Although you may not have heard his name mentioned much in the media until the run-up to the ANC elective conference last year, Cyril Ramaphosa is by no means new to the South African political landscape. In fact, he was Nelson Mandela’s choice for future president. What do you know about the veteran businessman, politician and activist whose words - and importantly, actions - seem to be returning a sense of optimism to SA?
Background and entry into politics
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa was born on 17 November 1952 in Soweto. He matriculated in 1971 from Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, Venda, and went on to study law at the University of the North (Turfloop) in 1972. There he became involved in politics, joining the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black People’s Convention (BPC), which saw him detained in solitary confinement for eleven months in 1974 for organising pro-Frelimo rallies. He was detained again in 1976 after the unrest in Soweto, and held for six months at John Vorster Square. After his release, he became a law clerk in a Johannesburg firm and continued his legal studies through UNISA, where he obtained his B. Proc. Degree in 1981.
In terms of philosophy, Ramaphosa has claimed that he is a committed socialist, but is not a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He has a reputation as a good negotiator and strategist - essential skills for any successful politician and businessman.
In 1982, Ramaphosa became the first secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, and was involved in setting up the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU). He was elected COSATU’s first General Secretary, a position he held until June 1991 when he resigned following his election as Secretary General of the ANC. He became head of the negotiation team of the ANC in negotiating the end of apartheid with the National Party government. Ramaphosa also served as chairman of the National Reception committee, which co-ordinated arrangements for the release of Nelson Mandela. On the international front, Ramaphosa was a visiting Professor of Law at Stanford University in the United States in October 1991.
After the first democratic elections in 1994, Ramaphosa became a member of parliament, and was elected the chairperson of its Constitutional Assembly on 24 May 1994. He resigned his political posts in 1997 after losing the race to become President of South Africa to Thabo Mbeki. Ramaphosa then turned his attention to the private sector, becoming a director of New Africa Investments Limited.
He was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee in 1997 and 2007, and in 2012 was elected as Deputy President of the ANC - with the support of the Zuma faction. Ramaphosa was then appointed as Deputy President by Jacob Zuma in 2014 and made Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly and Chairman of the National Planning Commission. Most recently, he was elected as President of the ANC in December 2017, replacing Jacob Zuma.
In his run for the ANC presidency, Ramaphosa was supported by COSATU, the National Union of Mineworkers, as well as the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng provincial ANC leadership. Individuals who also supported him include education minister Angie Motshekga, Cosatu’s president Sdumo Dlamini, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, and former KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu.
Private sector involvement
Cyril has extensive experience in the private sector and is known for supporting business-friendly policies, which is partly why the economic outlook for South Africa, business confidence, and even the rand have all been improving since the December election. He is one of SA’s richest men and has an estimated net worth of over $450 million, according to Forbes.com, and owns 31 properties.
Ramaphosa has also held significant ownership in companies such as McDonald’s South Africa, and has been chairperson of the board for MTN and a non-executive member of the board for Lonmin. He is the Executive Chairman of Millennium Consolidated Investment (MCI) and non-executive Chairman of Johnnic Holdings, MTN Group Limited and SASRIA. He is the past Chairman of the Black Economic Empowerment Commission. His directorships include South African Breweries, First Rand Limited, Macsteel Holdings, Alexander Forbes and Medscheme Limited.
Ramaphosa has been criticised - but never indicted - for the conduct of certain business interests. He was acting as Chairperson for the MTN Group during the MTN Irancell scandal in which MTN bribed officials in Iran. He had a joint venture with Glencore which was in the public spotlight for business activities involving Tony Blair in the Middle East. He was accused of benefitting illegally from coal deals with Eskom, which he has denied. He was also employed on the board of directors of Lonmin when the Marikana Massacre took place.
Ramaphosa is a private man, and wisely keeps his family out of the spotlight. He was married for a time to business woman Nomazizi Mtshotshisa, but after the couple divorced, he was re-married to Tshepo Motsepe, the sister of South African mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe, with whom he has four children.
Besides political, economic and social interests, Cyril is also a bit of a farmer, with a particular interest in cattle. He breeds Ankole cattle on his farm in Mpumalanga. In 2017, he even co-wrote a book entitled "Cattle of the Ages, Stories and Portraits of the Ankole Cattle of Southern Africa".
By all accounts, Cyril Ramaphosa is a well-qualified and proven leader, with a variety of experience both locally and internationally that can only serve to enrich his leadership. His strategic ability, negotiating skills and business-mindedness are perhaps exactly what South Africa needs to turn the ship around. Let’s hope Nelson Mandela was right, and he helps us sail into a better future.
Natalie Mayer is an independent writer and editor with 12 years’ experience. She has a B.Com in Economics (UCT) and a Master’s in Sustainable Development (University of Stellenbosch) and has worked for a number of high-profile clients, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Nedbank, the Sustainability Institute, Counterpoint Asset Management, Pearson Education, and of course, Sharenet - to name a few. Natalie has written and edited research papers, textbooks, print and online articles, and website content on a vast array of topics, including finance and money matters, education, property, social and environmental issues. She is passionate about communication that meets the needs of the audience, and her particular strength is to bring clarity to text.