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Cyril Ramaphosa (1952 - )

The Order of the Baobab in Silver

Cyril Ramaphosa (1952 - ) Awarded for:

His invaluable contribution to the multiparty negotiations and convening the Constitutional Assembly to draft the new Constitution during the transition from apartheid to a democratic South Africa.

Profile of Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa was born in Soweto on 17 November 1952. He is widely recognised as a successful businessman and respected politician and commended for his humility. His credentials for the struggle against apartheid can be traced to his activism in student politics at the University of the North (now University of Limpopo).

During this period, he organised rallies, which led to his detention in 1974 along with other student activists. However, no amount of intimidation by the security forces could deter him from pursuing the noble objective of fighting for a free and democratic South Africa.

After completing his degree in 1981, he joined an independent trade union movement, the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA). When the government and the Chamber of Mines announced their decision to allow black mine workers to join unions, CUSA propelled Ramaphosa into establishing the National Union of Mine-workers (NUM) in 1982, which mobilised extensively against oppression. In the eyes of many black mine workers, he was a true compatriot who fought for the transformation of labour relations in the mining industry under the apartheid government.

Fearlessly, he steered NUM to focus its campaigns on wages and working conditions for black mining workers. In effect, the union won scores of significant victories through bargaining and the courts.

Understanding the need to stand up against the oppressors, Ramaphosa led NUM to a three-week strike in 1987 after a wage deadlock with the Chamber of Mines. The strike saw a halt in production at half of South Africa’s gold mines and at least one-fifth of the coal mines. This cost the industry millions of rands a day as this sector largely depended on its black work force. His achievements in the NUM include growing the union’s membership from 6 000 in 1982 to 300 000 in 1992.

Following a long and intensive history in student and trade-union politics, and playing a leading role in the Mass Democratic Movement that preceded the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC), Ramaphosa hit the headlines as he introduced Nelson Mandela to the thousands of supporters outside the Cape Town City Hall, where Nelson Mandela delivered his first public speech in 30 years.

In July 1991, the ANC held its first conference after the unbanning of the liberation movements. Ramaphosa was elected secretary general of the ANC. He became part of the leadership core that emerged from this conference with a mandate to negotiate a new Constitution with the then National Party (NP) government.

In this regard, he rose to prominence for his role as head of the ANC delegation that negotiated the end of apartheid with the government in November 1991. After the first democratic election in 1994, he became a member of Parliament and was later elected chairperson of the Constitutional Assembly where he worked tirelessly; and built a partnership with his NP counterpart, Roelf Meyer, in what was to be a long-time symbolism of reconciliation and collaboration for the common good.

He is for this reason lauded and respected as the co-convener of the country’s internationally acclaimed Constitution.

When he retreated from active politics in 1997, Ramaphosa became a director of New Africa Investments Limited. Despite disappearing from the political limelight, his negotiation acumen is still recognised by international leaders, through his international mediation and conflict-resolution efforts.

Cyril Ramaphosa could have chosen a safe career as a lawyer. Instead, he repeatedly risked his personal safety in constant confrontation with the apartheid government. His selfless acts of courage ushered South Africa into a free, democratic society currently enjoyed by all who live in it. He continues to make a meaningful contribution in key economic and political arenas of the country.

 Union Building