Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

ANC's Ramaphosa Articulates Black Hopes

Secretary-general was prime mover behind /recent National Peace Initiative talks. INTERVIEW

AS South Africa moves closer to negotiations over a new form of government, the name of Cyril Ramaphosa is increasingly heard in the violence-racked black townships, the corporate boardrooms of Johannesburg, and the corridors of power in Pretoria.The secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC), who also heads its negotiation commission, is the man who will articulate the aspirations of the majority of black South Africans when full-scale talks begin. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the signing of a historic peace accord Sept. 14, Mr. Ramaphosa warned that unless the violence was stopped immediately it would "set in motion cycles of violence that will be uncontrollable." In a recent interview Ramaphosa, a prime mover behind the scenes in the three-month-old National Peace Initiative, said the signing of the peace accord by the ANC, the ruling National Party, and the Inkatha Freedom Party was a landmark event. "The peace accord has provided a spur to the whole project of resolving the South African conflict," he said. "I think the peace accord will be instructive with regard to testing whether the police can adhere to rules and regulations which have been drawn up to ensure their impartiality." A lawyer by training, Ramaphosa has been a central figure in the trade union movement since the early 1980s. He helped found the National Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and played a key role in the anti-apartheid union federation, COSATU, since its creation in 1985. He has a track record as a consummate negotiator. "The skill of Ramaphosa is that he knows exactly when to apply pressure for better terms and when to strike a deal," says a Johannesburg businessman. Ramaphosa headed the Soweto Peoples Delegation, which helped end the Soweto rent boycott in a negotiated accord with the Transvaal Provincial Administration. He also played a key role in forming the Metropolitan Chamber, a forum aimed at uniting Johannesburg and Soweto in a single local government structure. Ramaphosa is seen by many liberal whites as the best chance for a workable compromise between the black demand for majority rule and the white demand for minority protection. "He has a very acute understanding of power and its dynamics," says Adrian du Plessis, industrial affairs manager of the Chamber of Mines, who has represented employers at mining industry's wage negotiations. But some businessmen are still wary of his confidence in socialism and the ease with which he resorts to concepts like nationalization and redistribution of wealth. He views Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's indecisiveness over reform as the underlying cause of the coup attempt. "If Gorbachev had moved fast enough to implement changes, the coup would not have been attempted," Ramaphosa said. "If it happened here it would be because [South African President Frederik] de Klerk has not moved with enough speed and has not been sufficiently decisive. But we would hope that events in the Soviet Union would urge De Klerk to move with greater speed." Since he became ANC secretary-general, Ramaphosa has made negotiations the main focus of ANC strategy and has skillfully used a government slush-fund scandal to bolster the ANC call for an interim government. Mr. De Klerk has agreed "transitional arrangements" can top the agenda. But he has ruled out tampering with sovereignty or suspending the Constitution. "The whole question of the interim government will have to be negotiated," Ramaphosa said. "But we don't want to be co-opted and we don't want to serve in De Klerk's Cabinet. We would want it to be a multiparty government and one that would enjoy sovereignty." "We will have to be very vigilant and make sure that we are involved in an effective way in managing the security forces, the state-run media, and the holding of elections," he said. Ramaphosa has no illusions that bargaining over political power will be easy. The status of the current Parliament, which excludes the black majority, could be a major sticking-point in the interim phase, he said. But Ramaphosa says he believes even the formidable obstacles can be overcome if there is the political will for a new order. "Our view is that, where there is a will, there is always a way." Many believe Ramaphosa has the right combination of skill and experience to ensure that the ANC's limited bargaining power can be maximized to ensure a settlement enjoying the support of most black South Africans. In 1987, during the most celebrated strike by black mine workers, Ramaphosa brokered a deal that shifted the political balance between black and white and changed the face of industrial relations. This was consummated in a historic national agreement this year that recognized hard times in the gold industry by linking wages to profitability and productivity for the first time. Following his election as ANC secretary-general in July, Ramaphosa attended a final session of the national wage negotiations before moving to the ANC headquarters. When he entered the boardroom there was a spontaneous vote of congratulations from the captains of industry. "He is a tantalizing blend of idealist and pragmatist, working-class hero and urbane intellectual," a Western diplomat says. The mine workers union has a membership today of more than 250,000 and has spawned a culture of negotiation that has taken root throughout the black community and paved the way for political negotiations. "In 10 years he has forged a trade union in the mining industry which has become a very powerful force," Mr. Du Plessis. "It is a remarkable achievement and one which has taken decades in other countries."

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.