Book Review: Ramaphosa’s Turn

Book Cover Ramaphosa's Turn

Ralph Mathekga is every journalist’s go-to political scientist because he offers unbiased and current commentary, invariably laden with depth and a punch.

It is this attribute that made me select this from the litany of books sent to the Cape Argus’ book shelf.

A researcher at UWC, Ralph Mathekga is widely read, articulate and always on top of current news.

In Mathekga’s sophomore book on the South African presidency, he offers the readers in-depth information in simple text.

I imagine it must be hard writing a book premised on information that is already in the public domain. However, Mathekga, who sourced information from newspapers and  attended the Nasrec conference, does well to paint a perspective for his reader in what turns out to be a page-turner.

He travelled to the ANC conference in December and, in the book,  makes some bold observations: the ANC is no longer splintered in factions, but in interest groups; and he describes Ramaphosa as a “centrist” politician.

And he backs his observations.

He adds that the Premier League trio of now-deputy president DD Mabuza, now-secretary general of the ANC , Ace Magashule and former North West chairman of the party Supra Mahumapelo helped ascend Ramaphosa into the presidency. I beg to differ. In a drama series House of Cards-esque move, Mabuza ditched the Jacob Zuma camp, which had piggy-backed on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign.

As a result, some in the ANC feel that Mabuza cannot be trusted. Mabuza even offered an unsolicited statement that he would “protect” Ramaphosa. It is from these points that I deduce that Ramaphosa could not have been supported by the Premier League. The Premier League duo – sans Mabuza – has been secretly meeting at hotels, reportedly, to plot against Ramaphosa. Mabuza has not been pictured with his league comrades since the Nasrec conference, if my memory serves me well.   

Nonetheless, Mathekga is a man who zooms into the detail and finds somewhat new information. Only time will tell whether his view on the Premier League was correct.

He points out that the Premier League’s work predates the Congress of South African Students, where the trio’s influence grew within the power structures of the ANC.  

The power play would be followed by similar ones: the ANCYL elections in 2015 and ANC conferences. A foundation had been set.

We may have read these stories and made nothing of it. In the information age, it is easy for some news to be forgotten. The writer uses these tidbits, which lay in the periphery of memory, to paint a greater perspective – premised on facts we may have otherwise missed.

Authors of books that focus on the ascension or descent of presidents, can easily be swayed into focusing on only the negative. However, Mathekga pens a gripping and constructive critique.

I caught up with him at a hotel at the V&A Waterfront, at a stop for the press tour of the book.   

I asked him whether it was an easy decision for him, as a political scientist, to categorise a president of an ANC (that is ever shifting towards the Left) as “centrist”. He says it was not a decision that he took lightly.

The book also references how “centrist” governments are being deposed in the ballots in global politics. So 2019, with a centrist president and increasing Far-Left and -Right populism, should be interesting. This book could not have come at a better time.

Soyiso Maliti is a journalist and book review write for the Weekend Argus.