Does the rise of Cyril Ramaphosa herald an ‘African Spring’?
2018-01-15 17:15:00 -


COMMENT - Michael McGowan

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) is good for South Africa, the African continent, and world politics.


He is in a strong position to become the next president of South Africa, with the opportunity to save his country from further economic decline, the ANC from weak leadership and corruption, and help to restore South Africa as a respected political and moral force in the world.


Ramaphosa faces the historic challenge to revive the optimism and enthusiasm of the days when South Africa was being transformed from a brutal racist dictatorship into a new democratic ‘Rainbow Nation’.


The leadership of the ANC, which delivered that success and inspired the world more than 25 years ago, included some of the most talented and courageous politicians the modern world has seen, and Ramaphosa was one of that group.


The young Ramaphosa was groomed by Nelson Mandela to be his heir but he lost out to Thabo Mbeki, son of Govan Mbeki, who was a political prisoner with Mandela on Robben Island.


After this disappointment, Ramaphosa left politics on the advice of Mandela and went into business. Now aged 65, he is on the eve of becoming the next president of South Africa and with it, the chance to launch an ‘African Spring’.


Ramaphosa’s enormous experience of both business and trade unionism, besides being a respected international figure on account of his diplomatic and negotiating skills, places him in a strong position to tackle South Africa’s internal problems, reform the ANC, and play a key role on the world stage.


The international respect for Ramaphosa led to his being invited along with Marti Ahtisaari of Finland to play a role in the Irish peace process in the 1990s as an inspector of the disposal of IRA weapons in line with the Good Friday Agreement.


I met Ramaphosa as a member of a Socialist group delegation from the European Parliament, along with German MEP Barbara Simons and Nadia Van Hamme, then Belgian head of foreign affairs of the Socialist secretariat.


Meeting at Shell House in Johannesburg, the ANC headquarters at the time we discussed the soon-to-take-place first democratic elections in South Africa, and we were able to express the continued support and solidarity of the European Parliament for the brave struggle of the South African people.


Ramaphosa was born in Johannesburg and grew up in Soweto, where he attended local primary and high schools. When he later went to Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, in the northern province of Limpopo, where he was elected head of the Student Christian Movement.


He went on to study law, like Mandela, and became active in the South African Students Organisation. After graduation, he joined the Council of Trade Unions of South Africa, which was to form the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) with Ramaphosa as its first secretary general. He helped to build the NUM into the largest trade union in the country.


Under the auspices of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, Ramaphosa became the ANC’s lead negotiator working on plans for a post-apartheid arrangement.


After not succeeding Mandela, and his transition from politics to business, Ramaphosa put his energy into building a large investment holding company, Shanduka, with interests ranging from mining to fast food. The success of the group confirmed his reputation as a skilled dealmaker and negotiator.


The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader, setting him to be the prime candidate for next president of South Africa, is one of the great events of 2017. It offers hope for South Africa, the African continent and the rest of the world that he will lead South Africa away from being consumed by corruption and further economic decline, and become a leading force in the world – with a president who can enhance and inspire his country and our planet with strong and moral leadership.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.



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