• home Home
  • keyboard_arrow_right NEWS
  • keyboard_arrow_right Posts
  • keyboard_arrow_rightSouth Africans are trying to decode Ramaphosa (and getting it wrong)

South Africans are trying to decode Ramaphosa (and getting it wrong)

By: David Everatt, University of the Witwatersrand
File 20180109 36025 1420ocr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa has been the subject of much scrutiny during his rise to the party’s top position.
GCIS/GovernmentZA/Flickr, CC BY-ND


During the Cold War, a new profession emerged – “Kremlinologists”, a hodge-podge of academics, journalists, other scoundrels, and commentators, who would study every minute detail of the behaviour of Soviet Union leaders when they were in public.

They examined who stood next to whom, whose chair was closer or further away from the leader, who looked at whom and who was ignored. And then came to profound conclusions about the intentions of the old Kremlin.

The Germans invented a rather better word for it – “Kreml-Astrologie” (Kremlin Astrology), reminding us that quackery of this sort is generally just plain wrong.

Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), is generating a similar type of interest and a new industry of Cyril-ologists. The commentariat has been in overdrive since the ANC’s elective conference in December, trying to tell South Africans (and Ramaphosa) exactly what he’s thinking, what he’s missed, what his strategy is or will be, and what he should do. They tell the country how he will play the short or long game against President Jacob Zuma’s faction in the ANC, or what he will do against others in the “top 6” leadership of the governing party. And on and on it goes, based on very little.

Many are pushing their own agenda, rather unsubtly; but in large part this is occurring because Ramaphosa plays his cards close to his chest, and allows South Africans to inscribe onto his image the leader they wish him to be.

He is, of course, a highly adept politician. He can’t really lose if every possible future action has been rehearsed by one soothsayer or another.

Saint or sinner?

The challenges are twofold: one is trying to work out what Ramaphosa is thinking and planning, which is reasonable enough; the second, however, are the commentators demanding that he follow this or that course of action. He “must” fire Zuma or he “must” build unity or he “must” leave the Reserve Bank alone …. on and on the list of demands goes.

It’s well known that he’s a successful businessman. Apparently, he is “uber wealthy”, so wealthy in fact, as Gwede Mantashe, chairman of the ANC said, that he doesn’t need to steal from the state.

But how rich is he in reality? No one has a clue.

But mention land expropriation and he turns from saviour to sinner in a flash. The admiring Cyril-ologists who want “stability” are reduced to shock and horror when he talks of using the land productively, or economic transformation, or uses the word “radical” at all, as if the inequality bred from the status quo is not about to sink the entire boat.

For others, Ramaphosa is an evil capitalist from whose hands the blood of Marikana – the scene of the death of 34 miners at the hands of the police – will never be cleansed. The evangelical left will never forget or forgive him for this – and they may be correct. But at some point the findings of the Farlam Commission that there was no causal link between Ramaphosa’s e-mails and the appalling events that unfolded will have to be accepted.

For others, simply not being Zuma, or in the “state capture” crony list, is sufficient. This is a man who didn’t even make the index at the back of Jacques Pauw’s explosive book, The President’s Keepers, in which so many of the ANC glitterati played a starring role. Ramaphosa doesn’t need to be a saint, just not a sinner of Zuma’s magnitude or ineptitude.

And for yet another camp, this is a second (and possibly final) chance for the ANC, if not the entire progressive movement to (try again to) get it right. He is seen as the best (if not the only) chance the ANC has to return to a transparent, democratic project with progressive impulses that puts the needs of the poor ahead of the elite.

The will to believe this is surprisingly strong given that loyal ANC members have seen the party’s fairly radical programme of 1994 replaced first with strict fiscal controls under Thabo Mbeki and then with all-out looting under Zuma. Ramaphosa – central to the democratic project in the 1990s (and not an exile) – is the beneficiary of this almost mystical hope.

He is also frequently referred to as an enigma – describing himself as such to biographer Anthony Butler at their first meeting. The problem with enigmatic leaders is that they tend to be … well, enigmatic, and unavailable for “Astrologie” of any type.

Master tactician and negotiator

Perhaps it is easiest to use two categories that actually matter – his business interests are of limited interest as he heads to the Union Buildings, so too his enigmatic charm, or knowing the exact composition of his backroom team, or what he had for breakfast.

What matters is that he is a politician and a negotiator. Nimble and tactically shrewd seem perhaps more useful labels than saint or sinner. He plays the long game. Most commentators forget that, and demand immediate action – including the firing of some ministers and incompetent heads of state owned enterprises. They also want immediate judicial proceedings against the entire basket of deplorables in government, and other dramatic interventions.

Ramaphosa has been negotiating for the last 40 years, starting during his days in the National Union of Mineworkers followed by talks under the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) that ended apartheid, and topped by his role holding together the entire Constitutional Assembly that wrote the country’s new constitution.

It’s remarkable – and a little ridiculous – that a man who crafted his victory against a formidable and highly resourced machinery, in a context of violence and fear (and considerable loathing), is expected suddenly to make rash moves to satisfy whoever is making their demand. So much for ‘Astrologie’.

One thing South Africans can probably be sure of: we won’t know what Ramaphosa plans to do until it is done.

We can watch who stands near him, who he smiles at and who not, who he backslaps and with whom he shakes hand, or read the entrails of a slaughtered beast – and be none the wiser. There will be few dramatic announcements, sudden ruptures, or grand gestures.

The ConversationThis is not a man to challenge at chess. He is also not a man who likes to lose. He may well be the only man able to get South Africa out of the looming economic checkmate bequeathed it by his predecessor.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Written by: Natasha

UpComing Shows

DownLoad Our Mobile App

Privacy Policy


POPIA ActTo promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies; to introduce certain conditions so as to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information; to provide for the establishment of an Information Regulator to exercise certain powers and to perform certain duties and functions in terms of this Act and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000; to provide for the issuing of codes of conduct; to provide for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making; to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the Republic; and to provide for matters connected therewith.


  • section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that everyone has the right to privacy;
  • the right to privacy includes a right to protection against the unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information;
  • the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights;


  • consonant with the constitutional values of democracy and openness, the need for economic and social progress, within the framework of the information society, requires the removal of unnecessary impediments to the free flow of information, including personal information;


  • regulate, in harmony with international standards, the processing of personal information by public and private bodies in a manner that gives effect to the right to privacy subject to justifiable limitations that are aimed at protecting other rights and important interests,
  1. Definitions and Interpretation

1.1.“Personal Information” means information relating to an identifiable, living, natural person and where it is applicable, identifiable, existing juristic person, including all information as defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. 

1.2  Parliament assented to POPIA on 19 November 2013. The commencement date of section 1Part A of Chapter 5section 112 and section 113 was 11 April 2014. The commencement date of the other sections was 1 July 2020 (with the exception of section 110 and 114(4). The President of South Africa has proclaimed the POPI commencement date to be 1 July 2020.

1.3. “Processing” means the creation, generation, communication, storage, destruction of personal information as more fully defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.  

1.4. “You” or the “user” means any person who accesses and browses this website for any purpose. 

1.4. “Website” means the website of the KAYA 959 at URL or such other URL as KAYA 959 may choose from time to time.   

  1. Status and Amendments

2.1. KAYA 959 respects your privacy. This privacy policy statement sets out KAYA 959’s information gathering and dissemination practices in respect of the Website. 

2.2. This Privacy Policy governs the processing of personal information provided to KAYA 959 through your use of the Website. 

2.3. Please note that, due to legal and other developments, KAYA 959 may amend these terms and conditions from time to time.  

  1. Processing of Personal Information

3.1. By providing your personal information to KAYA 959 you acknowledge that it has been collected directly from you and consent to its processing by KAYA 959. 

3.2. Where you submit Personal Information (such as name, address, telephone number and email address) via the website (e.g. through completing any online form) the following principles are observed in the processing of that information: 

3.2.1. KAYA 959 will only collect personal information for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it is required. The specific purpose for which information is 
collected will be apparent from the context in which it is requested. 

3.2.2. KAYA 959 will only process personal information in a manner that is adequate, relevant and not excessive in the context of the purpose for which it is processed. 

3.2.3. Personal information will only be processed for a purpose compatible with that for which it was collected, unless you have agreed to an alternative purpose in writing or KAYA 959 is permitted in terms of national legislation of general application dealing primarily with the protection of personal information. 

3.2.4. KAYA 959 will keep records of all personal Information collected and the specific purpose for which it was collected for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

3.2.5. KAYA 959 will not disclose any personal information relating to you to any third party unless your prior written agreement is obtained or KAYA 959 is required to do so by law. 

3.2.6. If personal information is released with your consent KAYA 959 will retain a record of the information released, the third party to which it was released, the reason for the release and the date of release, for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

3.2.7. KAYA 959 will destroy or delete any personal information that is no longer needed by KAYA 959 for the purpose it was initially collected, or subsequently processed. 

3.3. Note that, as permitted by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, KAYA 959 may use personal information collected to compile profiles for statistical purposes. No information contained in the profiles or statistics will be able to be linked to any specific user.    

  1. Collection of anonymous data

4.1. KAYA 959 may use standard technology to collect information about the use of this website. This technology is not able to identify individual users but simply allows KAYA 959 to collect statistics. 

4.2. KAYA 959 may utilise temporary or session cookies to keep track of users’ browsing habits. A cookie is a small file that is placed on your hard drive in order to keep a record of your interaction with this website and facilitate user convenience. 

4.2.1. Cookies by themselves will not be used to identify users personally but may be used to compile identified statistics relating to use of services offered or to provide KAYA 959 with feedback on the performance of this website. 

4.2.2. The following classes of information may be collected in respect of users who have enabled cookies: The browser software used; IP address; Date and time of activities while visiting the website; URLs of internal pages visited; and referrers. 

4.3. If you do not wish cookies to be employed to customize your interaction with this website it is possible to alter the manner in which your browser handles cookies. Please note that, if this is done, certain services on this website may not be available. 

  1. Security

5.1. KAYA 959 takes reasonable measures to ensure the security and integrity of information submitted to or collected by this website, but cannot under any circumstances be held liable for any loss or other damage sustained by you as a result of unlawful access to or dissemination of any personal information by a third party. 

  1. Links to other websites

6.1. KAYA 959 has no control over and accepts no responsibility for the privacy practices of any third party websites to which hyperlinks may have been provided and KAYA 959 strongly recommends that you review the privacy policy of any website you visit before using it further. 

  1. Queries

7.1. If you have any queries about this privacy policy please contact us by emailing [email protected]