge of the recent inaugurati­on, and Butler’s view of South Africa’s future under the new man. If Butler’s guesses are correct, and Ramaphosa remains in rude health, then SA can look forward to the stability of a two-term president, one who will take no nonsense from self-serving government officials.

The original idea of a Ramaphosa book smouldered in the early 2000s, but only flamed six years later. Wishing to do the right thing he met with Ramaphosa and discussed the book; back then the subject was a focus on the National Union of Mineworker­s, and Ramaphosa’s pivotal role.

During the first meeting, Ramaphosa told him to forget the idea, and tried to cajole Butler into agreeing that it should wait at least five years. Butler did not agree and said so. An annoyed Ramaphosa closed the meeting with the promise that Butler would get no help from him, should the journalist decide to go ahead.

Butler ignored the advice, and met Ramaphosa again in 2008, having started the book.

This time, in Butler’s words, the meeting was far from cordial, with Ramaphosa threatenin­g to sue him if he went ahead, and including the promise that he would take Butler’s house. Butler, in fairness to Ramaphosa, wrote that he did not take the threat totally seriously, but replied that he did not own a house, and continued research and writing.

The result is a 592-page masterpiec­e that should be essential reading for all South Africans.

While Ramaphosa, in his first and second meeting was frosty, in the end he read the book before it was published, at Butler’s request, and made several valuable additions. He also compliment­ed Butler on the work, and in fact spoke at the book launch.

Butler said Ramaphosa told him that a journalist had once described the now president as “an enigma”, and Ramaphosa told Butler that writing a biography about an enigma was impossible. Perhaps, but not for Butler. He has tracked Ramaphosa’s path through life with remarkable thoroughne­ss, gleaning informatio­n from nearly 200 people. Many were personal friends, close to the President, others worked with him, and several were on the wrong side of the negotiatin­g table. All agreed that the president was a remarkable negotiator, who could shift gear from accommodat­ing to ruthless without the famous grin ever leaving his face.

Many political superstars – academics, business tycoons, journalist­s, friends and foes – have a contributi­on: Kader Asmal, Denis Beckett, Phiroshaw Camay, Frank Chikane, FW de Klerk, Tertius Delport, Bobby Godsell, Marcel Golding, Ronnie Kasrils, Reuel Khoza, Joel Netshitenz­he, Allister Sparks, Griffith Zabala and dozens more.

Through his many interviews, Butler tracks Ramaphosa’s rise from his birth in Soweto, through his career as unionist, to multibilli­onaire game and cattle farmer, then on to deputy president and to the verge of his inaugurati­on as president in 2019.

A reccurring theme is that the ever-calculatin­g Ramaphosa never picked battles that he felt doubtful about winning, nor did he stand for any political office that he, or his advisers, had doubts about the outcome.

If Butler has interprete­d this trait correctly then ANC looters and corrupt officials face a challengin­g 2019. And there will no doubt be a fourth, fifth and perhaps six edition of the book. — TED KEENAN

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