On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation and answer questions from the media about the Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s damning report into a R500 000 donation to his ANC presidential campaign from Gavin Watson, the controversial head of Bosasa.
The move is likely meant to illustrate two things: that the president takes the findings of the public protector seriously and an attempt to limit the political damage the report has inflicted on his presidency.
Mkhwebane announced on Friday that she found Ramaphosa had misled Parliament when he responded to questions about whether Watson’s company — which now trades as African Global Group — had donated R500 000 to his campaign for the CR17 campaign in December 2017. She also found that Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane’s complaint on money laundering “had merit” and directed the National Prosecuting Authority to further investigate the matter.
Mkhwebane’s report is likely to be taken under review by Ramaphosa: he released his responses to her on the allegations on Friday and complained that she had not taken them into consideration to reach her conclusions.
However, some of the revelations she made in her report such as large sums of money donated by individuals to the campaign have cast a shadow over Ramaphosa’s image as an anti-graft crusader and his administration’s state capture clean-up project.
Mkhwebane used the word ‘capture’ in her media briefing when referring to the large donations and has instructed Ramaphosa to reveal the identity of his donors as part of her remedial action.
It has long been an open secret that ANC internal elections are heavily influenced by money and candidates spend large amounts on their campaigns. Organisational reports delivered at almost every conference for over a decade have lamented the use of money in internal party elections and its impact on internal democracy in the party.
Mkhwebane has now tied this political albatross firmly around Ramaphosa’s neck — even if her report is set aside after a court review — and it is imperative that he take the nation into his confidence on the matter.
The move to address the nation also sets Ramaphosa apart from his predecessor Jacob Zuma who simply unleashed his allies in the ANC to attack the public protector and then simply ignored her findings, particularly after the release of her report on the upgrades to his private residence at Nkandla in 2014.
While the Economic Freedom Fighters and Ramaphosa’s opponents in the ANC are attempting to paint the new president with the same brush as Zuma, his stance toward the office of the public protector is decidedly different.
Mkhwebane herself admitted this when she thanked Ramaphosa for his cooperation and for the ‘mature way’ in which he handled their interactions ahead of releasing her report on Friday.
Who can forget Zuma’s epic fights with then public protector Thuli Madonsela, who was forced to publicly release the transcript of a belligerent interview with him after he had claimed that he was not afforded an opportunity to respond to allegations in her report on state capture.
But the fundamental difference between the Ramaphosa and Zuma administrations is that the former is making use of the courts to review the public protector’s findings which are binding — unless they are set aside in a review process. He has supported Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan’s application for an interdict as the minister reviews Mkhwebane’s findings on the so-called rogue unit at the South African Revenue Service.
Ramaphosa is likely to take the nation into his confidence this evening over whether he will review Mkhwebane’s findings against him.
The briefing is scheduled to kick off at 6pm.