17/08/2017 06:01 SAST | Updated 21/08/2017 15:06 SAST

Where Was Cyril Ramaphosa The ‘Formidable Negotiator’ During Marikana?

We ask James Motlatsi, Phuti Mahanyele and Kuben Pillay.

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the hearings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the hearings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.


The first time former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) James Motlatsi sat around the negotiating table with Cyril Ramaphosa was in 1983.

Motlatsi, who had been politically active since he was 11 years old, thought he had seen it all. But when he left the meeting with the Chamber of Mines, he realised that "I was learning [from Ramaphosa]".

Motlatsi, who is Ramaphosa's campaign coordinator in the ANC leadership race, says Ramaphosa has a knack for reading a situation.

"He will be polite at the right moment and he will be shrewd at the same time. But he will always be reading the mood. He will take his adversary by surprise time and again."

Ramaphosa's opponents would be on the defensive, Motlatsi says. "They would negotiate on his terrain."

  • Read the first part of our project on the state of the ANC leadership race, here. Part two, on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is at this link. Read part three, on Cyril Ramaphosa, here.

Kuben Pillay, who had worked with Ramaphosa as a lawyer in the early days of the NUM, tells the story of a meeting with Anglo American at the time of the 1987 strike during which Ramaphosa "threw all these bullets on the table".

Ramaphosa wanted to make a point about police violence on the mines, writes Anthony Butler in his biography of the former general secretary of the NUM.

"They came in with typical Anglo American style," Pillay told HuffPost SA. "Cyril really took them out at the knees. He completely stage-managed the tone of the meeting ...

"I remember him saying to Bobby [Godsell, industrial relations consultant]: 'Today you are not Bobby Godsell. You are Baas Bobby'."

Pillay says he is yet to meet a better negotiator when it comes to the "strategy, content and tone" of negotiation.

How then does he, and others who know Ramaphosa, make sense of Ramaphosa's actions leading up to the Marikana killings?

James Motlatsi, former NUM president
You have to understand Shanduka owned less than 10 percent of Lonmin ... Now, the company is being run by executives. He [Ramaphosa] was a non-executive director ...

Behind the curtains, he would be saying to management "you have to negotiate with these people".

It was a complicated issue because at the beginning mine workers were members of NUM, which Cyril came from, but now they deserted NUM. After they deserted NUM, it became problematic.

When we were working with Cyril [Ramaphosa was general secretary of the NUM while Motlatsi was president], we used to have quite a number of illegal strikes; faction fights. I would be the person who would be dealing with those two things.

That has never ever been his terrain ...

The mining industry by nature is a dangerous industry and it creates people who sometimes become hostile to life...

You need a skillful individual who will be coming from the very same environment, who would be able to read the situation on arrival immediately. You wouldn't go [there] with a prepared speech. You're not going to succeed ...

You could have asked me why I didn't go there. I would have been away from the industry for more than 10 years. I wouldn't have be able to read the situation. I can tell you even if I went there, I would have failed. Because the leaders of the mine workers need to visit the mine workers consistently to be on top of [their] problems ...

The only person they would have listened to was a person who would have said: "Here is the R12,500 [the workers' wage demand]; go back."

The Ramaphosa campaign shared a number of tweets about Marikana on the fifth anniversary of the killings on Wednesday. In a Facebook post, it explained what Ramaphosa had meant by saying in an email sent in the days leading up to the killings that "concomitant action" was needed.

Kuben Pillay, former NUM legal counsel

I serve as a non-executive [director] -- that's what I do for a living today. You will be surprised at how little non-executives have to do with the day-to-day operations of companies ...

Could [Ramaphosa] possibly have intended for mine workers to be shot? Not in 100 years.

I think what many of us have lost sight of is that there was a commission of inquiry that exonerated him on the facts. He was not in a position to control the board in terms of its approach. And it wasn't the board that ordered the police to take the action on the day. Let's not detract from the fact that it was the police, and [former police commissioner Riah] Phiyega has been found wanting in terms of how she managed the police.

I think one of Cyril's versions is that he was really concerned because there were the most horrific murders prior to that day ... And that really what he was addressing was how to deal with that set of facts ...

[According to the report of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry there was corroboration for testimony by the witness known as Mr X that part of the tongue and chin of security guard Hassan Fundi had been removed.]

As a director, you are faced with that set of circumstances. He made a call.

Was his choice of words the correct choice of words in that email? Let the masters of the English language define what exactly it is he was saying ...

I think it's quite unfair to call him the murderer of Marikana when a commission of inquiry [exonerated him] ...

All I'm saying is that let's look at this in its proper context and let's not be politically opportunistic when we throw these slogans around.

  • Watch: Political analyst Ralph Mathekga on what "the baggage of Marikana" might mean for Ramaphosa if he becomes president:

Phuti Mahanyele, former Shanduka CEO

When doing the black empowerment transaction that we did with Lonmin, we also took on a role with regards to transformation in the organisation. And so from that perspective we certainly had a responsibility in ensuring that there was more of a focus on transformation. And there was a lot of work that went into that ...

When you are [a well-known shareholder], there is a high level of responsibility from you irrespective of your involvement [Shanduka was a minority shareholder].

In everything that [Ramaphosa] did, he was trying in whatever way to support the organisation to do the right thing ...

There were certain decisions that were taken that had absolutely nothing to do with us. And I'm not trying to absolve us or anything like that. But there were decisions that were made on the ground on what needed to be done. And we weren't part of that decision-making [process].

Nonetheless, as the BEE partner in the business, there was a lot of criticism, particularly [of Ramaphosa].

And, being the person that he is, he has just taken it on. He's accepted the criticism, that that is the view of people. And he's apologised ...

Obviously, no one would have ever wanted anything like this to happen ... So we were very, very remorseful about this.

I remember immediately [Ramaphosa] called me and wanted us to try and see how we could work with Lonmin in making sure that they could provide proper support to the families once this had happened.

But also at the time that this was happening Lonmin was calling on [Ramaphosa] to come and help them engage with different parties, and he was, as a member of the board, doing his part of trying to provide support to the company. And always with the intention of them doing the right thing.

It was in terms of leadership a difficult time for Lonmin [the CEO had recently discovered that he had cancer] ...

It [the deaths at Marikana] can never be fixed ... It is a tragedy and it will remain that way.

  • Ramaphosa is described as a "formidable negotiator" on his campaign website.