Cyril Goes Into Presidential Mode . . . But Struggles At The End

Cyril Ramaphosa's performance in the National Assembly was markedly better than his line manager's -- but is it enough?
South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma.
South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma.
Mike Hutchings / Reuters

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa went into full presidential mode on Wednesday when he answered questions in the National Assembly, rising above party political differences and acknowledging shortcomings in government.

The former chairperson of the Constituent Assembly, which finalised the final Constitution between 1994 and 1996, is now gunning to succeed President Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress in December and received visible support from among the government benches during proceedings.

He received loud applause when he pushed back strongly against Dean Macpherson, MP from the Democratic Alliance (DA), when he probed Ramaphosa about criticism by partners in the governing alliance that the government's economic policies are about the promotion of "narrow black interests".

Ramaphosa, who elaborated on the attendance of the South African delegation to the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year, ducked Macpherson's question, but told him government "is of one mind" on how to sell South Africa to investors and grow the economy.

"We went to Davos to sell our South Africa, to sell our country and to sell our people, not to advance a narrow vision of one party, but to sell a vision of all of us," Ramaphosa said.

Earlier, Ramaphosa said the passing of the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill will enhance the image of South Africa in the eyes of the world: "Business wants to invest in countries where there is a moral compass... and we have a moral compass. We abhor corruption and we fight everywhere we can. We will become the blue-chip destination for business the world over."

Ramaphosa, in stark contrast with President Jacob Zuma, easily veered off the prepared and printed answers to the questions, which were asked weeks beforehand and which are prepared by his advisors and staff. The follow-up questions, which are answered off the cuff, usually prove a problem for Zuma, who often dismisses them contemptuously or waves them away with a joke and a laugh.

Zuma's style was a departure from the way in which former presidents Thabo Mbeki en Kgalema Motlanthe -- also when he was deputy president -- answered questions, always acknowledging the opposition and issues they raised and easily conversing and debating with MP's.

Even though an unimpressed John Steenhuisen, the DA's chief whip, called Ramaphosa "Cyril the Chameleon" in a Tweet, the deputy president confidently and coherently answered supplementary questions from his opponents. They ranged from queries about his business interests (he divested when he became deputy president), the ANC's youth league and its inflammatory comments (he is talking to them) and the death of Esidimeni-94 (South Africans should ask what is working in the Constitution and what is not).

Things however unravelled a little at the end.

When asked by Wilmot James (DA) about the health politics that lead to the death of the Esidimeni-94, he said the country's health system was left in tatters by the apartheid government and that it abused and hurt South Africans. "That is what we are now trying to fix, we are trying to fix a fragmented system," he claimed.

That might be true, but it still didn't answer James' question.

When asked about the pending disaster around the payments of social security grants, he was at sea, merely saying government "is attending to it" and that "Armageddon will not happen."

"We will make sure the matter doesn't go to the wall," he improvised.

Not exactly forceful or reassuring about one of the biggest crises this government has faced this year.

Being president and going into presidential mode are clearly two vastly different things.


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