Ramaphosa unleashed is a sight to behold - at long last
With the ANC "policy" conference out of the way, open campaigning to replace Jacob Zuma as the party's president in December has begun. Cyril Ramaphosa started with a rousing attack on the corruption inside the state and the malignant presence of the Gupta family when he addressed the SACP congress this week.
Suddenly he was able to make himself the unity candidate, appealing to the communists, who constantly threaten to leave their alliance with the ANC anyway, not to split off. Suddenly he was the Ramaphosa we've been waiting to see. Too late, cried some. About time, cried others. Whatever - it cheered me up.
But Ramaphosa has real competition. Obviously the biggest would be the successor Zuma wants - his former wife, former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
But she's a terrible candidate, as it turns out, so Zuma's hedging his bets a bit. ANC chairwoman and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has put up her hand and Zuma, provided he can manage the emotions involved in betrayal (he can, by the way), might find himself going with her.
Unfortunately for him, the one woman with serious presence and ability who has also put up her hand is Lindiwe Sisulu, ANC royalty and most certainly not a part of Zuma's sleazy relationship with the Guptas. Surely Lindiwe and Ramaphosa will somehow end up on the same slate?And now that the inevitable has happened and Zweli Mkhize has been nominated, he too becomes a real factor in the election. He's a thoughtful, experienced and focused guy who has manifest presidential qualities. Mathews Phosa has said he would stand and so has Jeff Radebe.
Seven candidates, only two of whom would be useful to Zuma and the Guptas.
Normally a tight group would signal strength in the Zuma camp, but neither Nkosazana nor Baleka are in any way impressive. Jeff might suddenly find himself the apple of Jacob's eye, but I just can't see him winning broad support.
What the rest have to do, somehow, is to find a way to work together and perhaps even support each other.
Because, make no mistake, this is going to get really ugly. The Zuma camp, including the Guptas, has so much to lose that almost anything is worth trying. Ramaphosa, particularly, will be sorely tested.
Most analysts, commentators and reporters will have been quietly told at least once in the past few years that Ramaphosa is only the deputy president of party and country because he can be controlled.
In other words, Zuma has something on him. If my recent experience is any guide, it'll involve sex or, seeing as Ramaphosa is a billionaire, money. Some sort of smear. First there'll be a rumour, just to prepare the ground, and then a dossier, with pictures.
The important thing to know from the start, as has been the case with almost all of Zuma's "intelligence" dossiers, is that they are complete rubbish and not to be believed.
But the coming assault on Ramaphosa will be incredibly dirty and he will need the strength of a lion to get through it. If the smear is sex then it'll go way beyond pretty women. If it is money it'll have something to do with his business empire. Some "audit" will emerge proving fraud, bankruptcy, whatever.