POLITICS
15/01/2018 06:00 SAST | Updated 15/01/2018 18:13 SAST

Ramaphosa: The Buffalo Is Getting Ready To Charge

Cyril's sights have immediately focused on 2019 when the country goes to the polls – his campaign to win back voter confidence arguably has already begun.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa addresses supporters during the party's 106th-anniversary celebrations in East London.

ANALYSIS

His eyes fixed on the target, his ears perked to listen out for surrounding enemies, and his hooves threateningly kicking up the dust underneath him, the ANC's "buffalo" president is ready to charge.

Cyril Ramaphosa, nicknamed "the buffalo" in political circles, demonstrated a show of force in the days leading up to, and during, his maiden January 8 statement in East London at the weekend. The ANC has taken notice, and his rivals are starting to scramble.

It has become clear that within a month of taking over party leadership, Ramaphosa's sights have immediately focused on 2019 when the country goes to the polls -- his campaign to win back voter confidence arguably having already begun.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
A supporter gestures during an address by African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa during the Congress' 106th anniversary celebrations, in East London, South Africa, January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

At the ANC's gala dinner on Friday evening, Ramaphosa boasted about how the party's top brass travelled across the country on a "revolutionary pilgrimage" to visit the gravesites of the ANC's former leaders and interact with communities, traditional leaders and faith-based organisations.

During their journey of self-discovery, the political game was afoot.

Insiders say Ramaphosa met with ANC leaders in KwaZulu-NAtal (KZN) to try to smooth over the path to state president Jacob Zuma's recall. The meetings were also said to have been held to discuss how the shamed KZN provincial executive committee will be handled.

READ: Ramaphosa Looks Ahead To 2019 During Gala Dinner Speech.

The province acts as one of the ANC's largest voter support blocs come elections -- factional ruptures within the party's leadership there will be disastrous during campaign season. It is also Zuma's stronghold.

Ramaphosa, who is one of the continent's wealthiest businessmen, has been criticised as a president who will forget the needs of the poor -- his escapades in East London ahead of the statement on Saturday served as the starting point of countering that narrative.

On Friday, Ramaphosa spent the majority of his day at the impoverished Duncan Village township conducting door-to-door visits in a bid to, in his words, "reconnect with the communities". He promised in his speech at the gala dinner later that evening to continue with similar visits throughout the year. One of his campaign objectives, therefore, will be to bridge the gap between his wealthy status and the poor majority in South Africa.

At his side in Duncan Village was Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba -- one of Zuma's staunchest allies. Insiders say other key figures of the ANC, like Gigaba, are slowly shifting away from Zuma's embrace and cosying up to the party's new leader.

"When Ramaphosa won at the national conference over Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the Zuma camp began to count its losses. Zuma has a tight hold over his supporters, but they are starting to realise that his power in the party is weakening," one source said.

"When Zuma announced the appointment of the judge to head the judicial commission of inquiry, it was also a show that he is on the back foot. He is now fighting for his life, but he is cunning and intelligent, so it will be a good fight. But his supporters -- a lot of them were in their position because of their allegiance to him -- are looking for greener fields now. They are cosying up to DD Mabuza."

READ: Ramaphosa promises unity and renewal.

And it seems Ramaphosa knows this. His January 8 statement was more confident than usual.

He spent the majority of his time on unity in the party, economic recovery, organisational renewal and, most importantly, state capture and corruption -- a topic he used to stick it to the Zuma administration.

Behind him sat a Zuma-aligned cabal: Gigaba, Collen Maine, David Mahlobo, Bathabile Dlamini and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma -- all watching on.

Zuma sat next to Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, listening, his expression stern and unmoving.

Ramaphosa's speech was a damning indictment on the previous leadership, even boasting how from now ANC events will start on time -- which it did. He spoke about how law enforcement and the National Prosecuting Authority should not serve the interests of "individuals". He did not have to mention names.

READ: Ramaphosa repudiates Zuma.

Yes, actions do speak louder than words. It's too early to tell whether he will live up to his promises and his political speak. But Ramaphosa, who would in the early days of his campaign for ANC president last year speak broadly around the same topics, has come out of his shell.

He knows he is gaining the power needed to muscle out Zuma. His confidence shows it.

The buffalo is getting ready to charge. The only question is when.