Cyril Ramaphosa: The false division of income and class

Those ANC members that try to vilify and disqualify Ramaphosa from contesting the top job because of his enormous wealth are disingenuous, writes YONELA DIKO

Cyril Ramaphosa’s wealth has become a frequent fodder for those who seek to use such wealth to disqualify him for the top job. He is presented as an out-of-touch billionaire who has put business interests above lives of ordinary people. He has also been chastised for taking part in an auction in which he bid for a buffalo cow and calf worth around R18 million, an excessive price considering South Africa’s sea of poverty.

Ramaphosa of course, despite the intentional mystification of the roots of his wealth and his rise, was, along with others, deliberately positioned to be a beneficiary in empowerment deals as the way of breaking the back of a camel and finally shift structural ownership of corporate South Africa from whites to blacks. Like most members of ANC NEC then, Ramaphosa came from the labour unions, hence most of the capital used for this transition came from pension funds.

The vilification of success, however, is itself almost historical.

There has always been a huge section of black people who think any black man with an education or a job, or any black man with a scholarship is somehow suspect. Many have always bought into the whole business of class that keeps us from working together. Buying into such false divisions has kept us in a perpetual state of despair. It’s not about income. KFC racists don’t check your bank account before being emboldened to attack you. Being black is the reason.

It is true that some blacks who are blessed with the talent and good fortune to achieve success in South Africa have not avoided the psychological entrapment of their success that hypnotises them into believing they are better than the rest and teaches them to think in terms of ‘we’ and ‘they’ instead of us.

Like most black people who have been part of upward mobility in this country, Ramaphosa has moved up and down the social spectrum with relative ease. He has worked with the working class, the teachers, secretaries, government workers and the general poor of our people. Equally, he has mingled with engineers, doctors, accountants and a number of black and white professional. Many of them started from the bottom as he did. He has grown further to engage with captains of industry, even becoming one of them. That is his story and in many ways, it’s a South African story.

All these experiences of black people, rich and poor, are shared by many black people irrespective of where each ends up in life, rising from the gnashing sound of poverty and struggle, through the hard work of the ANC government opening doors of opportunity, something that makes our fates inseparably bound, making an intelligible ‘us’ very much a reality.

Another major concern about Ramaphosa is that he will not uproot the old and anti-black system but will legitimise it by governing by its maxim. In this regard, that is not a Ramaphosa problem but a problem for the ANC itself. From the onset, the ANC ran a cautious campaign, a professionally managed government. It reached out to old time National Party Afrikaners and the English, ready to make peace. The business community sent the cheques, resigned to an ANC excelling in running a modern economy.

So secure was our power that rumblings of discomfort finally surfaced within our own base, many nationalists upset with ANC’s willingness to cut all races into action, many activists were disappointed with the ANC’s failure to tackle poverty head on and then there were people who preferred the illusion of an exclusive black government to a reality of an inclusive government, people who preferred impotence to compromise.

And yet, despite ANC policies and its critical founding documents, the party’s problems seem to go further back. In 1994, the entire ANC politics seems to have centred around one man, who radiated like the sun. After Madiba, with multiple heir apparents, the organisation began to squabble. Rumours of others running away into the business world emerged, factions grew bigger and more vicious.

Uncertain policy direction and contested personalities on the machinery of government began eating away at ANC unity. In 2017, the unity that had catapulted the ANC into history is all but extinguished. The message, however, which we all are saying in many ways, through Ramaphosa today, is that ‘we have known better times’. The ANC has carried us thus far, we are far from whence we came, but we are even further from where we need to be, a democratic society, more equal, more prosperous, one where the past has been fully corrected and future has been seized.

Anything therefore that seeks to dismiss Ramaphosa as a Presidential candidate, on the basis of his wealth, his cosmopolitan and white friends, how much he has spent on certain vanity acquisition, perpetuates this black pathology, that in some way we can be separated as blacks by the different positions we have come to occupy in the white world. This is exactly why black people around the world have always been rendered ineffective and useless because we remain suspicious of one another in the name of success.

The ANC holds policy conferences every five years and anyone who is not happy with the capitalist system and semi-neoliberal society that we have become, must look at ANC branches, over 5000 of them and ask them why do they keep endorsing policies that perpetuate these ideals. Is it because they have been successful over the last 23 years, despite their shortcomings?

Looking at our own ‘Road to December’ campaigns I am reminded of the words of the former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama during the 2016 Presidential campaign and I believe only this criteria matters for any Head of State across the world.

“At the end of the day, Obama said, ”the Presidency does not change who you are; it reveals who you are. The same thing is true of a Presidential Campaign. So if a candidate is erratic and threatening, if a candidate traffics in fear and prejudice and lies in the trail, if a candidate has no clear plan about implementing their goals, if they disrespect their fellow citizens, including folks who have made extraordinary sacrifices for our country, that is who they are, that is the kind of President they will be. A candidate is not going to suddenly change once they are in office.

“The minute that individual takes an oath, they are under the harshest light there is and there is nowhere to hide. They are the leaders of the largest economy, commander-in-chief of the largest military on earth, with every word they utter they can start wars, crash markets, change the course of the planet.”

So, who in this ANC election is truly ready to be President?

Diko is an economics graduate and a political observer

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