Ahead of the election of a new leader of South Africa’s governing African National Congress in December 2017, the readers of allAfrica.com, the website I have helped edit and run since 2006, knew the one contestant in the race, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as the former chair of the African Union Commission.
But they didn’t know the other, Cyril Ramaphosa, nearly as well. Having followed his rise first as a union then a party leader, I felt the story of a person I had observed as a canny political operator was one worth telling. Having seen the sophistication of his leadership since the 1980s, I didn’t share the scepticism of younger South African journalists who thought he was entering the race too late.
Ramaphosa, notoriously opaque behind his friendly mask, wasn’t giving interviews. So I turned to the writer of the most detailed Ramaphosa biography, Anthony Butler, for help. Butler is a professor in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Cape Town and a former fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
We carried the interview with Butler on AllAfrica two weeks before Ramaphosa was elected party president. Within another two months, Ramaphosa had manoeuvred the crippled Jacob Zuma out of office – 14 months before the end of his term – and had been elected president in Zuma’s place.