Cyril Ramaphosa was born in Soweto, Johannesburg, on 17 November 1952. He is the second of the three children of Erdmuth and Samuel Ramaphosa, a retired policeman. He grew up in the south western Township (Soweto), attending Tshilidzi Primary School and Sekano Ntoane High School in Soweto. In 1971 he matriculated from Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, Venda. He subsequently registered to study law at the University of the North (Turfloop) in 1972.
While at university, Ramaphosa became involved in student politics and joined the South African Students Organisation (SASO), and the Black People's Convention (BPC). This resulted in him being detained in solitary confinement for eleven months in 1974 under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, for organising pro-Frelimo rallies. In 1976 he was detained again, following the unrest in Soweto, and held for six months at John Vorster Square under the Terrorism Act. After his release, he became a law clerk for a Johannesburg firm of attorneys and continued with his articles through correspondence with the University of South Africa (UNISA), where he obtained his B. Proc. Degree in 1981.
He completed his articles in the same year, and joined the Council of Unions of South Africa (Cusa) as an advisor in the legal department.
Among other positions, he is executive chairman of Shanduka Group, a company he founded. Shanduka Group has investments in the Resources Sector, Energy Sector, Real Estate, Banking, Insurance, and Telecoms (SEACOM). He is also chairman of The Bidvest Group Limited, and MTN. His other non-executive directorships include Macsteel Holdings, Alexander Forbes and Standard Bank. In March 2007 he was appointed Non-Executive joint Chairman of Mondi, a leading international paper and packaging group, when the company demerged from Anglo American plc. In July 2013 he retired from the board of SABMiller plc.
He is one of South Africa’s richest men, with Forbes estimating his wealth at $675 million.
In 2011 Ramaphosa paid a 20-year master franchise agreement to run 145 McDonald's restaurants in South Africa. Shortly after the 2012 general election Ramaphosa announced that he was going to disinvest from Shanduka to free him up to fulfill his new responsibilities as Deputy President without the possibility of conflict of interest. McDonald's South Africa announced that there would be a process underway to replace Ramaphosa as the current development licensee of the fast food chain operation in South Africa.
In 2014 after becoming Deputy President of South Africa the Register of Members' interests, tabled at parliament revealed that Ramaphosa was a wealthy politician.
Over and above the more than R76 million Ramaphosa accumulated in company shares, the documents showed that the former trade unionist and businessman owned 30 properties in Johannesburg and two apartments in Cape Town. The register also confirmed Ramaphosa's resignation from Lonmin, a directorship for which he was criticised in during the Marikana Massacre in 2012.