Ramaphosa Mounts Political Comeback in South Africa’s ANC

Former Labor Union Leader Turned Tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa
Cyril Ramaphosa won Zuma’s appreciation by heading the appeals panel that upheld the party’s expulsion of Julius Malema, the former leader of the youth league who backs Motlanthe as ANC leader. Photographer: City Press/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid to become deputy leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress after a 16-year break from active politics was boosted by incumbent Kgalema Motlanthe’s decision to quit the race.

Motlanthe will challenge President Jacob Zuma for the party presidency, Thobile Thomas, a founder for the Elexions Agency that is running the election, told the party’s national conference in the central city of Bloemfontein today. Ramaphosa will contest the deputy spot against ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa and Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale. Motlanthe previously said he would accept nominations for both positions.

“Without a doubt it’s gonna be a Zuma-Ramaphosa win,” Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, said in an interview in Bloemfontein. “With Kgalema out, it’s definitely Cyril’s race. Even if there are slight shifts in the polling booths it’s not going to be enough to affect the outcome.”

Ramaphosa’s re-entry into the mainstream political arena may help support investor confidence in an economy plagued by strikes and credit-rating cuts. His selection would position him to succeed Zuma as the nation’s president in 2019. Ramaphosa, 60, is South Africa’s second-richest black businessman after Patrice Motsepe, according to the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times.

Incumbent ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe faces a challenge for his post from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.

‘Good Experience’

The vote will be decided by 4,500 party officials, who filled a sweltering tent on a sports field at the University of the Free State. Most delegates held up two fingers, signalling a second term for Zuma, while others made hand gestures resembling those signaling a substitution in a soccer match, indicating they want a leadership change.

Results are expected later today or tomorrow. Non-binding nomination ballots from ANC members at provincial meetings last month show Zuma winning about 70 percent support for the top position and Ramaphosa about 58 percent.

Ramaphosa owns a stake in mines operated by Lonmin Plc, the world’s third-biggest platinum producer, a coal-mining venture with Glencore International Plc, and has the McDonald’s Corp. franchise in South Africa.

He’s also the chairman of MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, and Bidvest Group Ltd., and sits on the board of SABMiller Plc and Standard Bank Group Ltd.

“Cyril has very good experience,” Boitumelo Seakge, a delegate from the central Free State province, said in an interview at the conference opening yesterday. “We are getting him ready to take over in five years. He’s superior to Kgalema.”

Labor Leader

Ramaphosa, who studied law, helped found the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and led the biggest-ever strike in South Africa’s gold industry five years later. He was the ANC’s top negotiator with the white-minority government when they reached agreement to end apartheid and hold South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. He also worked on crafting the nation’s constitution following the vote.

He entered the corporate world after Thabo Mbeki won the contest to succeed Mandela, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president.

Ramaphosa maintained his ties with the ANC, serving on its 80-member national executive committee and heading its disciplinary appeals panel. He is also deputy head of the National Planning Commission, a government advisory body headed by former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

Zuma, 70, a former intelligence operative, won control of the 100-year-old ANC from beki in 2007 and was appointed president in 2009.

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