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Friday
Dec282012

GAME-CHANGER

Cyril RamaphosaCyril Ramaphosa
(Photo : The Times)

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA
“Elected ANC Deputy President”

South Africa’s story is a complex one, socially, politically and economically. Nobody is better placed to understand it than those of us that live in our region, because much of what we are as a society today is reflected in our turbulent past, most of which played itself out in the 19th century battles for ascendency in what is now known as KwaZulu-Natal. When all that was seemingly behind us, and South Africa for the first time embraced the trappings of a constitutional democracy in 1994, it was this country’s turn. The world wanted our nation to work, and we had the biggest chance any country had ever had with Nelson Mandela as our new President. And it did work, for a while at least.

But like most nascent businesses, we seemed to lose our way, and all that early promise washed itself away with a ruling party struggling to come to terms with the fact that they were no longer a liberation movement, but the governing element in Africa’s most advanced country. The ANC has been wracked by division and dissent, and went to their centenary year national congress just last week, amidst fears of even greater polarization than Polokwane had produced in 2007. But just as we’ve managed to do so many times before (remember the Zulu and Boer Wars, the Rinderpest, apartheid, Ge Korsten, Die Antwoord and the cricket test in Perth last month), we appeared to have pulled a rabbit out of the hat, leaving a bewildered country asking “what that was all about?”

One indisputable consequence of the new South Africa has been an emerging prosperity among the black and Asian middle classes, some of it gleaned from the exploitation of patronage and tenders, but the bulk of it through energy and honest endeavour. For racing, we have witnessed the arrival of an entirely new class of owners among the Indian population in particular, though that’s not entirely surprising considering it was India that gave racing the patronage of the Agas Khan. And when it comes to the big days of recent times, there is no sporting event, not a football final, not a rugby World Cup, nothing, that the African elite want to attend more than the Vodacom Durban July; just ask the organisers! That, surely, has to translate itself, sooner or later, into a desire not only to field a football team, but to have a string of ponies, too!

“So what was that all about? Many people are struggling to come to terms with what happened at the ANC’s Mangaung conference last week. The best starting point is to establish the incontestable facts.

The first of these is that in the face of a sustained year of the intense criticism by the twittering classes, Jacob Zuma remains the ANC’s first choice-by a long way-as leader. The second is that the party has shifted decisively back to its traditional centre, rejecting nationalism (even the use of the very word in a resolution was unacceptable) and populism. Julius Malema was the most notable casualty of the Mangaung conference. Far from being the “king maker”, he barely warranted a mention, and his plea to be allowed back into the organisation was ignored. This shift was reinforced by the election of the crafter of the constitution and iconic black economic empowerment businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa, as ANC deputy president. The return of Ramaphosa dramatically alters the trajectory of South African politics.

Prior to the conference, the ANC appeared to be heading into a future of muddled decline under a steadily disintegrating, shambolic populism. It now appears to have decided on its future by placing Ramaphosa in pole position to succeed Zuma. It wants to be seen as a party that is open to business and in touch with its traditional values of inclusivity and human rights. The ascent of Ramaphosa changes the game for the opposition. They have gained ground with the middle classes, who are disillusioned with growing financial burdens, the abuse of state assets for gain and the assault on press freedom under Zuma. But such low-hanging fruit will become harder to harvest with Ramaphosa in the mix. There will no doubt be a sustained effort to taint Ramaphosa by association with the faults of Zuma. This may work in the short term, but ultimately, he will make a more formidable enemy.

This is good for South Africa. Our political debate needs to shift from the mudslinging personality attacks that have become it’s leading feature to a more sober focus on charting the way forward in a competitive world. Economic growth and job creation are the most important goals for this country. They cannot be achieved with a failing education system and an incompetent state. if Ramaphosa is to emerge as the country’s “prime minister,” as has been suggested, he will face a daunting task.

But who would bet against the man who took the ANC and the National Party through the eye of a needle?”

“Extracted from Sunday Times - 23 December 2012”

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