In honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Tambo, the ANC has declared 2017 as ‘The Year of OR Tambo’. Several structures have launched Tambo Fridays to celebrate his life and contribution.
The Tambo Friday initiative seeks to deepen unity, promote an activist ANC and encourage cadre development.
It is part of the broader effort to rebuild and renew the movement.
We will profile events and leaders who demonstrate the values and qualities of OR Tambo.
The Early Years.
In every role that he has undertaken, Cde Ramaphosa has demonstrated great skill and ability – and this has been evident throughout his life, even from his earliest years.
He has dedicated his life to the service of the South African people and bettering the lot of those who are downtrodden and discriminated against. His leadership, dignity and integrity have shone through at all of the stages of his life.
We take a closer look at the life of Cyril Ramaphosa, a candidate well worth nominating to take the movement and the country forward to where they should be – and to where supporters of the party have always expected the ANC to take them.
This week we start with a look at his very early years, up until earning his law degree.
Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa was born at 1627 Letanka Street in Western Native Township near Johannesburg on 17 November 1952, the second of the three children of Erdmuthe and Samuel Ramaphosa, a policeman. His parents were from Venda, which is now part of Limpopo.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s parents were renowned in their community for their strength of moral character, and many would turn to his father for help with their problems. Cyril Ramaphosa later said:
“The patience to be able to listen to people and deal with their problems, I think I learnt from my father.”
In 1962 the family was forced to relocate to Tshiawelo in Soweto when the Western Native Township was earmarked for industrial development. Cyril Ramaphosa attended Tshilidzi Primary School and Sekano-Ntoane High School in Soweto, then completed his last two school years as a boarder at Mphaphuli High School in his parents’ former village of Sibasa in Limpopo. He matriculated in 1971 and is reported to have worked tirelessly to polish his work, which often saw him in the first two places of his class.
His school principal at Sibasa, TS Ntsandeni, was warned by one of Cyril Ramaphosa’s former teachers that “you have a very special student starting next year”. This was made abundantly clear when the members of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) – the largest student organisation at the school – immediately asked that Cyril Ramaphosa be elected as their new chair.
At Mphaphuli High School it is reported that:
“Cyril Ramaphosa would stiffen his classmates’ resolve, sharpen their discipline, organise their school projects and hone their class presentations. He would even harangue those whose work was not up to standard … [and] took the same approach with teachers who were not properly prepared or whose attendance record was unsatisfactory.” (Butler (2007), Cyril Ramaphosa, p. 29)
He registered to study law at the University of the North (Turfloop) (now the University of Limpopo) in 1972, funded by a bursary and a loan. He joined the South African Students Organisation (SASO) that same year and quickly became very involved in student politics. By 1974 Cyril Ramaphosa was chairperson of that branch of SASO, as well as of the SCM.
In the SCM he worked with like-minded members like Frank Chikane to set about restructuring the organisation, producing a new constitution that explicitly repudiated racism and the unjust system of apartheid.
After a series of pro-Frelimo rallies celebrating the independence of Mozambique, organised by SASO and the Black Peoples Convention (BPC) in 1974, Cyril Ramaphosa was detained in solitary confinement for 11 months under the Terrorism Act. He was held in Pretoria Central Prison and upon his release found himself excluded from the university.
Determined to become a lawyer, he needed money and work in order to enrol at Unisa, and secured a job as a temporary teacher at Meadowlands High School in Soweto. Here he became a source of advice for the youth, but this led to him being detained under the Terrorism Act again, this time for six months, after the Soweto student uprising in June 1976. He was held at the infamous ‘John Vorster Square’ – the 10-storey Johannesburg Central
Once released from prison Cyril Ramaphosa secured work as an articled clerk in the offices of lawyer Henry Dolowitz in Johannesburg. He completed his BProc degree by correspondence through Unisa in 1981 and completed his articles in the same year. He then joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) as an advisor in the legal department.
It is clear how unwavering Cyril Ramaphosa was in his work ethic, diligence, intellect, reasoning, strategising and commitment to the struggle and achieving a position where he could help to achieve a better life for all. These qualities are those of a candidate worthy of nomination to leadership of the ANC, and of a candidate who will take us into the future we all desire.
Next week we look at Cyril Ramaphosa’s early years as an activist in the trade unions and the struggle for liberation.