NEWS

Cyril Ramaphosa Is Starting To Find His Own Voice, And His Message Is Simple But Effective

The content of the deputy president's speeches may be more of the same, but he never fails audiences on his delivery.

01/09/2017 13:35 SAST | Updated 01/09/2017 15:01 SAST
Rogan Ward / Reuters
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

COMMENT

Sometimes it is not about the content, but about the delivery. And in Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa's case, his rhetoric may be predictable but his conveyance is always effective.

No, he does not drive his audience into a craze, but we do not expect him to when speaking about competition policy and economic reform.

But Ramaphosa has an effective tactic for inspiring confidence when speaking about technical subjects, one which is noticeable after watching him speak on more than one occasion.

On Friday, the presidential hopeful delivered the keynote address at the 11th annual Competition Law, Economics and Policy Conference at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg.

He was speaking to members of the Competition Commission about market monopolies, inclusive economy and transformation -- themes which have been at the core of his presidential campaign.

Ramaphosa made his way to his seat at the centre of the stage, his bodyguards disappearing into the crowd while the commission's boss, Tembinkosi Bonakele, made his introductory remarks.

Staring down at his laptop, it seemed Ramaphosa was doing some last-minute reading before his turn on the podium, glancing up at Bonakele whenever he was mentioned.

In his speech, Ramaphosa characteristically started by praising his audience.

"For the last few days, some of the best minds from our continent and across the globe have been here deliberating on the future of competition policy," he said.

"The discussions at this conference are of great significance to the development of our economy and the transformation of our society."

He has begun the same way in the past when addressing the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), for example.

Next is either elaborating on the role his audience plays in the South African context or the problems facing the country with regards to the topic. One is always followed by the other.

"In a country like South Africa, the attitude, conduct and actions of corporate citizens can be decisive in lifting the majority of our people out of poverty. They can reduce inequality or deepen it," Ramaphosa said.

"When corporate greed gives rise to price fixing, market division and collusive tendering, governments and citizens alike become poorer."

He went on, further describing the impact of monopolies and the role of the Competition Act in bringing an end to its influence on the economy.

He clearly knew his speech well, glancing down at his laptop to quote preambles or briefly glance over his notes, the rest of the while maintaining his eye contact with the crowd and using his hands to emphasize his key points.

Then came the role of his audience in tackling the issues.

"Competition policy must contribute to the achievement of sustainable livelihoods. But as social partners, it is our responsibility to confront attitudes and end practices that place the activities of business at odds with the interests of society," he said

"As social partners, we share a determination and commitment to develop our economy, eradicate poverty and fundamentally transform our society."

But what he, or his ghost writers, do well is to bring in a human element.

He quoted an article by news site GroundUp in 2015 which described the extreme poverty that Khayelitsha residents Sivuyile Sibhozo and his family lived in.

This pushed his message, with those texting or typing on their laptops pausing to direct their attention to the stage.

Official presidential nominations have not yet kicked off, so Ramaphosa cannot stray away from the party line quite yet. But through his speeches, while pushing ANC rhetoric, Ramaphosa is defining himself and his campaign -- a definition that audiences across the country are mostly lapping up.