Can Cyril survive?

The question is now whether Ramaphosa can survive this in and outside the ANC?

In May this year I wrote a piece under the title “Could Zuma be planning an ambush?” In it I warned that such an ambush could take the form of “damaging disclosures (truthful or otherwise) about the other side”.

In conversations with business I repeated my belief that the Zuma camp will almost certainly use stories of a sexual nature against Cyril Ramaphosa closer to the electoral conference.

And so it came to pass.

The story published over the weekend was totally predictable and, if it wasn’t for the very worrying possibility that state resources were used to hack Ramaphosa’s private emails, almost boring.

Of course there was also the irony of the Zuma camp trying to tarnish the opposition with stories of infidelity.

The question is now whether Ramaphosa can survive this in and outside the ANC?

I think he can under certain pre-conditions. The first pre-condition is that he cannot lie. I suspect that the majority of people could not care less what consenting adults (politicians or anyone else) do behind bedroom doors.

If infidelity was a crime possibly half of this country and most politicians would be in jail. It might be hurtful to the other party in the marriage, but that is for those involved to sort out.

Thanks to our current president South Africans don’t really blink about polygamy. It is also widely accepted that the president has numerous girlfriends. He is unapologetic about it and at most the nation laughingly wonders where he gets all his energy from.

So Ramaphosa’s sexual escapades should only make for a bit of salacious reading and perhaps a couple of funny memes … unless he doesn’t come clean.

As Bill Clinton found out, it wasn’t so much the romping around in the Oval office with Monica Lewinsky that got him impeached, as it was the I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman denial. It raised questions about his honesty, integrity and ability to run the country.

As a nation we have also become totally numbed by our politicians lying incessantly not only to the electorate, but even to their own colleagues in Parliament – which is in fact a crime.

However, the vast majority of people inside and outside the ANC want change and thus need Ramaphosa to be different.

We need a Madiba-like leader: someone to be proud of, who can be trusted, who can re-calibrate the nation’s moral compass and of whom we can assume the best, rather than always expecting the worst.

And so if there were more than one woman, Ramaphosa should not try and spin this or play around with words. He must confess right now, apologise and sort things out with his spouse (not necessarily in that order). Then he will most probably be seen as “just human” and given brownie points for coming clean. But not if he betrays our trust.

Secondly, Ramaphosa can survive this crisis if there are no other scandals that stick. The Zuma camp has already tried the “he-beat-his-wife” tactic (again, so predictable). The Ramaphosa camp handled the accusation with aplomb, but what will the Zuma camp try next?

Ramaphosa’s team must use their own intelligence to get ahead of these stories and expose them as smear tactics (assuming that is all they are) and so possibly even secure a few additional sympathy votes.

Thirdly, Ramaphosa must now pick up the sword and enter the battle – with 100% commitment. Two weeks ago I raised the question of why Ramaphosa was so quiet.

As tempting as it was to write a column titled, “Now I know why he is so quiet”, I don’t believe that would have been correct. I think something more serious was revealed during this past weekend’s dramas.

During his late night bid to stop the publication of the story Ramaphosa’s legal team argued that he has a right to privacy and that certain parts of his life is not of public interest.

That is not true and it is worrying that Ramaphosa would allow his lawyers to even go there.

The women who were falsely mentioned in the leaked text messages absolutely have a right to privacy. They could have stopped the story and should still consider legal action against those who linked them to these accusations.

Of course, if Ramaphosa was still in business and had stopped all political activity he could also have claimed the right to privacy. But as deputy resident and presidential hopeful everything about him is of public interest.

Suggesting otherwise possibly explains why there is at times a sense of ambivalence around Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign.

He is no longer the billionaire businessman who can claim certain things that come with that lifestyle – such as privacy when it comes to bedroom matters. He simply can’t be both businessman/private citizen and deputy president/presidential candidate.

Becoming president requires more than resigning board seats and letting go of business interests. It also demands letting go of a certain state of mind and becoming totally focussed in this gladiator-like battle.

Like the fighters in Roman times, he cannot enter the arena with any ambivalence if he wants to survive. Nor can he, when the lions are storming down on him, try Codesa-like to negotiate his way out.

The only choice he has is either to stand and fight or run like hell.

On Sunday Ramaphosa said that he wasn’t going to run away. That is good news, but he must have a battle plan beyond having names of both camps on his list and denying accusations of wrong-doing as they surface.

Because the one thing we know is that the lions are out and they are hungry.

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.