South Africa: Can Cyril Ramaphosa Break Free of His Promethean Chains?


Anthony Butler's rich political biography of Cyril Ramaphosa is must-reading for local political junkies, foreign analysts of South Africa's recent history and possible future, and pretty much anyone curious about the rise of Cyril Ramaphosa. It has flaws, but its massive strengths make it a great read.

In ancient Greek mythology, Prometheus was the Titan who broke the monopoly of the gods to give humankind the gift of fire (and thus knowledge). For his troubles, he was condemned by Zeus to be chained to a mountaintop and to have large carnivorous birds pluck at his liver forever and ever (or at least until Zeus finally relents from his decision, or until Hercules frees Prometheus, depending on what version of the story one reads).

Writers from Aeschylus to Shelley have crafted dramas around Prometheus's torments and author Philip Roth even titled one of his novels about his alter ego, Zuckerman Unbound in homage to the Promethean legend.

Such is the potency of Prometheus's travails that this story has inspired painters to produce great, inspiring, even terrifying works. As a small child, this writer was absolutely mesmerised (and more than a little bit horror-struck) by a larger than life-size painting by Flemish...

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