Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: PIERRE BASSANI
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: PIERRE BASSANI

CYRIL Ramaphosa’s political rebirth — his becoming deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) — was the result of a disciplined person who had to learn to overcome his ambitious personality and stay out of the political limelight for 16 years, says University of Cape Town professor of politics Anthony Butler.

Prof Butler has updated his biography of Mr Ramaphosa, who took on the second-most powerful seat in the ANC at its conference in Mangaung last year.

Speaking at the Cape Town Press Club on Thursday, Prof Butler said Mr Ramaphosa had learnt a hard lesson from being unable to defeat former president Thabo Mbeki, who represented an elite group of exiled politicians who had returned to South Africa.

"When (former president) Nelson Mandela announced that Mr Ramaphosa would be leaving politics to go into business, what we were not told was that Mr Mandela told Mr Ramaphosa that Mr Mbeki would only be around for 10 years and then he could return," Prof Butler said.

He said Mr Ramaphosa, who went on to set up the investment holding company Shanduka, struggled to obtain any government business or make inroads into the mining sector. However, that changed after the ANC’s 2009 conference.

"It was only after 2009 that Shanduka suddenly had investments in mining (Lonmin)," he said. Shanduka’s consultancy firm Fever Tree Consulting also obtained a contract to help with the turnaround at the Department of Home Affairs in that year.

Prof Butler said that while Mr Ramaphosa was involved in business, he maintained a foothold in the ANC by becoming head of its disciplinary committee, which shot to fame with the expulsion of former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

Prof Butler said Mr Ramaphosa was a constitutionalist (he was a central negotiating figure in the talks that led to the current constitution) and believed in the rule of law. "However, he doesn’t believe in enforcing it to the point of creating social instability ."

Prof Butler said Mr Ramaphosa had a good reputation among the business community, although most of the business people who seemed to remember him from the 1980s and 1990s were no longer around.

"Cyril travels a lot and has business interests in a number of countries including China and so understands the business community. Many of the current trade union leaders matured politically when Cyril was running NUM (the National Union of Mineworkers)," Prof Butler said.

FW de Klerk Foundation executive director Dave Steward said: "If one of Mr Ramaphosa’s motivation and guiding stars is the constitution it would be great, but time will tell."