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Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? Roelf Meyer – former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Minister of Constitutional Development

‘He’s in nobody’s pocket. He doesn’t have to look for favours from anybody.’

HILTON TARRANT: A lot’s been made of Cyril Ramaphosa’s business interests and how he will relinquish those if he does indeed take up a position in government. There’s been some hysterical screeching by some sections of the media about whether or not he will manage to either dissolve or remove himself from those interests.
   Roelf Meyer, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Minister of Constitutional Development was the chief negotiator for the National Party in the multiparty negotiating forum in 1993, following the failure of Codesa. His opposite number for the ANC was Cyril Ramaphosa. I spoke with Roelf earlier this afternoon and started off by asking him simply: “Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?”

ROELF MEYER: Well, he simply is a person that everybody knows. I was privileged to work with him very closely some 20 years ago. We came to know each other toward the end of the 1980s, and then later on we were directly leading the respective teams in the negotiations.
   I think what remains important to me is that he’s an extremely reliable person. He is very committed to the country, he is very committed to what he believes is in the best interests of the country, and he has given himself over a very long period towards that dedication.
   He was actively involved in politics since the early part of the 1990s as Secretary General of the ANC. In that capacity he served as the chief negotiator for the ANC. Many people had expected at that stage already that he might take up the position of deputy president under President Mandela. It didn’t happen and he left for business. And now he’s back in the full-time position as a politician, and I am very happy that he has made that decision because I think it’s in the good interest of the country that he is back into active politics.

HILTON TARRANT: Is he a principled person?

ROELF MEYER: Very much so. I think his dedication to bring about a new Constitution for South Africa is proof of that. Undoubtedly he was the person that led that process during the interim constitutional phase as well as thereafter during the final constitutional phase as chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly. And that showed his principled approach. The Constitution in itself is proof of that.

HILTON TARRANT: And also a tough, shrewd negotiator?

ROELF MEYER: Well, we came together at the negotiating table as strong opponents in different ways and obviously a very tough negotiator. He came with a lot of experience at that stage already, and built up his NUM experience when he was Secretary General of the National Union of Mineworkers for quite a long period of time during the 1980s.
   So he had an advantage at the time that we started the constitutional discussions and negotiations. But at the same time a very reasonable person, very reasonable in terms of his understanding of where the other side is coming from. That helped to build trust between us, which I think was a very constructive element in bringing about the constitutional settlement for South Africa. I keep on thinking if that level of trust didn’t prevail at the time between Cyril and me, it might have taken us much longer to find a settlement.

HILTON TARRANT: Roelf, there was a famous fishing incident between yourself and Cyril Ramaphosa. Is too much made of that all these years later?

ROELF MEYER: [Laughs] I think a little bit too much in the sense that that was not a turning point or a moment of truth. It was just something that happened. A mutual friend of ours brought us together and the incident happened, and it became a nice story afterwards through the fact that Allister Sparks gave effect to it in his book about the transition.
   But there were various other moments of the same kind when Cyril and I had the opportunity to connect with each other in the build-up to the start of the negotiations. And that says one thing, and that is that one must never underestimate the opportunity or the fact of social and more friendly engagement and interaction in the process of finding answers for difficult and more important and more serious issues. So that fishing incident was just one of many, but it was indicative of the kind of relationship that we succeeded in building, the friendship that we have succeeded finally to build, and the chemistry that exists between us.

HILTON TARRANT: Roelf, a lot of fuss has been made in the media, particularly yesterday, about Cyril’s business interests. Surely there is no question from how you know Cyril and from what you know of Cyril that he will do the right thing when it comes to that?

ROELF MEYER: I’ve no doubt about that. I’m absolutely convinced of that. I can say that unconditionally. I’ve known him very well all these years and I have been close to him even during the last number of years in some business respects, and I think that there are a lot of things that South Africa can feel confident about, and that is that he is back in the political arena completely independent. He’s in nobody’s pocket. He doesn’t have to look for favours from anybody. He’s completely independent and therefore I think he can give his best for the country, and he will certainly do that. I’m absolutely convinced of that.

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