Ramaphosa’s famous negotiating skills have failed him. Here’s why

Is there a solution?
President Cyril Ramaphosa faces new challenges in post-Jacob Zuma South Africa. Image: Siyabulela Duda

When Cyril Ramaphosa took over as president of South Africa in early 2018, there was a great deal of talk about a “new dawn”. But his term in office has failed to deliver, raising the question: has the legendary deal-maker lost his touch?

When Ramaphosa replaced former president Jacob Zuma many South Africans believed he would usher in a new era after the disastrous reign of his predecessor. The country and the governing African National Congress (ANC) both urgently needed rescuing from the malaise.

Ramaphosa inherited an unenviable hand from Zuma – state institutions had been weakened, the economy was in a parlous condition, the ANC was in internal turmoil, and the political elite regularly exposed for fraudulent and corrupt activities, which culminated in “state capture”.

Ramaphosa promised to rectify the situation through a series of initiatives. These included reforms to state owned enterprises, economic growth and job creation as well as an anti-corruption drive.

Yet, two years on, very little has changed. In fact, things have deteriorated markedly. Even Ramaphosa was forced to admit that any positivity he once stimulated is now over.

His legendary negotiating skills have been incapacitated in the face of South Africa’s current predicament.

Public frustration

South Africa’s current predicament is well documented. It is characterised by interlocking crises encompassing growing unemployment, negative growth and unsustainable national debt. State-owned enterprises such as South African Airways and Eskom, the power utility, are failing. And, a “junk status” rating is looming.

Factor into this scenario a renewed series of xenophobic attacks against foreigners, the military deployment in Cape Town to curb gang murders, and a half-hearted response to the #AmINext movement protesting against gender violence.

Add to these the ongoing conflicts within the ANC, with leading cadres taking to Twitter to express their divergent opinions, and it is abundantly clear why there is growing public frustration with the Ramaphosa administration.

It was not supposed to be like this. Ramaphosa was the president who would save South Africa. Almost universally revered, expectations were running high that he would make use of his impressive political credentials, not least his record of past achievements that bore testament to his success as a deal-maker.

Deal-making skills

Ramaphosa has a formidable political pedigree that stretches back to his struggle activities in the National Union of Mineworkers in the 1980s, through to his contribution to the constitutional negotiations to end apartheid in the early 1990s.

These different experiences forged his reputation as a wily, tough and pragmatic deal-maker. Over the last 40 years he’s shown time and again his ability to broker major deals. Just look at the wage concessions he extracted for mine workers and how he helped establish the basis for the country’s new Constitution.

Ramaphosa’s negotiating style is based on debate, building trust between participants, manipulating proceedings to his advantage and reaching consensus through rounds of dialogue. Even those on the other side of the negotiating table recognised his skill. Former apartheid-era President FW De Klerk once described him as “coldly calculating” and silver tongue[d]).

Compromise based on a position of strength is integral to the success of his negotiating strategy. Most notably this came to the fore during the challenging constitutional talks.

Ramaphosa had established a close rapport with reformist MPs from the National Party, which ruled the country then, such as Roelf Meyer. These men were willing to negotiate with the ANC. More importantly, they were willing to make significant compromises to achieve an end to white minority rule.

Talks, debate, and compromise were the foundations for these negotiated outcomes.

Different times

Competing economic and social pressures, as well as the internal battles within the ANC, don’t allow for Ramaphosa’s preferred style of negotiation or leadership to succeed. In retrospect the belief that he could address the challenges by finding a common position through a debate-led strategy seems naive at best.

A key problem is that Ramaphosa is constrained by his tenuous control over the ANC, while the party elite is locked in a factional conflict for power and influence. The historic “unity” of the party is disintegrating as rivals such as Secretary-General Ace Magashule, threatened by the promised reforms and anti-corruption initiatives, undermine Rampahosa’s leadership.

There is no room for debate in this febrile atmosphere, and definitely no appetite to seek common ground when disloyalty from within the party is so prevalent. When power and survival are at stake, compromise as a negotiating position goes out the window.

The upcoming National General Council of the ANC, scheduled for June, will only threaten Ramaphosa’s position further. The conference is held halfway between the party’s national conferences, to debate the “strategic organisational and political issues” it faces.

Meanwhile, the economic and social challenges require tough and decisive action. Yet, the ANC’s January 8 statement marking its birthday, repeated old adages of unity, growth, employment and transformation. It offered nothing new in terms of vision or solutions .

Ramaphosa’s favoured strategies continue to be through commissions and joint working groups. Yet a consultative approach is time consuming and will simply not succeed when space for debate is marginalised and vested interests are at stake.

Is there a solution?

Tough choices

Fundamentally an immediate change to his negotiating strategy and leadership is required. Although decisive action is not in his play book, Ramaphosa can no longer hope to appease everyone through consensus-based leadership. Structural reforms to prevent further economic decline are required quickly. These involve painful decisions and a stronger vision for the future, none of which are evident at the moment.

But, to implement economic reforms and to strengthen anti-corruption initiatives will be immensely unpopular, especially among the ANC hierarchy. Many don’t support Ramaphosa. Others fear the loss of their patronage.

Unless Ramaphosa can exert control over a recalcitrant ANC to make difficult decisions, he’ll stay stuck in a no-win situation, caught between the need to avert economic meltdown or keep the party intact.

The choice ahead for Ramaphosa lies between what is best for South Africa, or for the ANC.The Conversation

Matthew Graham, senior lecturer in History, University of Dundee.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Very dissapointing, President Ramaphosa. If you align yourself with corrupters you are part of them. You do not negotiate with them you uphold law an order. You put the country first. He has failed his country and all the people in it.

Rama’s famous negotiation skills are very much a case of the emperor has no clothes.

Perhaps the opposite? Perhaps he has too many clothes? Perhaps he became wealthy in circumstances which blunted his edge. Some people are spurred on by (earned) success, others believe they have arrived and seek out roles and titles for prestige and status.

Hence he became a billionaire! 😉 so easy to become wealthy isnt it! Haha. The guy is playing the diplomacy game. Not as fast as we like, but the green shoots are appearing and we are finding the market much better than the last 2 years! Give it time. But please play your part in making SA the best country in the world! We can and we will do it! We are very dynamic! You know how intelligent you are and your country needs you!

This a joke?

Should we sing kumbya…..

Hahaha yes,

old Roelf just handed everything over, there was not skills needed for that!!

Absolutely agree. CR was going to sort out Escom – disaster became worse under his watch. Never believed he can save SA. Are they not all perhaps a part of the rot??


He seems to be very proud of the fact that the whole ANC is “united”

If you unite with criminals what does it make you?

ANC puts party before country and the party is divided making the country fall.
Also, you can’t steal from the country you need to lead or work with people stealing and expect all will simply go well.
Also there is no measure of the corrosive effect of the ANC policies on the economy but they are decimating the economy.
And CR can’t or won’t make the courageous changes needed.

“Few countries in the semi-developed world have been stupid enough to use their most important asset as a Petri dish..” (DM).

The ANChave put the entire economy at risk by unleashingBEE and corruption onto our most important assets and is de-industrializing the economy in the process.

If Ramaphosa had serious intent he could have set the country and economy on the path to recovery by now. Instead he has allowed himself to be repeatedly embarrassed in public by Magashule and others. Ramaphosa’s inability to assert himself mean he is regarded as weak by ANC thugs and economic terrorists.

Please can the editor or any readers put themselves in the shoes of Cyril Ramaphosa at this stage. When you are surrounded by parasites who want to feast on you for taking away the corruption train. It’s not an easy feat. He does not need the money not does he need to be president. This is no easy task! And Zuma raped SA properly. But there are green shoots abound. American companies are investing in SA. Look at Pioneer foods and Metrofile being bought out. Foreigners will tread because they know how to spot opportunities. Who could even imagine a White CEO for Eskom and Denel. SA is making a Phenomenal comeback! Palladium is shooting the lights. We have trade surpluses again! Law and order is being restored. Zandile of Durban has been arrested and being trialed for corruption. We are the luckiest nation and the world and one of the most dynamic! Now is the time to believe and rally for your country! It has given you life and education and wealth! Take back what’s yours and make it the best country in the world! You deserve it! You deserve to be the best nation and most prosperous nation in the world! We have the resources and the most dynamic people to do it. Time for optimism and wealth will be yours! Make money and be happy.

No wonder he did not travel to Davos. An interview with Richard Quest would have buried him with the ANC.


Any fool can negotiate a good deal from a strong position. “Negotiation skills” are when you can get a good deal from a weak position.

CR has never had to do that before and his so-called negotiation skills are as over-hyped as Trump’s

Key figures in the Zuma/Ace camp, which is about half the ANC, will be arrested for State Capture early this year.

That will break the back of that faction and then CR can start to govern.

@Groen I hope that you are right, but suspect that there is just as good a chance that CR will be ousted by the Zuma/Ace/Mabuza camp – and then the looting will get back on track and accelerate exponentially.
Or, perhaps CR and the other camp have already made a deal and it will be business as usual – we will know that to be the case if the arrests we all hope for do not happen.

We need Donald Trump.

He would sort these clowns out before they even knew what hit them!

We seem to forget that CR’s main role when elected was to SAVE THE PARTY from imminent break-up. That he achieved to a large extent.

The above was his first and foremost task.

The SA economy came a very distant 2nd place. Problem was that once CR referred to “new dawn” most probably thought he referred to improving the economy. Actually it was the party itself to have a new dawn.

Any economic improvement would’ve been merely incidental. Now we (unfairly?) measure CR against this secondary task. Well, he saved the ANC, didn’t he?

Want to hear the plain truth. Search a well-known video site for “Richard Quest roasts Ramaphosa & the ANC government at #Davos”.

The big difference is that in the 80’s and 90’s he didn’t have to negotiate with a bunch of thieving idiots…this game is different

I support the comments by Dadape. Lets be positive and give our support. We are in it let us make the best of it. It is always easy to critesice from the outside

In another word – no – there is no solution while the problem masquerades as the solution. Do “they” think “we” are that thick?

The ANC was and still is a criminal organisation. CR is just the pr face of this organisation.

End of comments.





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