Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as deputy leader of South Africa’s ruling party spurred a call from the country’s largest labor grouping and lawmakers to step down as chairman of MTN Group Ltd. and Bidvest Ltd.
Ramaphosa, 60, won 76 percent of the votes in a three-way contest for the deputy presidency of the African National Congress. His victory makes him frontrunner to succeed Jacob Zuma, who won a second five-year term as party leader, as the nation’s president in 2019.
“Our official position” is he should relinquish all business posts, Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of the 2.2-million-member Congress of South African Trade Unions, told reporters in the central city of Bloemfontein, after the election results were announced. Members of the ANC “leadership mustn’t be finding themselves in a contradictory situation of a conflict of interest.”
Besides being chairman of MTN, Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, and industrial holding company Bidvest, Ramaphosa sits on the board of brewer SABMiller Plc, lender Standard Bank Group Ltd. and platinum miner Lonmin Plc.
Ramaphosa today declined to comment, saying he would do so later. Bidvest Chief Executive Officer Brian Joffe also declined to comment when contacted on his mobile phone.
MTN’s board “will consider these latest developments, in consultation with the chairman, in due course,” Paul Norman, the Johannesburg-based company’s head of human resources and corporate affairs said in an e-mailed statement.
Ramaphosa doesn’t occupy a government position and isn’t obligated to cease his business activities, Malusi Gigaba, South Africa’s public enterprises minister, said in an interview in Bloemfontein.
Ramaphosa quit politics for business in 1996, after losing the race to succeed Nelson Mandela as president to Thabo Mbeki. In September, Johannesburg’s Sunday Times estimated Ramaphosa’s wealth at 2.22 billion rand ($260 million), excluding property and unlisted assets, making him South Africa’s second-richest black businessman after Patrice Motsepe.
Shanduka Group Ltd., an investment company he founded, owns stakes in MTN, Bidvest, Standard Bank, and Liberty Group Ltd. and has the McDonald’s Corp. franchise in South Africa. Ramaphosa also owns a stake in Ivanplats Ltd., the Canadian mining company founded by billionaire Robert Friedland.
“Cyril, sell everything you own in the business world,” Ben Turok, an ANC lawmaker since 1995, told reporters in Bloemfontein. “Stop being a businessman. You can’t play two markets. The two are in conflict.”
Ramaphosa drew criticism for his business interests after the killing of 34 protesters by police at Lonmin’s Marikana mine on Aug. 16 following days of illegal and violent strikes. He said the labor unrest was “dastardly criminal” in an e-mail a day before the shooting and called on police to take “concomitant action,” the Johannesburg-based Times newspaper reported on Oct. 24, citing evidence at a commission of inquiry looking into the killings.
In April, City Press newspaper reported that he bid as much as 19.5 million rand for a buffalo cow and her calf at a game auction. He later apologized, telling Johannesburg’s SAFM radio station that his actions were a mistake and inappropriate.