Ramaphosa’s journey to the highest office

Reading Time: 5 minutes


While South Africans wait with bated breath for the announcement of the country’s new national executive, 22 May 2019 was no doubt a watershed moment for South Africa’s newly democratically-elected President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Although he’s been the country’s number one for more than a year now – Saturday will be his first inauguration.

He had occupied the Presidency through unorthodox means, which some political pundits have referred to as unlawful. Ramaphosa was whisked into the Presidency after the ANC recalled Jacob Zuma amid growing public pressure for him to leave office.

Those who took issue with him taking over the Presidency of the Republic, branded it “unlawful” as Parliament elects the President not the ANC.

Ramaphosa spent most of his time as the country’s first citizen trying to unify the faction-riddled governing ANC, restore public trust in the country’s institutions; woo back investors and calm racial tensions.

It seems it is a path he will continue along after he is inaugurated on May 25. His address on Wednesday night after Parliamentarians unanimously elected him as President pointed to that direction. He spoke of a united, thriving country for all South Africans – with strong public institutions.

The 66-year-old’s election, sealed with a standing ovation from his comrades, will certainly go down as a moment to remember for the former trade unionist who has promised to ensure social justice just like he did in the 80s, while still in the trenches fighting for the rights of mineworkers.

Watch Ramaphosa’s speech after being elected as the country’s President in the National Assembly: 

Long time in the making

It’s taken Ramaphosa at least 19 years to get where he is today. He is the only South African President to have been in politics, left active activism for business and returned to lead the country.

Ramaphosa was born to a police sergeant father and a domestic worker mother in Soweto on 17 November, 1952. He took up political activism while studying law at the University of Limpopo (Turfloop) in 1972. He was arrested twice under the Terrorism Act in 1974 and 1976, respectively, for his political activities.

The ANC president is one of the founding fathers of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and became its first Secretary in 1982. Nine years later – he beat African National Congress (ANC) heavyweight, Alfred Nzo to become the party’s Secretary General.

Ramaphosa was one of the key negotiators during talks that led to the formation of a democratic South Africa, Convention for Democratic South Africa (Codesa). He is credited with getting all parties back to the negotiation table after talks reached a snag in 1992 following disagreements on majority rule and power sharing.

He also led the committee that coordinated rallies and all other activities that followed Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. A youthful Ramaphosa flanked the late statesman during his first public appearance after spending 27 years at Robben Island.

Script gone wrong

While he was tipped to deputise Mandela after the first democratic polls in 1994, things didn’t go according to script when the time came. Madiba chose Oliver Tambo’s understudy, Thabo Mbeki, instead. Mbeki had apparently been anointed to the throne by ANC leaders, while Ramaphosa was Madiba’s choice.

He, however, became a Member of Parliament (MP) and was later tasked with leading the Constitutional Assembly- a group that drafted the country’s Constitution. Mandela once described Ramaphosa as one of the most gifted leaders of the “new generation” and an accomplished negotiator.

He withdrew from active political life in 1997, but remained in the National Executive Committee of the ANC. In 2001, Ramaphosa was accused of being involved in a plot to oust Mbeki. He, however, did not entertain the claims and continued building his business empire, which includes McDonald’s South Africa.

The Marikana massacre somehow blotted his largely squeaky clean business and political image. Ramaphosa was a non-executive director at Lonmin mine near Rustenburg when police killed 34 miners and injured 78 others during a wage strike. A day before police sprayed bullets on the miners, Ramaphosa had asked for ‘concomitant action’ to be taken against the workers, who were demanding to be paid R12 500 per month. The President has since expressed regret over the tragedy, saying he wants to play a role in the healing and atonement of Marikana.

Ramaphosa returned to active politics in 2014 after being elected as the Deputy President of South Africa. In 2017, the father of four – narrowly won the ANC presidency, beating Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the post. He replaced Zuma in February 2018 after he was recalled.

His Presidency comes after a nine-year scandal-ridden Zuma administration, which saw ANC traditional supporters boycotting the 2016 municipal elections and a plummeting image internationally – a far cry from a once illustrious image South Africa had during Mandela and Mbeki’s tenures.

While it has brought hope for many, with some hailing him as a man of action with a political will to steer the country into the right direction, others are skeptical that the man Mandela had preferred to take the baton over from him will be able to take South Africa out of the deep hole of corruption, patronage and racial divisions that she finds herself in.

Watch political leaders messages to Ramaphosa as he gears up to lead the country for the next five years:

Watch another related video: