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Ramaphosa: When wealth marries power

By News Express on 28/02/2018

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There is no gainsaying the fact that in much of human society wealth, when accumulated, may evaporate, if the holder does not anchor himself or herself properly in the good books of the political forces that run such a political entity. The above is true of most nations in the developing world. But it is also said that the best way for an investor to grow the brand and remain free from political interferences is for such an investor to navigate his business away from partisan politics.

The American President, Donald Trump, came into office as a billionaire and as an outsider in his political party, the Republican. Trump defeated the party in office, even when the establishments and forces controlling his party isolated themselves from his presidential ticket and the campaign that heralded his emergence as the 45th President since the United States emerged on the world stage as an independent political entity. He, however, won the presidential election and got sworn-in. The first major battle Trump faced was how to divorce private wealth that he had in super abundance from his newly-won political power. Trump successfully divested himself from the daily control of his businesses and handed them over to some of his children to run, as a blind trust for him. Same coincidence of wealth cohabiting with political power has just happened in South Africa, with the emergence of the billionaire-businessman, Mr Matemela Cyril Ramaphosa, as successor to former president, Jacob Zuma, who was forced out of office by his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The man, Ramaphosa (born Nov 17, 1952) – as vividly portrayed in an official bio-data – is a lawyer, trade union leader, activist, politician and businessman. The man who has just been elected and inaugurated as the new President of South Africa on February 14, 2018, by the ruling party, after the resignation of Jacob Zuma, is best known in the global business community as a very successful capitalist, even though his early beginnings could be linked to unionism and activism – a passionate vocation that is intrinsically unrelated to worldly wealth. Ramaphosa is a successful man both on the inside and on the outside, because he is happily married to Dr Tshepo Motsepe, and they have four children. He is regarded as one of the most important leaders in the ANC. His election to the position of secretary-general at the ANC conference in June 1991 is proof of the faith members have in him.

Authors of his official biography have rated him as a widely respected man – in the sense that as a skillful and formidable negotiator and strategist - Ramaphosa is best known for the role he played in building the biggest and most powerful trade union in South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). He came from a very humble and humbling background, by virtue of his birth place, Soweto, which is regarded in some quarters as a ghetto. After completing matric, he registered at the University of the North to study law in 1972. While at the university, Ramaphosa joined the South African Students Organisation (SASO), and the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC). Political historians recalled that in 1974 Ramaphosa was detained and held in solitary confinement for 11 months, because of his role in the organisation of pro-Frelimo rallies. In 1976, he was detained for a second time, and held for six months. During this time, he began to question his role in the BPC, deciding that the ‘ideology of black consciousness had come full circle; it could take us no further.’

Undeterred by his constant brushes with the apartheid regime, he successfully pursued the law programme to a logical conclusion. After completing his law studies in 1981, Ramaphosa joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) as a legal adviser. In 1982, CUSA advised Ramaphosa to start a union for mine workers.

“The union that was to become a thorn in the flesh of mine bosses” had very humble beginnings. There were no funds to run the union; and recruiting was difficult, as mine bosses would not allow meetings to take place on mine premises. Ramaphosa, clad in a black leather jacket, would move around the goldfields at weekends, recruiting mine workers.”

History has it that the union of mine workers he set up was launched in 1982, and Ramaphosa was elected to the position of general-secretary, a position he held until he resigned from the union in 1991, following his election to secretary-general of ANC. Before stepping up to embrace the national political stage as a member of the inner-hierarchy of the Black African popular political party, ANC, Ramaphosa erected formidable backbones and pillars that stood the test of time; in such a way that the National Mine Workers Union he nurtured from infancy attained phenomenal height in less than a decade. 

This is how one historian observed the phenomenon: “In one decade, immeasurable improvements were made in the living conditions and working standards of the country’s largest work force. The union grew from a membership of 6,000 in 1982 to 300,000 in 1992, giving it control of nearly half of the total Black work force in the mining industry. In 1985, NUM left CUSA and helped in the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). When COSATU joined forces with UDF against the Botha regime, Ramaphosa played a central role, leading him into the arena of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). When Mandela was released, Ramaphosa was on the National Reception Committee.”

Ramaphosa reportedly played a strategic role in negotiations with the then dying and fast-fading Apartheid South African regime, to bring about a peaceful end to apartheid and steer the country towards its first democratic elections in April 1994. As stated earlier, he had a fantastic rise from grass to grace, and is one of the very few global elites that has transited from socialism to capitalism. Ramaphosa is regarded, and rightly so, as one of the wealthiest Black South Africans. But his sources of wealth, legitimate as they are, still faces credibility crisis to such an extent that most observers wonder why only very few Black political elites rode on the back of their hold on the African National Congress to become rich and powerful, even when millions of Black South Africans are poor.

If, indeed, the African National Congress deliberately introduced an economic empowerment policy to jump-start millions of impoverished Black South Africans to become self-reliant and happy, how come that only a handful of Blacks are truly successful?

This is the basic question that, as a distant observer, yours truly, think the newly-crowned South African president should quickly respond to. A rapid response to the question of existing income inequity and inequality of opportunities among South Africans is strategic, so as to put an end to the incessant xenophobic attacks that foreigners, especially African nationals living inside South Africa, are facing.

In the past ten years, there have been over two dozen of such violent confrontations, targeting Africans who reside inside South Africa; because, the impoverished indigenous Blacks have the mindset that, outsiders from the rest of the African continent have moved into South Africa to take over their jobs. Therefore, creating friendly environments inside South Africa, for equitable wealth redistribution - among the citizenry and, especially, the Blacks who have been left behind the economic ladder of prosperity - has become a national security duty and a binding obligation for the new South African president.

President Ramaphosa should quickly settle down to work, and analytically look at how to best re-focus the economic and educational sectors, to rapidly deliver qualitative education and entrepreneurial skills to millions of Black South Africans. Nelson Mandela, first post-Apartheid President of South Africa, seemed to have seen today far back then when he singled out the qualitative educational empowerment of black South Africans as a strategy that can jump-start them to become economically well-to-do. Mandela rightly noted: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the World.”

Marcos T Cicero had earlier reasoned: “What greater or better gift can we offer the republic than to teach and instruct our youth.” The new South African political power-base, headed by the successful businessman and lawyer, should design an effective educational empowerment programme for the pragmatic benefit of the majority of the population. The other day, Black students in the South African university system protested over excessive tuition fees. Qualitatively affordable education made up of a high concentration of entrepreneurialism in the curricula, with strategic financing options created for applicants looking for start-ups must be put in place by Ramaphosa. 

The new President of South Africa should, and must of necessity, address the income gaps that afflicts the general Black populations, because it is unjust to see a community of people whose clear majority are afflicted by existential misery, pains and tormenting poverty while a tiny minority of the elite and the other tiny minority of the population are seen to be doing well. Wealth, income and opportunity must be created for the greater majority of South Africans. This is a must-do task, for the wealthy Ramaphosa who has just added political power to his illustrious collection of existential trophies.

Sam Van Coller has also written to support the call for the resolution of South Africa’s inequality headache, to be accorded a priority attention by President Ramaphosa, in addition to the internal task of sanitising the ruling party of corruption and abuse of power that marred the Jacob Zuma's years whereby he used his presidential privileges to capture the state to a criminal extent that an unelected cabal was dictating who gets what appointments in the ANC-led national government. In sum, the bulk of Black South Africans must be made to participate in a growing free enterprise economy, Coller argued. He also asked for the redress of existing inequality of economic opportunity. 

Just before he assumed office, the foreign policy magazine had carried an article in which the sins of Jacob Zuma were listed out, even as he was asked to redress them. The writer of the article in the foreign policy magazine stated: “Meanwhile, the trade unionists and communists – who are in an alliance with the ANC - are massively disappointed with President Zuma. 

“He did not make good on his promise of a pro-poor agenda and, instead, became a looter-in-chief, who was used and abused, with his knowledge and consent, by nefarious parasites within and outside the government.” 

In the thinking of this analyst, the political left, therefore, cautiously supported Ramaphosa. But their backing was not unequivocal or open-ended. 

“In fact, the South African Communist Party has, for the first time, contested a by-election, rehearsing for participation in the 2019 elections independently of the ANC. This means that Ramaphosa may lead an ANC that has been divorced from the SACP, which has historically been an integral part of the movement.

“For all these reasons, Ramaphosa might be wishing that he had been successfully anointed as party leader by Nelson Mandela 18 years ago, rather than winning leadership of the ANC today. Back then, he would have inherited an idealistic young democracy mostly untainted by corruption. Now, he will finally lead this once glorious liberation movement, but that victory may yet be pyrrhic.”

Expectations are mounting that he will deliver some quick-fix measures to address the disparity in incomes among South Africans. He has no time at all to pursue frivolities. He must equally divest himself of the control of his chain of successful businesses and concentrate on ensuring equitable income and wealth redistribution among his people, if he ever hopes to win the next year’s general election and refocus the ANC to once more become the party in the hearts of majority of Black South Africans.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via 

Source News Express

Posted 28/02/2018 9:12:18 PM


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