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Cyril Ramaphosa, Mandela's protégé now in scandal

Cyril Ramaphosa, Mandela's protégé now in scandal
Cyril Ramaphosa at a rally, Feb. 11, 2018, in Cape Town   -  
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RODGER BOSCH/AFP or licensors

South Africa

The South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a favorite of Nelson Mandela and one of the most talented of his generation, has fallen from his pedestal, tainted by a scandal that has plagued him for months.

A parliamentary commission assured Wednesday that he "may have committed violations and misconduct" in a botched 2020 burglary at one of his properties that revealed a dollar fortune hidden in a sofa.

Soon, one question loomed large and heady: Can he stay on as a leader? Mr. Ramaphosa promised to address his fellow citizens soon.

But the road ahead seemed clear. He was expected to be reappointed in December as president of the ruling ANC party and to serve a second term as head of state, but everything froze with the threat of impeachment hanging over his head.

The plump, round-faced 70-year-old, sometimes mocked for his apparent bonhomie concealing a formidable negotiator, succeeded the sulphurous Jacob Zuma in 2018, making the fight against corruption his hobby horse.

But a complaint filed in June accuses him of not reporting the burglary at his Phala Phala farm, located two hours north of Pretoria, to either the police or the tax authorities. The case is still under police investigation.

This scandal, for months, makes "doubt his probity and reminds that he is not a superman", says the political scientist Susan Booysen, adding that the president had so far forged an image of "icon of the fight" against corruption.

- From Mandela to Coca-Cola -

Born on November 17, 1952, in Soweto, the epicenter of the struggle against apartheid near Johannesburg, Mr. Ramaphosa longed for the supreme office before he reached it.

As a law student, he became an activist in the 1970s and spent eleven months in solitary confinement. He turned to trade unionism, the rare legal way to fight the racist regime. In 1982, he founded the powerful miners' union, which shook the white power with massive strikes.

He was at the side of the iconic Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990 and contributed to the democratic transition. He was a candidate for the presidency of the ANC in 1999, but the party caciques preferred him to Thabo Mbeki.

This father of four then moved away from politics and turned to business. With interests in McDonald's and Coca-Cola, he amassed millions of thanks to the black economic emancipation program and entered the Forbes ranking of the 50 richest people in Africa.

He developed a passion for breeding rare cattle, which earned him the nickname "the buffalo". His wealth has sometimes been a handicap, with his detractors claiming that the businessman came before the politician.

- Shadow of the picture -

In 2012, as a director of the mining group Lonmin, he supported a police intervention against striking miners in Marikana. Thirty-four of them were killed in the worst police shooting since apartheid. He was not prosecuted, but even today, some people still hold him responsible.

But this did not prevent him from returning to politics. First as deputy president of the ANC in 2012, then to President Jacob Zuma in 2014. This will later earn him reproached for his silence during this era of corruption.

Patient and strategist, he finally took over the leadership of the ANC in 2017. With Zuma ousted the following year, he took the reins of the country.

He spearheaded the battle for equitable access to vaccines, and his handling of the Covid crisis won international acclaim. But at home, he has faced growing discontent fueled by unemployment and high inequality.

Cyril Ramaphosa is also struggling to resolve the energy crisis in Africa's leading industrial powerhouse, which is plagued by chronic power outages.

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