Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said mounting allegations that the state has been “captured” by private business interests is damaging the nation’s international reputation, as rumours swirled that he’s about to be fired amid a battle for control of the ruling party.
“Our state, comrades, is now being talked about in the most negative terms all over the world,” Ramaphosa said on Friday in a speech to members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union in Cape Town. “When they look at South Africa today, they are looking at a country that they say has been captured by certain interests, by certain families, by certain individuals. That is not the South Africa of our dreams.”
A former union leader and one of South Africa’s wealthiest black businessmen, Ramaphosa, 64, is running for the leadership of the ANC in December, a post that would make him the party’s presidential candidate in 2019 elections when President Jacob Zuma is due to step down. His main rival is former African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife and favoured successor.
Ramaphosa has made the fight against corruption the centrepiece of his campaign and made thinly veiled attacks on Zuma, who’s been implicated in a series of scandals, including allegations that he allowed members of the Gupta family to loot billions of rand from state companies. Zuma and the Guptas, who are in business with the president’s son, deny wrongdoing.
James Molatsi, who co-founded the National Union of Mineworkers with Ramaphosa and now chairs the investment company he started, told eNCA on Wednesday that the president intends using a bogus intelligence report to justify getting rid of his deputy. Earlier that day, Zuma fired Blade Nzimande, the secretary-general of the South African Communist Party, which has been one of his fiercest critics, from his cabinet — a move widely seen as a show of force ahead of the December vote.
The communist party and the 1.8m-member Congress of South African Trade Unions — that are in a political alliance with the ANC — are backing Ramaphosa for the top ANC post and have demanded Zuma step down.
Speculation that Ramaphosa may be dismissed spooked investors, with the rand falling as much as 1.8% against the dollar on Friday.
Political “machinations” are damaging the ruling party and the rand, and Ramaphosa’s criticism of the government puts his job at risk, Commerzbank analyst Elisabeth Andreae said in note to clients. “He is seen as a critic of Zuma. That means he may soon be the next to be disposed of.”
Ramaphosa told lawmakers on Thursday it’s the president’s prerogative to appoint or remove him.
Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesman, said by phone that claims Ramaphosa was about to lose his post are “just rumours and gossip”.
In his speech, Ramaphosa urged unionists to take a stand against graft and ensure that those implicated are held accountable.
“You are in the first line of defence, to defend our state and to defend our people from state capture,” Ramaphosa said. “It is your responsibility and I urge you to take it up.” — Reported by Mike Cohen and Colleen Goko, with assistance from Paul Vecchiatto and Amogelang Mbatha