President Cyril Ramaphosa has been tagged by many as a free marketeer and a pragmatist. He’s not, he’s a socialist.

In the immediate aftermath of  President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address last week and his apparent loss of control of the African National Congress’s (ANC) caucus to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, there has been much debate, publicly and privately, as to whether Ramaphosa is actually a socialist rather than a free market reformer. 

Ramaphosa is a dedicated, deployed cadre of the ANC in the classical Marxist-Leninist mould. 

The ANC deployed him to business to become one of the few beneficiaries of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deals, which aimed at creating wealth for the ANC outside its structures. The ANC entrusted selected individuals to gain access to substantial wealth and to ensure that such beneficiaries would donate substantial money to the ANC.

Consequently, Ramaphosa became extremely rich by being paid by numerous companies to sit on their boards. His estimated net worth is believed to be between R6 billion and R8 billion. Ramaphosa is also a brother-in-law of Patrice Motsepe, whom Forbes rates as being worth R26 billion.

Forbes has noted that ‘Although not a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Ramaphosa claimed that he was a committed socialist.’ Ramaphosa has certainly never referred to himself as a free marketeer or capitalist or ‘pro business’. What he’s more cleverly done is allowed others to create an impression that he is what people say he is.

Ramaphosa is a committed socialist and he made this abundantly clear in his keynote address at the Centenary Celebrations of the birth of President Nelson Mandela, Mvezo Village, Eastern Cape on 18 July 2018. The speech was given the day after Barack Obama delivered his speech in Johannesburg and Ramaphosa delivered a speech that only praised Mandela.

The audience significantly comprised the Mandela Family, the Inkosi of various areas and other traditional leadership. This is some of what Ramaphosa said:

A defining moment in his [Mandela’s] political development was when he was able to overcome his hostility towards the Communist Party of South Africa. 

Through hours of intensive engagement with comrades like Walter Sisulu and Moses Kotane, he came to appreciate the contribution of communists in the National Democratic Revolution. 

He came to understood (sic) the class content of the national struggle and the national content of the class struggle.

This moment in the evolution of his political thought is instructive, because it demonstrates the extent to which even the greatest leader is shaped by the circumstances of struggle, by the movement and by those around them.’

Ramaphosa’s unabashed admiration of Mandela’s adoption of an ideology that had long been revealed as murderous and unsuccessful, is extraordinary. 

Ramaphosa made no reference to the advice Mandela received from China at Davos in 1992: that following a socialist economic path would be a disaster.

Ramaphosa has frequently extolled the ongoing pursuit of ‘The National Democratic Revolution’ (NDR). The NDR’s roots lie in Lenin’s 1917 Theory of Imperialism. The theory was that the improvement in the living standards of the working classes in industrialised Europe was solely because the imperial powers ruthlessly exploited ‘the brown and black masses in their colonies’.

This didn’t quite describe South Africa, so in 1950 the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) declared that South Africa had “the characteristics of both an imperialist state and a colony within a single, indivisible, geographical, political, and economic entity”. 

In this ‘colonialism of a special type’, white South Africa was the ‘imperialist state’ and black South Africa its ‘colony’.  Enterprise, skill or technological advantage had nothing to do with white success; success was derived solely from the exploitation and impoverishment of blacks. 

The NDR, therefore, should create a society in which people are intellectually, socially, economically and politically empowered.

Over nine decades after Lenin’s death the theory remains central to the NDR today.

The problem with the NDR and the communism that invented it, is that it has failed wherever it has been practised. The Soviet Union lasted as long as it did because of its vast oil and gas reserves. When it inevitably collapsed so did the NDR. It just disappeared.

There are roughly 70 current and former socialist states or states run by socialist parties. The only remaining communist/socialist countries are China, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela. The first three are liberalising economically, Cuba is poor and under-developed, and Venezuela is imploding. 

The article by Dr. Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy Research at the IRR, on the destruction of the Venezuelan economy is well worth reading: (

We just need to look at our failed socialist neighbours – Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – to be chastened about contemplating a socialist economy. There is nothing to suggest that the ANC would succeed where all others have so miserably failed. 

‘To realise Madiba’s dream the 54th Conference of his organisation took forward looking (sic) decisions on how we can empower our people through giving them their land back through expropriation without compensation. This process in itself will lead to enhancing the growth of our economy and increase agricultural production and food security. The return of land to our people will unleash enormous growth in our economy,’ said Ramaphosa in his speech.

Ramaphosa and some others in the ANC said categorically that it would apply expropriation without compensation, ahead of the findings of the Constitutional Judicial Review Commission, which it did. It pre-empted the decision of its own commission.

Ramaphosa has never acknowledged that incompetence, corruption, a shortage of funding and a shortage of judges for the Land Court by successive ANC governments are the real reasons for any lack of success in land reform. 

Ramaphosa has contradicted himself on whether land ownership will vest in the state or in individuals. 

To those who are fearful of the prospect of the return of the land to our people I say fear not because we are going to handle this matter in the usual way we solve matters in our country, through dialogue and agreement. The restoration of land to our people will unlock the growth of our economy.’

The ‘unlocking of growth” is an illusion. Being in possession (not ownership) of land alone will unlock nothing. Skills, access to capital and freedom of movement also have to exist.

In his speech at the Centenary Celebration on 17 July 2018 Obama quoted Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Abraham Lincoln; Ramaphosa quoted Karl Marx.

Ramaphosa ended his speech with the Marxist-Leninist Mozambican liberation movement and political party Frelimo’s famous slogan: “The struggle continues – A luta continua”.

Ramaphosa says he’s a socialist – believe him!

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