The ANC employee fired after being arrested for his alleged involvement in cash-in-transit heists was a key security official during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign.
The ANC on Thursday said that Errol Velile Present’s involvement in last year’s CR17 campaign — which centred on ridding the ANC of corruption — was not something Ramaphosa would have known about.
“The president might not have been aware that he [Present] was campaigning for him. We encourage [ANC] staffers to maintain a distance with internal political processes,” said ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe.
Present was part of the advance team assessing security at Ramaphosa’s stops along the campaign trail. At least three Luthuli House insiders have confirmed that Present played an integral role in the run-up to the ANC’s national elective conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg last December.
“He worked closely with the police whenever there was going to be an event. He was involved in the mobilisation and security issues as part of the advance team before any of the campaign events could take place,” said a former CR17 campaign insider.
The source said that during the campaign, Present had worked closely with Marion Sparg, who once worked in Ramaphosa’s office when he was the secretary general of the ANC. She was recently appointed to the presidency as head of monitoring and evaluation.
Present, also an ANC branch secretary in Johannesburg’s ward 40 in Dobsonville, Soweto, was apparently key in organising rallies, branch audits and lectures wherever Ramaphosa spoke, said one source who has known him for 14 years.
The source claimed that Ramaphosa knew Present personally and that many in his inner circle were shocked at his arrest and alleged criminal activity, because Present from time to time interacted with the police ahead of ANC events.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, referred media inquiries to the ANC, saying only the party could speak about its staff members.
ANC man: Errol Velile Present was arrested in connection with a heist in Soweto earlier this month
Mabe said the party decided to dismiss Present in accordance with the relevant “personnel manual” and has since written to him, askinghim to supply reasons why his membership should not be suspended.
He said the ANC would not associate itself with anyone who was known or alleged to have committed such a crime. “The ANC deems this to be a very serious crime,” he said, while drawing a distinction between elected politicians and staff members.
“The ANC has taken the decision [to dismiss Present], so that as and when [he] is expected to go to court to deal with the accusations, the ANC is not in any way involved. We are not a court of law,” he said.
Mabe said that when someone was accused of a serious crime, “we believe it could work in the interest of the organisation that such individual could at least be put on the side”.
Other sources who worked on the campaign said Present was part of the ANC’s security and intelligence unit and worked closely with the party’s head of security, Paul Langa. The unit would have also provided security for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign, but Present was assigned to Ramaphosa’s bid.
He and Langa would travel ahead to venues that Ramaphosa was to visit to carry out security checks and mobilise residents to attend.
“They all worked closely and would liaise with branches as well when it came to the issue of audits of branches,” said the source.
Langa claimed to not even know Present.
Another source, who asked not to be named for fear of jeopardising his ANC membership, confirmed Present’s role in the security apparatus at Luthuli House but said there was no personal link between the suspect and Ramaphosa.
“There is a security unit at Luthuli [House, the ANC’s headquarters] that was even trained by Zonkizizwe [Security Services] … It’s basically the organisation’s intelligence and security unit and has been in existence since Luthuli moved from Shell House, and this guy is part of that unit.”
“He did work in Cyril’s campaign as part of that unit. I used to work in that unit … There are maybe 40 or 50 people there.”
Police Minister Bheki Cele, addressing a press conference on Thursday, said the police had positively linked Present to three heists, and that the ANC’s security team had been suspicious of him and had discovered things that shocked them since his arrest.
Present appeared in the Roodepoort magistrate’s court on Tuesday following his arrest during a cash-in-transit heist in Dobsonville earlier this month, alongside three other suspects: Zakhele Zondi, Itumeleng Manama and Bheki Biyela. The four face charges of armed robbery and possession of hijacked motor vehicles, and will appear in court again on July 31 to make a formal bail application.
There have reportedly been more than 135 cash-in-transit heists, where armoured vans carrying banknotes have been robbed, across the country since the beginning of the year.