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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
SA's Ramaphosa: Power and influence
By Mpho Lakaje
BBC News, Johannesburg

Cyril Ramaphosa
Rumours of Ramaphosa's political return surfaced last year

South African politician-turned-businessman Cyril Ramaphosa has been chosen as one of the world's most influential people.

He is one of just five Africans on this year's Time magazine list of 100 names.

Born in Soweto, one of Africa's biggest townships in 1952, he has developed into one of the continent's most respected politicians and business moguls.

And if he desires, he may still play a key role in the country's future.

Very few people remember that at the centre of South Africa's pre-democratic negotiations stood the diminutive unionist with great negotiation skills, a man who helped create the country's constitution.

But the African National Congress leadership knows it has Mr Ramaphosa to thank for teaming up with the National Party government's Roelf Meyer during the sensitive stages of South Africa's negotiations for a post-apartheid dispensation.

It took every negotiating skill of the two gentlemen to steer the process in the right direction when, at times, everything looked bleak - not least in 1993 when the popular Communist Party leader Chris Hani was assassinated and the country was on the brink of civil war.

Serious businessman

The early 1990s was also a time when the area that is known as KwaZulu-Natal today was slowly turning to ashes as political violence claimed the lives of thousands of South Africans - this Mr Ramaphosa had to contend with too as the conflict involved supporters of his own ANC and those of the largely Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.

Cyril Ramaphosa in the 1990s
Ramaphosa made his name as a trade union leader

In post-apartheid South Africa, Mr Ramaphosa has positioned himself as a Black Economic Empowerment advocate who plays a significant role in the empowerment of previously disadvantaged people, but he is not without his critics.

He has been strongly criticized by unionists and some of his former struggle colleagues for claiming to be a socialist and yet heading one of the country's largest companies.

Mr Ramaphosa is a father of two sons and two daughters who is known by his compatriots as a serious businessman.

Rocky path

Sporting formal suits and ties, he is considered the quintessential businessman, and a corporate high-flyer who, simultaneously, has a support base in South Africa's poorer communities: largely because of his prominence two decades ago as perhaps the most visible and vocal of unionists fighting against apartheid.

Nowadays, even though this bearded politician-turned-businessman spends most of his time striking business deals for his company Shanduka, he still finds time to be involved in his recreational activity fly-fishing.

Mr Ramaphosa's path to this life was rocky, though.

When former President Nelson Mandela was about to be officially inaugurated as the country's first black president in 1994, it was reported at the time that he wanted Mr Ramaphosa as his deputy not Thabo Mbeki - seeing Mr Ramaphosa as being able to unite dissenting factions in the country.

But it is believed the elders of the ANC preferred Mr Mbeki to Mr Ramaphosa.


As a result, Mr Ramaphosa left politics.

Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki's presidential term ends in 2009

However, Mr Ramaphosa's name is being bandied about as a frontrunner suitable to replace President Mbeki as the ANC's number one and almost automatically the country's next leader.

For six months, rumours surfaced of his desire to return to politics.

The news of Mr Ramaphosa's presidential campaign came into being last year and gained momentum - a campaign, Mr Ramaphosa himself is reticent to talk about.

What many in South Africa - both black and white, agree on is that Cyril Ramaphosa has the makings of a great leader.

His charm and credentials during the anti-apartheid struggle, may just take him a long way in any campaign for the presidency.

Ramaphosa resigns
22 Feb 99 |  Africa
Ramaphosa tops ANC executive poll
20 Dec 97 |  Despatches

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