CYRIL Ramaphosa has publicly kicked off his stint as African National Congress (ANC) deputy president with apparent confidence, and with indications that he will try in the next few days to put to rest questions over conflict between his business ties and his role as second-in-command of the governing party.
This week will see some of Mr Ramaphosa’s first official public appearances since his election, in the run-up to the party’s annual January 8 address in commemoration of its founding, to be delivered by President Jacob Zuma in Durban on Saturday.
On Tuesday night, Mr Ramaphosa spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and was scheduled on Wednesday to address a number of KwaZulu-Natal communities and interest groups as part of the ANC’s 101st anniversary celebrations.
He was elected to his leadership position in the ANC at the party’s Mangaung conference in December, after years out of the political spotlight, a period during which he forged a multibillion-rand business empire with interests in several sectors of the economy.
It is not yet clear what role Mr Ramaphosa will fill within the ANC and government.
On Tuesday night, he told CNN he remained a businessman but "the ANC is a political organisation that welcomes everyone", and his business interests were well known to the party members who elected him.
He said what was important was that he pursued the objectives of the party, and that the decisions he made were informed by party objectives and led by "conscience".
Eyes had turned to Mr Ramaphosa’s wealth and connections to business in the run-up to Mangaung, notably his unsuccessful R18m bid for a buffalo — for which he later apologised — as well as e-mails he had apparently sent to platinum miner Lonmin on the eve of the deaths of 34 workers at the company’s Marikana mine in August. In the e-mails, he described the labour unrest as "dastardly criminal acts" and called for "concomitant action".
Should Mr Ramaphosa fill a role in the government, he would have to abide both by Parliament’s disclosure requirements and the executive code of ethics, and he could soon appear before the Farlam commission of inquiry into the deaths of the Marikana miners. If he does testify, as he has offered to do, he will now do so as the deputy leader of the ANC.
When questioned on the odds of this stance due to his role in the labour unrest that helped bring down apartheid — and his history as a founding member of the National Union of Mineworkers — Mr Ramaphosa said he had been calling for the "saving of lives" after 10 deaths had already been reported due to the Marikana strike.
"A long part of my life was spent serving mineworkers, and there is just no way I could ever have said that mineworkers should be killed. There is just no way. It just defies any logic in me," he said.
Mr Ramaphosa said the living and working conditions of mineworkers not only needed to be improved. "In fact, they need to be revolutionised."
He also spoke on the continued perceptions of a moral decline in the ANC, saying "we need to re-establish the moral compass of our organisation", adding that the party "has bared its own soul, its own breast and has admitted a lot of those things".
This showed an ANC ready to start correcting "quite a lot of those perceptions … and some of them are really perceptions".
"But perceptions, obviously, in life and in politics, can soon be a reality. And we need to address them," he said.