Sona or later we’ll find out if Cyril is part of the ANC’s mafia or not
Is Cyril Ramaphosa an undercover agent working for democracy and accountability, or has he been turned?
In 1976, a moustachioed man named Joe Pistone joined a hijacking crew run by Jilly Greca of the Colombo crime family in New York.
He was good under pressure – he was reportedly physically unable to sweat when stressed – and he soon graduated to the Bonanno family, where he was trained in the darkest arts by “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero and eventually contracted to kill “Bruno” Indelicato and Bonanno capo, Philip “The Priest” Giaccone.
Pistone remains adamant that he would have been “made” – or formally inducted into the Mafia – had he murdered Giaccone. No doubt the hit on Indelicato would also have cemented his place in the organisation.
But neither killing took place, because Pistone wasn’t a killer: he was an FBI agent living a fictitious life as one Donnie Brasco. In 1981 his handlers decided that the operation had become too dangerous, and, despite his protests, Pistone was pulled out.
The FBI’s decision was easy. It had been compiling vast amounts of intelligence through Pistone, and having him “made” would have been a stunning embarrassment to the Mafia; but it would be tricky for an agent to commit cold-blooded murder with the agency’s consent, and if he refused the hits, questions would be asked by the mob. Either way, he had to be pulled out.
It was a pragmatic decision based on facts. But underneath it, another, more intangible fear must have stalked the offices of the FBI: the real possibility that an agent like Pistone might go too deep; might be pulled too far into the darkness and drift free of ethical and legal constraints.
It’s become a staple of spy thrillers and police procedurals: the agent coaxed in from the cold; the undercover cop brought in to report. For the viewer, the drama is delicious. Why is he being so evasive and hostile? Does he know he’s being watched by the bad guys and needs to put on a show of loyalty? Above all: how far into the dark has he gone? We just won’t know until the end, when, his pistol pressed to an innocent head, the villains egging him on, he either reveals his depravity or saves the day.
On Thursday evening, an agent is coming in from the cold to be debriefed.
Not surprisingly for a man whose job it is to play both sides, he has many names. To his enemies, he is “The Butcher of Marikana”. His associates in the Mafia call him “Comrade”. I used to call him “The Human Ball-Gag”. You probably know him as “Cyril” or “Matamela”. Depending on which crew you run with, you might even call him “Mr President”, although it remains to be seen whether that is a fair description or a cruel joke.
Because that’s the thing. We don’t know. Which is why, on Thursday evening, when he’s rushed into the basement in a bulletproof car and put in front of cameras, you and I will be watching through the one-way mirror; trying to penetrate the rhetoric; straining to read his face for answers to the great questions of the moment.
Is he lying? If he is, is it to save himself so he can tell the truth later?
Is he ours or is he theirs?
When he reads his State of the Nation address, whose words is he reading? His? Theirs? Or is it a mess of influences, the binary nature of the ANC made visible on the teleprompter as the predator-parasite majority battles the party’s beleaguered democrats in every paragraph?
When he speaks, who is speaking? Is Cyril Ramaphosa an undercover agent working for democracy and accountability, or has he been turned? Was he ever on our side? During all those years he spent smiling and nodding next to the monstrous godfather who preyed on our democracy, was he, like Joe Pistone, hiding his secret identity from the gangsters around him, hoping to become a “made man” so that he would have the power to take them down one by one? Or was he smiling and nodding because that’s what scared, weak people do when they don’t have a plan?
Will his address be a carefully constructed code, smuggling out tiny bits of information and encouragement to honest citizens as he pretends to kiss the ring of Luthuli House? Or will the kiss be too heartfelt to ignore?
He’s been in so deep for so long that we simply can’t know. If he comes out and breaks cover, it will only be after the elections.
For now we wait, and watch, and wonder, surrounded by wiseguys, none the wiser.