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Mandela’s protégé Ramaphosa on the cusp of securing his legacy

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa was spot-on when he said during his inauguration as democratic South Africa’s 5th president: “Today is no ordinary day.”

That summed up the totality of the wide-ranging complex themes and sub-themes in the lead-up to his inauguration. It was a ceremony that could have easily eluded him. Having managed a mere 40% in the May 29 elections, President Ramaphosa has been typically humble and respectful of the electorate. Just as he said at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand when he delivered his speech of acceptance of the results – and the entire election process conducted by the IEC – he repeated during his inauguration: “The people have spoken!”

Such positive messaging amid a climate filled with all kinds of possibilities is a welcome breath of fresh air. First and foremost, President Ramaphosa’s ANC has failed for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1994 to win an outright majority, let alone to fall from 57% in 2019 to a shocking 40% in 2024.

Elsewhere in the continent, and indeed in the world, many parties in the position of the ANC find it extremely difficult to let go of power. President Ramaphosa and the ANC should be remembered by history for their magnanimity of spirit in putting the interest of SA ahead of all else’s.

I said it recently, and I hereby reiterate, that the ANC and Ramaphosa have pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

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To lose an election as clear as day-light and still manage to position the ANC as SA’s centre of political gravity – leading in the formulation of the “Government of National Unity” – and winning the election to the seats of the presidency and speaker of parliament deserves a great measure of credit.

The political mastery to act as a catalyst for the way forward in a political environment where the ANC could have very easily been isolated and kicked completely out of power is in a class of its own, paraphrased – a class act!

The art of negotiations that is associated with Ramaphosa, the ANC’s chief negotiator during the pre-democracy era that led to a negotiated settlement, paving a way for the April 1994 elections, appears to be a skill that has come in handy to both the ANC and its president.

The internal rumblings and protestations from within the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance that saw the SA Communist Party and trade union federation COSATU cast aspersion over the ANC’s choice to jump into bed with the Democratic Alliance did not go too far.

Luthuli House has thus far been able to handle any semblance of internal dissent, keeping the broad-based church intact, at least for now.

It is no mean feat. To go into a coalition with a party regarded by many in the black community as the custodians of white privilege and anti-transformation and still keep the noise down inside the house is remarkable indeed.

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Ramaphosa’s humble demeanour and the consummate professional nature with which he deals with all people – friends and foes alike – has become a stock-in-trade that has borne immeasurable fruit for a party that was technically on its knees but now stands firmly on its feet.

“Today we are opening a new chapter in the life of our country. We are going to open a new chapter where we are going to work together. Let us not be afraid of what this Government of National Unity is. I am going to make sure that this government create jobs,” President Ramaphosa told ululating crowds after his inauguration. “We must move forward because that’s how our people voted,” he added in the tone of a man in the pound seat.

Methinks the Ramaphosa factor has caused the current political climate to bear the hallmarks and characteristics of Mandela’s 1994 seminal era. The aura of nation-building, a sense of total inclusivity and a desire for a collective journey into a shared future is what President Ramaphosa invokes in his chosen methodology of interacting with the public.

Those who know President Ramaphosa well believe that this is how he had always wanted his script to read. This is how he wants to build his legacy – Mandela-like. He would rather history remember him as a man who did all in his power to advance Mandela’s project of reconciliation and opportunity for all – “black and white”.

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His consistent messaging of imploring all political parties to come to the table and work together as partners in his ANC-led GNU is not lost in President Ramaphosa’s grand scheme of things.

He may quit the government in about 12 months after he had set up the GNU infrastructure and cabinet and finally bid farewell to politics. I will not bet against him doing just that. The idea that he’d like to leave office whilst the structure is intact will ensure that his legacy is secured just as he had always desired – as a protégé of Mandela who put the country first, ahead of the personal interest and even those of his beloved ANC. Finally, President Ramaphosa has neither stamina nor desire to get his hands dirty in the possible dog-eats-dog politics that possibly lie in store. He has achieved all there is to achieve in national politics, and his welfare is secured through his billionaire status that excludes his plush state perks. I bet he will depart our political scene singing Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”. And why not? Give the man a Bell’s.

By ABBEY MAKOE

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