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South Africa: Who’s who in President Ramaphosa’s network?

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Wednesday, 1 December 2021 15:22, updated on Thursday, 2 December 2021 09:15

South Africa's ruling party, ANC was dealt a hard blow after November's local elections, but according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, this was democracy at play. Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, he has been a major player in the ANC and South African politics in general. Who keeps him going? We have this look at his network, from the family to the financiers, the political allies and the core staff.


Cyril Ramaphosa grew up in Soweto and comes from a middle-class background, where his father was a policeman. He studied law and used the training to help found the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the early 1980s, when he forged many of the bonds that endure to this day.

Ramaphosa was the ANC’s secretary general in 1994 and as such, its lead negotiator. However, he went into business after Thabo Mbeki beat him to the party’s deputy presidency and positioned himself to succeed Nelson Mandela as president in 1999.

Ramaphosa went on to found Shanduka (meaning ‘change’ in his native Venda), which had interests in mining, the financial sector, advertising, information technology, property, telecoms and retail. In 2012, he started wrapping up his business interests when he became the ANC’s deputy president. He went on to become the country’s deputy president after the 2014 general elections.

Ramaphosa controversially raised funds for his ‘CR17’ campaign to be elected as ANC president in 2017. Displaying ambition and actively running for office in the ANC – much less raising funds – was, until recently, a taboo in the ANC and a relic from when the party was an underground liberation movement.

There is still not much transparency in this regard. Ramaphosa’s funders were revealed in bank statements obtained by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane for an investigation into his funding, and although these statements were sealed by a court, they were leaked to the media.

Despite his foray into business, where he benefited from the ANC’s black economic empowerment policies, Ramaphosa is first and foremost a politician. Biographer Anthony Butler quoted Michael Spicer, former Anglo American executive director and political strategist as saying that business, for Ramaphosa, was a means to an end in politics, and “just a convenient way station. It is just a vehicle for the necessary accumulation of wealth.”

Tshepo Motsepe is Ramaphosa’s third wife after his first two marriages ended in divorce. Ramaphosa married the medical doctor in 1996 and they have four children together.

She is also the sister of mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe.

Ramaphosa maintains good ties with his first wife, Hope Mudau, who publicly came out to deny claims that Ramaphosa assaulted her during her marriage. The claims were timed to coincide with his campaign to become ANC president in 2017.

Out of five children, Andile, Hope’s son with Ramaphosa, works most closely with his father, and helped manage his 2017 presidential campaign. When questions were raised about the funding of Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign, Andile jumped to his defense. In 2018, he got married to Bridget Rwakairu, niece of former Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.

Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe, has been regularly bankrolling the ANC, and is one of its biggest sponsors. This year, the party declared that he donated R5m ($315,808) ahead of the local government elections. It is the first time that the law has compelled parties to publish their large donations.

Like Ramaphosa, Motsepe has greatly benefited from the government’s black economic empowerment policy. The 59-year-old is one of South Africa’s richest. He is the founder and chairman of African Rainbow Minerals and private equity firm African Rainbow Capital. He also owns Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club and is the president of the Confederation of African Football.

His other company, African Rainbow Energy and Power, is part of the Ikamva equity consortium, which won 12 out of 25 projects awarded in bid window 5 of South Africa’s renewable power plan.

James Motlatsi’s close friendship with Ramaphosa dates back to 1982 when they helped establish the NUM, through which they fought a number of labour and anti-apartheid battles. They went on to become business associates after the 1994 democratic transition.

It was Motlatsi who persuaded Ramaphosa to run for the position as then ANC president Jacob Zuma’s deputy in 2012, when Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy president at the time, pulled out of the race for the position. Five years later, it gave Ramaphosa a leg-up into the presidency, but this also meant that he was party to the gross maladministration under Zuma’s presidency.

Cheryl Carolus (a businesswoman), Trevor Manuel, Derek Hanekom (both former minsters) and Pravin Gordhan (minister of public enterprises) were all part of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front with Ramaphosa. In 1994, Carolus and Manuel were also elected to the ANC’s predominantly ‘inzile’ leadership with Ramaphosa, who became party secretary general.

Currently, Hanekom serves as part of the ANC’s national leadership with Ramaphosa. In terms of strategy, he has the president’s ear.

Gordhan, who also served as minister under Zuma, was in the forefront of the campaign for Ramaphosa’s presidency. In 2018, Ramaphosa appointed him to help overhaul the ailing and corruption-riddled state-owned enterprises, but his repeated bail-outs of the failing South African Airways, and a failure thus far to guard against power cuts due to ailing energy utility Eskom, have made him unpopular.

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe and ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe shared career trajectories with Ramaphosa. They all served as NUM’s general secretary before taking up a similar role at the ANC.

Mantashe supported former President Jacob Zuma’s rise to power in 2007. However, after revelations of large-scale corruption under Zuma’s watch, he switched allegiance to Ramaphosa and supported him in his CR17 presidential campaign in 2017. As minister of mineral and energy resources, he has been pushing back against the complete elimination of coal power use in South Africa, although Ramaphosa has come out in favour of cleaner power.

Motlanthe, a businessman, is often roped in by a fractious ANC to preside over processes, such as the recent candidate selections for the local government election, a process so contested that successful candidates are assassinated, in some instances.

Other ANC leaders who lobbied for Ramaphosa, and who received money from his campaign funds, include Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana (then head of the party’s economic transformation committee, who was in charge of drafting the party’s land reform resolutions in a way that would not scare off investors); Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni; Deputy Minister in the Presidency Thembi Siweya; former Free State MEC Mxolisi Dukwana and former DA politician Grant Pascoe.

A number of others campaigned for him without being listed as fund recipients. Although Deputy President David Mabuza wasn’t Ramaphosa’s running mate, it is thanks to a last-minute deal, brokered by a regular ANC donor and founder of IT firm Gijima Technologies, Robert Gumede, that Mabuza’s supporters voted for Ramaphosa.

Colin Coleman, former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs for sub-Saharan Africa has known Ramaphosa since the mid-1980s when he was a National Union of Students leader and shared UDF platforms with the president. Coleman donated at least R70,000 to Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign and regularly comments on the government’s economic policy.

He is co-chair of the Youth Employment Service, a business-led government collaboration launched by Ramaphosa in 2018 to offer young people paid work experience.

Martin Kingston is the CEO of Rothschild and is currently the chairperson of Business for South Africa, an organised business formation that works with Ramaphosa’s government in its efforts to fight Covid-19. Kingston was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in London and first met Ramaphosa in Sweden in 1990, when Kingston’s then father-in-law, ANC leader Oliver Tambo, had a stroke. Ramaphosa accompanied Nelson Mandela, who was on one of his first international trips after being released from prison, to go and see Tambo.

Bobby Godsell, now a retired mining boss, was head of industrial relations at Anglo American and was in favour of the unionisation of black workers, which helped Ramaphosa get a foot in the door when he established NUM in 1982. He was reported to have donated R250,000 towards Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign.


Nicky Oppenheimer, a mining magnate and one of the richest men in Africa, is reported to have donated R10m towards the CR17 campaign.

Other reported donors to the CR17 campaign include:

  • Supermarket chain Pick n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman (R1m);
  • Sifiso Dabengwa, former chief executive of MTN and one of the fundraisers for Ramaphosa’s campaign (R2.4m);
  • Disgraced and late Bosasa CEO, Gavin Watson (R500,000);
  • Johnny Copelyn, CEO of Hoseken Consolidated Investments and director of television news station eNCA (R2m);
  • Retired CEO of Absa Bank Group, Maria Ramos, married to Trevor Manuel (R1m);
  • Mike Teke, CEO of coal supplier Serite Resources Holdings (R600,000);
  • Manne Dipico, businessman and former premier of the Northern Cape province (R50 000);
  • GrovePoint Limited, a UK-based investment firm (R1.8m);
  • Phembani, an energy company which merged with Shanduka Group in 2015 to resolve Ramaphosa’s business conflict (R2m);
  • Andrew Crawford-Brunt, Sygnia Media non-executive board member (R2m);
  • Stavros Nicolaou of Aspen Pharmacare (unknown amount, but reported to be millions);
  • Mark Lamberti, former CEO of Imperial Holdings and founder of Massmart group (R1m);
  • An anonymous donor gave R120m.

There is a faithful team of people who worked for Ramaphosa at Shanduka and then followed him into the deputy presidency, and ultimately into the presidency. Some were involved in his CR17 campaign.

They include his PA Mbali Nkosi, political advisors Steyn Speed (who did communications for the ANC under Thabo Mbeki) and Donné Nicol (she was Ramaphosa’s PA when he was elected ANC secretary general in 1991). Bejani Chauke was previously a political advisor to the National Council of Provinces chair, Thandi Modise, and was one of the CR17 campaign managers appointed as his political advisor in 2018.

His legal advisor is Nkukhanya Jele, who was previously a member of the Johannesburg bar, but who has done legal work for the ANC.

Marion Sparg was one of the CR17 campaign managers and is now a monitoring and evaluation manager in the presidency, while academic Crispian Olver helped with fundraising and still does work that supports Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean up corruption in government.

Ramaphosa replaced Zuma after defeating the latter’s preferred candidate and former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the ANC’s elective conference in 2017. Rampahosa has been an outspoken critic of the corruption reported under Zuma’s watch and during his own time as deputy president.

Suspended ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule, is out on bail after being charged with fraud and corruption.

Carl Niehaus is a staffer in the ANC secretary general’s office and former spokesperson of the Zuma-aligned Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association.

ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini was accused of maladministration during her time as minister of social development.

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