31/05/2017 06:01 SAST | Updated 31/05/2017 11:58 SAST

What Ramaphosa's Speeches Show Us About His Priorities As A Possible Future President

An analysis of the deputy president's speeches since last year shows he has been building a platform for his ANC presidential campaign.


Campaigning may not have officially started yet for the ANC presidential campaign but frontrunner Cyril Ramaphosa has been quietly honing his oratory skills behind the scene.

Dissection of his speeches over the past year shows the deputy president is becoming more assertive in his views on everything from state capture to the Guptas ahead of December, when the election of the next president of the ANC takes place.

After a close analysis of some of his public appearances since last year, it is evident that Ramphosa has already built a strong foundation for his campaign.

In the run-up to the ANC's national policy conference in December, strategic pillars are beginning to appear in Ramaphosa's speeches, with recurring concepts constantly coming to the fore.

These pillars are: returning the ANC to its core values; the importance of a strong tripartite alliance; radical economic transformation; factionalism; and more recently, state capture and corruption.

Although it would be detrimental for him to bluntly criticise the ANC and President Jacob Zuma's links to the Guptas, Ramaphosa does seemingly drop subtle hints every now and again.

In his address at Makhenkesi Stofile's funeral last year -- which was described by some commentators as the unofficial start of his campaign for the presidency -- Ramaphosa said South Africa needs political figures who will stand up and uphold the "values of our movement".

"We need people who will not only ask difficult questions of ourselves, of our movement, of our leaders, but people who are prepared to do the demanding and exacting work required to truly transform our society," Ramaphosa said at the funeral.

"We cannot lay him [Stofile] to rest without acknowledging the anguish that he felt at the state of our movement and our national democratic revolution."

Read: These Are 10 Things That Cyril Ramaphosa Should Do In His First 100 Days As President

Seemingly hinting at issues of corruption and nepotism, Ramaphosa said "we" (he rarely explains who he means by 'we') need people who reject the notion that politics is about the promotion of "one's narrow self-interest".

"It is at moments like this that we need cadres who dedicate themselves not to the advancement of their own interests, but solely to the cause of freedom, equality and justice."

But his insinuations were still vague.

The state of the alliance
Fast forward to 2017, after Cosatu and most of its affiliate unions openly backed Ramaphosa as the next president of the ANC, the deputy-president was asked to give the keynote address at the SADTU KZN gala dinner in Durban.

There, his confidence was vastly greater and in turn, his statements were stingier.

He spoke lengthily on the state of the alliance, admitting that there were problems with unity and factionalism. Again, returning the ANC to its former glory was key.

"We cannot give up this struggle of rebuilding the ANC. To give up this struggle means we are giving up on our revolution... The ANC must be strengthened, the tripartite alliance must be strengthened," he said.

"Our faith remains unshakable in SADTU to play a decisive role in returning the ANC to its founding values of service and selflessness."

His stance on corruption was now entrenched and he made his views more precise.

"We will not surrender the revolution to greed, corruption and patronage. We will not surrender the institutions of our democratic state to those who want to seize them for their own enrichment...We will not surrender the revolution to those who subvert democratic practice, who manipulate procurement processes and who influence appointments so that they may appropriate the resources that rightly belong to the people of this country," he said.

As with many of his recent public appearances, at the SADTU meeting, Ramaphosa spoke lengthily on radical economic transformation -- a concept he is clearly building a large part of his campaign around.

He emphasized that his understanding of economic transformation is one that makes sure the ordinary people in South Africa benefit; and it does not mean that the concept is there just to benefit "a few selected people and selected families".

He has since taken a stronger stance on his community-based version of radical economic transformation. We saw this when he addressed Cosatu's Central Committee meeting in Irene on Tuesday.

Emphasizing his definition of 'radical socio-economic transformation', Ramaphosa said the impact on society must also be considered in a changing economy. He is seemingly now trying to push a people-centred rhetoric when it comes to economic transformation. And his criticism of the "others" has become harsher.

"You get a sense there is a hidden agenda that some people have when they chant about radical economic transformation...It should not be a process where we will focus on certain individuals and certain families to line their own pockets using the concept of radical economic transformation."

State capture
Then came his views on state capture -- this too was a lot more hard-hitting than in his previous speeches. His criticism was now more finely directed.

"This state capture issue is busy eating the ANC away. We are fighting for positions. We are fighting for power ... all of this is happening because of the elephant in the room (state capture)".

Political analysts Ralph Mathekga said Ramaphosa may be aware that he cannot win at the elective conference if he does not speak the language of radical economic transformation and state capture.

"Ramaphosa comes out and says his version of radical economic transformation has nothing to do with the elites. He is not wrong. We must not forget who he is. He comes from the unions, if he is going to count on them he will need to speak their language," Mathekga said.

"His version is not largely different from what is currently underway, but it is more community-based."

Mathekga said Ramaphosa has been capitalizing on allegations against Zuma made public in the past two weeks.

"Ramaphosa is beginning to be bold. He is gradually becoming more aggressive. If he was not currently in government, I am sure he would be a lot more adventurous in his speeches. As much as we would like him to take a direct dig at Zuma, he has to draw a line," Mathekga said.

"If he attacks Zuma, he must do so without hurting the ANC. That will be difficult."