His rise to power was not smooth and by the time he became the most powerful figure in the party, there were still pro-Mao elements pushing back against change.
Ramaphosa's wasn't either and, almost on a daily basis, we are seeing evidence which suggests that his fiercest opposition is not in the red overalls or the suits running the DA, but at Luthuli House.
Granted, Deng and Ramaphosa operated under two very different political system - one authoritarian and the other, a democracy.
But the principle is that unless the leader has full control of his party, he is unlikely to succeed with fundamental economic reforms at government levels.
Recent developments suggest that, while he is now firmly in charge of the executive, Ramaphosa does not appreciate the strategic importance of having control over Luthuli House.
He has taken all his key full-time lieutenants - the likes of Zizi Kodwa, Senzo Mchunu and even Fikile Mbalula - and given them government posts, leaving the ANC headquarters as the uncontested centre of power for secretary-general Ace Magashule and others who consider themselves proponents of a "radical economic transformation" platform opposed to the "market-friendly" New Deal.
Last week's furore over the ANC's position on what needs to be done with the South African Reserve Bank as well as monetary instruments the state plans to use to bring about economic growth should be seen in this perspective.
The party is not speaking in one voice because its president's authority on policy issues is not unchallenged within the party.