Ramaphosa: The Man who would be King by Ray Hartley

A delight to read but more background political context than detail on Ramaphosa himself.

Rating:  5 out of 5

Ray Hartley’s book is genuinely a delight to read. It provides extensive background information regarding the machinations within the ANC, its alliance partners & the trade unions which impacted upon Ramaphosa over the years. With a deftness of touch, Hartley skilfully weaves all of these incidents through lively retelling into a fascinating and engaging story without being polemical unlike many of his contemporaries.

To be clear, this is not a biography on Cyril’s life. Hartley rapidly disabuses the reader of this notion as he refers the readers to Butler’s book in this regard. Instead each chapter deals with a seminal influence in Ramaphosa’s life: from student politics, to his seminal role at CODESA, his business empire and finally his return to politics.

Ramaphosa & his possible nemesis – Zuma

From being anointed by Mandela as his successor, Ramaphosa fell foul of the machinations of the ANC exile community who displaced the SA based members in the UDF and other civic organisations as the main players in the initial local ANC organisations. In their sights was one Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. Counting in Cyril’s favour, were two cogent arguments: Ramaphosa had been at the forefront of the establishment of NUM – the National Union of Mineworkers – and through his cunning, guile and superior negotiating ability, had convincingly beaten his opposing Nationalist Party negotiating partners at Codesa. His years at the hurly-burly of negotiations with unforgiving Mine bosses at the Chamber of Mines, had steeled him for the negotiations. It had also ingrained the basics of this art: the reading of the situation, conceding immaterial points and maintaining clarity of thought throughout.

Now that it was time to step into the role of deputy president, he was kiboshed. Instead, against Madiba’s desires, Cyril was appointed secretary general of the ANC. Instead of slipping into whinging mode, he slunk off into business, rapidly making his mark. However, CR17’s primary driver was politics. Hartley deals with Cyril’s return to politics like the prodigal son – to Ramaphosa that is and not Zuma.

A young Ramaphosa

Hunkered down within the bowels of a party smitten with sycophancy, Cyril maintained the ANC line and even appeared to endorse Zuma. It is the incident with the Optimum Coal Mine which was the epiphany or revelatory moment for Ramaphosa of the extent of Zuma’s and the Gupta’s depravity which set him off on a different course. Within the constrictions of the NEC and the ANC organisation, Ramaphosa found his voice albeit initially muted but a voice nonetheless. With Hanekom and Pravin Gordham leading the charge, Ramaphosa could raise his voice a notch without offending the sensibilities of ANC. Never referring to Zuma by name, he savaged corruption, the Gupta’s and State Capture in general terms. It was only with the 54th ANC Elective Conference imminent, that Ramaphosa became strident in his condemnation of Zuma.

Once again Ramaphosa had been playing the long game. Probably most of the final chapter could have been a last-minute inclusion as the book was released immediately prior to the ANC Conference.

Do not expect any background or personal details on Ramaphosa’s private life as Hartley defers to Butler’s book. As this book was written without the cooperation of Ramaphosa, do not even expect some insights into what Ramaphosa’s views were vis-à-vis these tumultuous events. This book, however, does provide a masterful account of the significant events that shaped Ramaphosa since his introduction into student politics. These events are vividly recounted in a fast-paced style without plodding sycophancy or embellished significance which engages the reader and maintains its flow.

Leave a Comment.