It is difficult to view Cyril Ramaphosa with dispassionate detachment. We are told every day in the newspapers owned by Ramaphosa’s supporters that He Is The One Who Will Save Us. We are also told almost every day in the media by the South African Communist Party that Ramaphosa Is The Answer, whatever the question might have been. As a result, almost everyone who pays attention must now be convinced that Ramaphosa is an evil shitbag fit only to be shot.
But is he?
Ramaphosa, it will be remembered, started out as a shop steward in the National Union of Mineworkers, rose to the Presidency of the union, and then played a leading role in the foundation of COSATU, of which he was the first Secretary-General. When the ANC was unbanned he became the most senior cadre among those who had not gone into exile, eventually rising to the level of Secretary-General of the organisation. This all seems like the record of a man of impressive stature.
And yet . . . there were questions. Was he really the fiery champion of the workers which he appeared on the soap-box, or was he a trimmer, willing to go along with management for the sake of peace? Was he the radical leftist amid conservatives, tribalists and sell-outs, or was he, in his sharp suit schmoozing with businesspeople at Mont Fleur and apartheid politicians at the World Trade Centre, just a fake using his dubious credentials to climb the greasy political pole for private interests?
It’s difficult to say for certain, in part because all those who praised or condemned him were doing so out of their own private pursuits, seeking to use him or seeking to dethrone him so as to advance their goals.
However, the big choice for Ramaphosa was evident in 1997 at Mafikeng. He was touted as the next President of the ANC, supported by his friends in big business, by the media, by the right wing in the ANC and by his union and SACP allies. Newspapers and corporate-hired pundits were wheeled out to proclaim that Mandela secretly wanted Ramaphosa to be President (which might even have been true, since Mandela was much more under the control of big business and the white right wing than the ANC rank and file knew at the time.) And yet, when the elections rolled round, Ramaphosa did not actually stand. He declined nomination because he knew that Mbeki had the election sewn up and all that he could expect would be humiliation.
Well, that was understandable. Mbeki was a brilliant fixer, after all, and the ANC was still dominated by the exiles who had actually fought, so a half-bright local organiser had little chance of winning. It was therefore time for Ramaphosa to make his peace with Mbeki so as to get back into the upper tier of the National Executive Committee in 2002, to show himself a capable organiser and keep himself popular and in the public eye, and perhaps by 2004 he might have supplanted Jacob Zuma as Deputy President and put himself in the running to be President in 2009.
But he did none of these things. Instead he essentially dropped out of active politics, maintaining his political presence solely in order to facilitate political services to big business, and devoted the bulk of his time to making money. In other words, he had used the support which he had gained from the people of South Africa, by pledging to serve them to the best of his ability, to enrich himself and further the objectives of his financial backers. This was a kind of treason, especially since the businesspeople whom he was serving were not, for the most part, friends of the ANC.
However, one might argue that even if he was not working for the party, he was at least serving the race. South Africa is decidedly short of able black business tycoons capable of challenging the whites who dominate the financial, manufacturing, retail and agribusiness economies. Surely Ramaphosa, straddling the divide between black poor and rich white, could make a success of himself in this respect and thus in himself bring about the economic transformation of the country?
No, not if you look more closely at what Ramaphosa was actually doing. He began at Anglo American, the epitome of white-controlled, foreign-dominated colonial exploitation. From there he branched out into other fields such as McDonald’s — always, in practice, working within very large multinational corporations begun in Western countries, maintained with Western capital, and dominated by Western people, which generally means white-skinned people. Although if it had entailed Indian or Chinese-based multinational corporations, it would arguably have been no better, the spectacle of a black South African actively working to enrich white people and thus enriching himself brought back painful memories of the Bantustan economies.
He made an immense personal fortune out of being a black man with political connections willing to help white men in NATO countries negotiate the embarrassing complexities of South African corporate race relations. Essentially his task was schmoozing with politicians, persuading black people to front for white capital and pretend that they controlled the corporations which were really controlled by whites and often foreigners, and doing a fair amount of fronting himself. It was not arduous work. It was also work which undermined everything which COSATU and the ANC had ever pretended to stand for, but which earned Ramaphosa the professed love and admiration of the white South African business community, and gained him many useful connections in powerful circles in the NATO countries.
But inside South Africa this did not earn Ramaphosa any political brownie points. His name was kept alive in the public mind by the white media, which periodically held him up as an example which all ought to follow, a self-made man who had raised himself up from nothing by simply sucking white dicks. Most of the public, however, viewed him as a has-been politician who had sold out. Mbeki might have made use of Ramaphosa, despite Ramaphosa’s attempt to compete with him, but he did not trust him. Nobody who had any serious respect for the ANC’s principles liked or respected Ramaphosa.
But, interestingly, no sooner had Zuma taken over than Ramaphosa was catapulted into high office, being put in charge of the National Planning Commission, the cabal of businessmen plotting the way to steal as much state resources as possible, with the results that we see all around us today. Ramaphosa was probably a major figure in channelling cash into Zuma’s campaign, though he was not overtly part of the black corporate front-men styling themselves the “Friends of Jacob Zuma”. Instead, Ramaphosa was one of the prices which Zuma had to pay for white corporate support in the 2005-8 seizure of power.
But from that position to the Deputy Presidency is a big jump. One may surmise that since white big business did not change much between 1997 and 2012, they were still enamoured of Ramaphosa and wanted to see their beloved poodle gumming away at the pillars of society. In a sense, putting Ramaphosa in power was a way of pretending that the Mbeki presidency had never happened, just as putting Zuma in power had been a way of destroying everything that Mbeki had ever stood for.
What was interesting was that Kgalema Motlanthe announced his intention to run against Zuma for the Presidency of the ANC. He was another of the very rich front-men for white capital, like Tokyo Sexwale, who had buzzed around the Zuma campaign like blowflies. It’s difficult to make out how this colourless, spiritless hack could have on his own decided to take on Zuma in the brutal and paranoid atmosphere of Zuma’s first term, unless he had the support of someone powerful. Best guess is that it was big business together with Motlanthe’s handlers in the SACP, since the SACP is another front for big business.
Panic stations! Obviously Motlanthe had to go from Zuma’s list, which left a gaping hole in the Deputy Presidency. Bump up Gwede Mantashe from Secretary-General to Deputy President? That was a problem, since Mantashe was admirably placed as Secretary-General to be Zuma’s political fixer (Zuma did not consider what would happen once Mantashe started working for someone else, as Motlanthe had worked for someone else under Mbeki in the same position). Besides, no doubt someone whispered, if the SACP were backing Motlanthe against Zuma, might they not back Mantashe against Zuma too? Why not bring in a totally independent, impartial, caring, sharing friend of the workers, as he had shown in his involvement on behalf of Lonmin at the time of the Marikana massacre — Cyril the Squirrel?
Why not indeed. The answer is that Ramaphosa had been groomed to be big business’s Presidential stooge for decades and was not going to be satisfied with the Deputy Presidency. Also, big business was not going to be happy to wait until 2017 before putting Ramaphosa into the Presidency. Control of the Presidency was so close that they could almost taste it, and once Ramaphosa was safely in the great recliner-chair, it was time for regime change and forced removal of Zuma from the Presidency. And, of course, Ramaphosa could safely command the left and the right, just as Zuma had done — even if he had no popular backing, that didn’t matter, because the Zuma administration’s motto is “The public be damned”.
It is true that the struggle to install Ramaphosa, which was put together for several years and began in earnest in 2015 when Zuma began mumbling about supporting his ex-wife as his successor, has turned out much more difficult than the white ruling class expected. To their surprise, however much you tell everyone that shit is chocolate pudding and they should shovel it down, people simply do not enjoy eating shit, and there is no doubt that this is what Ramaphosa is.
But what we have here is exactly what Franz Fanon told us would happen in “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness”. He reminded us that the colonial bourgeoisie, by which he meant the indigenous capitalist agents of colonialism, were not like the metropolitan capitalist bourgeoisie, but existed to take orders from their masters. They were not creative nor productive, and had no ideas or ideals of their own. Hence their nationalism was a fraud, a facade designed to deceive the postcolonial public into supporting people who were actually agents of colonialists whom the public would never ordinarily support. That’s what Cyril is, and what’s what the people wearing his T-shirts and eating his fried chicken and chanting his slogans are backing. It’s blindingly obvious, so obvious that nobody can see it. Elephant? What elephant? I see no elephant, although I can’t breathe in this room and something heavy is standing on my foot and the trumpeting noises drown my voice out.