fighter to the end

Book: Cyril Ramaphosa

Book: Cyril Ramaphosa

Author: Anthony Butler

Publisher: Jacana

Reviewer: Nthabisang Moreosele

Anthony Butler's biography about the preacher boy who made good is a fascinating journey into South Africa's immediate past. It is the study of the life of a man who helped to shape the struggle for and the dispensation of our new democracy.

Cyril Ramaphosa was born just when the National Party government began turning the screws on the hapless black majority. Their social tinkering resulted in the myriad laws that included job reservations, influx control, Bantu education, separate amenities and Bantustans.

Ramaphosa's early life is typical of the ordinary street urchins of Soweto. His father was a policeman and community leader while his mother sold liquor. He was brought up in the Lutheran Church and became a preacher at an early age.

Butler says this immersion in the church and Ramaphosa's training as a preacher made him the leader that he became. He learned to pitch his voice to suit his audience.

He displayed leadership qualities at an early age. He interacted with different people while acting as a youth ambassador of the church. He was obsessed with writing meticulous constitutions and organograms which his friends adopted.

His quiet life as an undergraduate at Turfloop University was disrupted when he was detained for 11 months. This apparently changed his political outlook. He worked for white law firms, but eventually left to join the fight against oppression.

He came onto the wider political scene when he became an organiser and secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers. He was feared by mining houses who had to contend with the "Cyril factor". His lowest point was in the aftermath of the 1985 miners' strike, which he was forced to end to avoid miners from haemorrhaging.

He was also instrumental in forming Cosatu, which became a vehicle for mobilising workers to oppose apartheid.

Ramaphosa's earlier black consciousness credentials initially made it difficult for the ANC to embrace him. Perhaps this explains why many in the ANC preferred Thabo Mbeki as a successor to Nelson Mandela. He has been described as a humble, friendly and pragmatic man. A patient listener who believes in consensus to achieve his goals.

His detractors say he is controlling, a stickler for detail who sometimes cannot control his temper. He is unyielding if he thinks he is in the right and indulges in marathon sulks.

Butler quotes a trade unionist's comments on his political ambitions: "Cyril will not stand unless he wins. He is not a chancer and not a number 2."

This fear of second best may earn him the title of the man who almost became king. Pity he does not have the gumption for bruising elections.