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Ramaphosa invokes his inner Mandela – for political ends

Jul 18 2018 14:58
Daniel Silke
President Cyril Ramaphosa and former US president

President Cyril Ramaphosa and former US president Barack Obama share a light moment during the 16th annual Nelson Mandela lecture at Wanderers Stadium on July 17, 2018. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu, Gallo Images)

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Emotions and tributes aside, the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth also heralds changing fortunes for both the ANC and the DA.

Having Barack Obama seen together with President Cyril Ramaphosa in meetings, and on stage, adds to a sense of legitimacy and respectability for the South African president in the aftermath of the Zuma era.

The optics for Ramaphosa are all positive, with him basking in the reflective glory of a still-popular former US president.

Yesterday’s Mandela lecture also provided Ramaphosa with a large stage of centrist South Africans who seemed keen to afford him sustained applause.

Importantly, Ramaphosa is attempting to re-kindle a 'Mandela-esque' identification in the hope that he can restore some lost support and political credibility to his Presidency in the tough early days of his tenure in office.

A year of political combat

Any identification with Nelson Mandela will be latched onto by Ramaphosa in his attempt to shore up the ANC's support ahead of elections next year. We can expect the president to invoke Mandela more and more as he begins a year of political combat.

The meetings with Obama, the Obama links to Mandela and the joint appearances all reinforce this in the South African public eye.

Ultimately, Mandela is once again a political asset for those with the credibility to hold onto his coat-tails. Jacob Zuma could not invoke Mandela - but Ramaphosa can. And that's how he can leverage the aura of Mandela much more successfully that Zuma could, ever.

Television images of a smiling Patricia de Lille and beaming Lindiwe Mazibuko add to the broader optics of Ramaphosa appealing to a larger political cross-section of the South African public.

Post-Zuma strategy

This will be of particular concern to the DA as the party continues to battle with a post-Zuma strategy.

In a week in which the new Ipsos poll showed the DA unable to make political headway, Ramaphosa’s connection to Mandela poses additional headaches.

Indeed, Mmusi Maimane has himself attempted to invoke the Mandela-spirit in the last local election campaign to some limited benefit for his party. But, given Ramaphosa’s close relationship with Madiba – and documented evidence suggesting he was Mandela’s preferred successor – this avenue will now be closed to Maimane.

*Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.

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nelson mandela  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  opinion
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