South Africa Doesn't Need Another Hero


Ramaphosa is about to find himself in charge of a divided population that is both avoiding and calling for the conversations around the redistribution of wealth. He is going to have to manage a delicate balance between appeasing the business sector- in a bid to lead the recovery of the South African economy- whilst also listening to the cries of the marginalised. This is not going to be an easy balance to achieve as these interest groups have divergent ideas around how best to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth in South Africa. I do not envy him.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind experience for South Africans. Cape Town is seemingly headed towards the ignominy of being the first major city to run out of water. The DA has given us a tutorial on how not to resolve in-fighting within a political party. Cyril Ramaphosa has become our de facto President. And Zuma- well Zuma is destined to tender his resignation any day now.

A lot of South Africans (and a few foreign investors) are eagerly anticipating the speech that will confirm what is seemingly an open secret now. South Africa’s political oracle, EFF leader Julius Malema, has tweeted that our third democratically-elected leader will be taking his final bow. Cyril Ramaphosa recently released a very cryptic statement outlining that both he and Zuma are concerned with following the course of action that will be best for South Africa. What seems to be occurring is one of the finest demonstrations of the art of war.

Without any concessions being made, Jacob Zuma has a lot to lose by resigning as President. He may have to face the music with the 700+ corruption charges that have been dismissed and reinstated again. He will lose access to the state coffers that have enabled him to build his palatial homestead, Nkandla, as well as helping to enrich his close family friends (the Guptas mainly) and his family members.

If rumours are to be believed, he may also risk bearing the brunt of Vladimir Putin’s ire because of his inability to lock down the controversial nuclear power deal that would have enriched the Russians. So much attention has been focused on Zuma, but what about Cyril? Is he the hero that we have been waiting for? I’m afraid that the truth is far more complicated than that.

Cyril Ramaphosa is a figure who has had a lot of influence both within and outside of South Africa’s complex political scene. The story of his rise and rise has been recounted numerous times. He founded and led the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) before becoming the first General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)- a position he held until 1991.

His strategic skills have been recognised as playing a small yet crucial role in the negotiations that led to the petering out of the apartheid system of governance. He was slated to become South Africa’s second democratically elected President, but he then lost the 1997 African National Congress (ANC) Presidential election to Thabo Mbeki. That loss resulted in his retiring from party politics and taking on a more prominent role in the private sector.

He proved to be an erstwhile businessman, amassing a fortune of $700 million by 2012. Next to Zuma, Ramaphosa is a seemingly uncontroversial figure who will help our economy to recover in addition to helping South Africa to go back to its rainbow nation glory days. Right?

Again, I’m afraid that things are not that simple. Besides the recent allegations of his extramarital affairs that he derided as part of a smear campaign against him, Ramaphosa is also a central if indirectly involved figure in the 2012 Marikana Massacre that resulted in the deaths of 34 mine workers. He is also part of a contingent of successful black businessmen (and womxn) whose success has been largely attributed to strategic BEE deals.

This last fact could be covered in one of two ways. A thinly-veiled racist accusation of “tenderpreneurship” could be levelled against him, but the matter is more complicated. His business success can be looked at through the lens of neoliberal macroeconomic policies that prioritised the growth of a black middle-class and upper-class contingent over the socio-economic empowerment of South Africa’s increasingly growing racialised black poor population.

The second complication to Ramaphosa’s impending presidency is this very fact of increasing insecurity and marginalisation of South Africa’s racialised black poor. Poverty is a grossly racialised phenomenon in South Africa. Because the segregationist apartheid governments’ scarily effective (and evil) social policies, white people are far less likely to be poor than their black counterparts. Add to this the racialised discourse around South Africa’s crime problem and you have a situation where poor black South Africans are further marginalised.

Unfortunately, the important discussions around the historical inequalities in South Africa’s distribution of wealth have been hijacked by political opportunists who have equated supporting Zuma with supporting radical economic transformation which is a necessary pursuit that urgently needs to be disassociated from kleptocratic political practices.

Ramaphosa is about to find himself in charge of a divided population that is both avoiding and calling for the conversations around the redistribution of wealth. He is going to have to manage a delicate balance between appeasing the business sector- in a bid to lead the recovery of the South African economy- whilst also listening to the cries of the marginalised. This is not going to be an easy balance to achieve as these interest groups have divergent ideas around how best to achieve a more equitable distribution of wealth in South Africa. I do not envy him.

I think the best thing we can do as South Africans is to not rest on our laurels and expect Ramaphosa to save us from ourselves. The rainbow façade has been shattered and, alongside Ramaphosa, we have to work to get ourselves out of our current impasse.


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Afrika Matters Initiative NPC 2018/033657/08