Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African trade union leader turned business tycoon (wealth estimated at between $450 and $700 million) who has just been elected the new leader of the scandal-riven African National Congress, played a decisive role in edging the Provisional IRA towards full decommissioning of weapons.
Along with former Finnish president Marti Ahtisaari, Ramaphosa was one of the two weapons inspectors appointed by the British and Irish governments to confirm that IRA weapons placed in secure dumps had not been moved or used since they were last inspected.
In itself a pretty pointless exercise, not least since the IRA still had plenty of weapons elsewhere to use had it wished, the value of the operation was almost entirely psychological.
It got the IRA membership and base accustomed to the idea that weapons would be parlayed in exchange for further progress in the peace process, an example of the dictum ‘slowly, slowly catchee monkey’ in practice.
And so, by the time of the 9/11 incidents in New York city when Sinn Fein risked political isolation by refusing to divest itself of terrorist weaponry, the republican base was ready to accept final and full decommissioning of IRA weapons.
Ramaphosa was also a regular visitor to Belfast and Dublin in these years when he gave rousing, pro-peace process speeches to Sinn Fein crowds, including once in the Ulster Hall. He was friendly to all the Sinn Fein leadership of that era and hosted both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on their trips to South Africa.
Once a left wing trade unionist and close ally of Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa lost a bid to become ANC general secretary and then moved into business where he made his fortune.
He is blamed in some circles for the notorious Marikan massacre of miners, thirty four of whom were killed in police gunfire, after Ramaphosa had urged the government to send more police to the gold mine where workers were on strike for better wages and conditions.
Let’s hope he doesn’t start ‘advising’ them on privatization, labour relations, and policing.