A few days ago I was greeted by the welcome news that Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa is the new head of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). This ardent Christian as a boy, follower of Steve Biko’s doctrine while a youth leader, notable lawyer, trade union top brass, successful businessman (multimillionaire), architect of constructive social compacts, former general secretary of the ANC and accomplished public/private partnership achiever would likely become the next president of South Africa.
However, there are three other aspects of Ramaphosa’s persona which I would like to highlight and recommend for serious consideration by some current and aspiring politicians. They are: 1) His track record as a negotiator/trust builder; 2) loyalty to party leadership even in the face of decisions that smack of unfairness to his political career; and 3) his willingness to publicly express remorse for a lack of judgement.
Now to the first: In 1992 after talks broke down between the de Klerk government (there is a tendency to underplay de Klerk’s
significant role in the reconciliation process), the ANC and other parties, Nelson Mandela reasserted his leadership with a priority to haul South Africa ‘out of the quagmire’. Behind the scenes, ever since talks had broken off, two key negotiations, Cyril Ramaphosa, aged forty from the ANC and Roelf Meyer, forty-five from the government side stayed in touch in private with an aim to pick up the pieces. They were convinced that the way out of the impasse was for the government and the ANC to reach a bilateral understanding before multiparty talks continued. They struck up an effective working relationship, meeting privately in hotel rooms and managed to establish a measure of trust which survived despite the turmoil, and provided the basis for the process to resume.
Our country has had unsuccessful efforts by private sector organizations such as the GMA under Ramesh Dookhoo’s leadership to engage the main political parties in a trust building initiative (more in a subsequent letter), Caricom, and persons like the late Hugh Cholmondeley’s shuttle diplomacy. The “three wise men”, despite the limited outcomes, are about the highest achievers in Guyana’s political conflict resolution efforts to date.
The second noteworthy point of Ramaphosa’s career I wish illustrate to those seeking the political kingdom and are impatient to access a powerbase ‘gravy train’ above service to ‘king and country’ follows. In 1994, Ramaphosa, then general secretary of the ANC, and a key figure in drawing up a new constitution lost a bid to become Mandela’s deputy. This was a hard blow but being a disciplined politician and loyal follower, persuaded by Mandela, he went into business. For the next twenty years this astute gentleman who was deeply influenced by Christianity and later communism, developed deep links with the private sector. He directed his energies into building a massive holding company ‘Shanduka’ with a range of investments in sectors such as mining, telecommunications, the media, beverages and fast foods. He remained close to the ANC as a member of the national disciplinary committee and manoeuvred a major comeback on the political scene in 2012 becoming deputy president of the ANC and eventually the country.
In Guyana, I recall a former President lamenting the indiscipline and display of impatience by a few ‘young Turks’ he had brought into politics at a senior party level. Within a short time they felt he was obsolete and should be replaced by a more relevant party leader from amongst them. They proceeded to wage a not-so-subtle campaign for the leader’s removal.
The third characteristic of Ramaphosa worthy of emulation by many persons occupying high political office is his public apology for a lapse of judgement. As a wealthy person he had spent lavishly on fast cars, top bred cattle and luxurious living among other vices. His reputation was slightly tainted by allegations for inciting police use of force that killed thirty-four workers at the Markana platinum mine in August 2012. Though cleared by a Commission of Inquiry, he also apologized on national radio for the insensitive language he used leading up to the actual killings; humbly expressing regrets for being excessive in a sea of poverty and not paying workers a decent wage.
My only recollection of top Guyanese political leaders issuing a public apology are: 1) Dr. Ptolemy Reid, former Prime Minister, tendering regret for the government’s closure of the Transport & Harbours Department Railway Service and 2) Dr. Cheddi Jagan, for saying ‘black people are at the lowest rung of the ladder’.
Today the South Africa Rand is racing to a nine-month high. Traders are warming to a Ramaphosa Presidency and there is renewed confidence in a South African economy with solid democratic and governance structures.
There is much to emulate from the life of Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa by many Guyanese leaders as our nation gears to embrace its economic fortunes championed by a booming oil and gas sector.
Happy New Year.