The role of Ramaphosa

Stephen Grootes
As the majority of ANC provinces have now formally nominated President Jacob Zuma, most of them have also nominated Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy. It is now becoming clear that what was first thought to be a tactical ploy to nominate him merely as a message to current Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe could well become reality in the next few weeks. This would appear to set Mr Ramaphosa on the path to also becoming Deputy President of the country, after the 2014 elections. However, neither Mr Zuma nor Mr Ramaphosa have expressly said what type of role he will play in that office.

Mr Ramaphosa left active office in the ANC fifteen years ago, but has remained in the National Executive Committee during that time. However, his is a voice that has not been publicly heard in our public debate. It appears the biggest role he played, that is known to the public, was during the NEC debate on whether to recall then President Thabo Mbeki. Mr Ramaphosa is widely believed to have argued strongly for Mr Mbeki to go.

But his focus has been primarily on his business interests, which have grown substantially. It would appear many people involved in business hope that Mr Ramaphosa brings this experience into government, should he become Mr Zuma's deputy at the Union Buildings.

The Constitution treats the Deputy President as it does any other member of Cabinet, and thus any roles or powers assigned to that person are at the behest of the President. This means Mr Ramaphosa would have only those powers Mr Zuma would want him to have. It appears unlikely that he would gain any authority over the criminal justice system, where Mr Zuma has put only his closest allies. Mr Zuma appears to play a more active role in the security cluster than he does in those bodies that set economic policy.

Thus it seems Mr Ramaphosa may play a role here. At the moment, economic matters fall under Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Economic Planning Minister Ebrahim Patel, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, and Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.

Currently, in government, Mr Ramaphosa is the Deputy Chair of the National Planning Commission, and has appeared to play a major role in the proposals developed by that body. Those proposals have been generally welcomed by business organisations, who feel that they are achievable, and bring a decisiveness to policy issues that is not always present in government debates.

Economic policy discussions in government appear to fall along an ideological faultline, with Mr Patel and Mr Davies on one side, and Mr Gordhan and Mr Manuel on another. Should Mr Ramaphosa be given a role in the economy, it would appear he would be likely to side with Mr Gordhan and Mr Manuel.

He may also feel able to explain the impact on business of government decisions in Cabinet, a role that may be seen as vacant at the moment.

This could have an impact on future debates around economic policy, as his voice could be decisive on some issues.

Both former President Thabo Mbeki and current President Jacob Zuma have tended to give relatively minor roles and powers to their deputies, perhaps realising they were their main rivals in the ANC. Mr Zuma may now be in a different position, as he will, presumably, not run for a third term as ANC leader, or as President of the country. This might mean he would consider giving Mr Ramaphosa a bigger role in government.

However Mr Ramaphosa may well have to steer clear of labour issues in general, and mining issues in particular, because of his status as a Lonmin director, during the recent Marikana shootings. Should Mr Zuma attempt to give him public responsibility for the labour or mining sectors, it could be seen as an attempt to weaken him.

During his tenure, Mr Motlanthe has occassionally acted as a government spokesperson, willing to speak to the nation about difficult issues, when governance problems arise. An example of this was the furore around the medical condition of former President Nelson Mandela in January last year. Mr Ramaphosa may be seen as able to continue this role in some form, should he be elected to the post.

But in the final analysis, Mr Zuma's views on Mr Ramaphosa could well be revealed by the role he is given.

Stephen Grootes is an Eyewitness News Reporter and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702/567 CapeTalk. Follow him on twitter: @stephengrootes