‘In the end you will fall prey to the perverse logic of those dictating the direction of politics through their control of the purse strings,” tweeted Neil Coleman, co-director of the Institute for Economic Justice this week.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday night, he appeared at ease, comfortable even. It had been two days since the public protector, Busisiswe Mkhwebane, had dimmed the shine on his halo. But appearances can be deceiving. No matter how well the president emerges from his legal challenge of Mkhwebane’s findings against him, the idea that he may somehow be compromised by the interests of his funders may haunt the rest of his political career.
The sheer scale of funding poured into Ramaphosa’s CR17 ANC presidential campaign in December 2017 surprised many when Mkhwebane released her report last week. She revealed that hundreds of millions of rands was raised. The one number used by Mkhwebane, of R400-million, certainly sounds impressive; about two times an Nkandla. But the president insists that nothing is amiss; this is how politics is done in South Africa.
“CR17’s funds accordingly were raised from party members, the president himself, as well as party supporters and interested parties,” he said in his submission to Mkhwebane, through his lawyers, Harris Nupen Molebatsi Attorneys.
The public protector concluded that Ramaphosa may be the object of another kind of “capture”; funds committed to the “CR17 campaign were some form of sponsorship”.
And so, a new site of controversy has emerged around Mkhwebane — but central to this controversy is the public protector herself.
Since assuming office in October 2017 she has been accused of being a spy as often as she has had her competence questioned.
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, for one, has not held back in his summation of Mkhwebane as being part of a “fightback” campaign aimed at undermining Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” project. And while Ramaphosa has certainly been more measured, he has also raised questions about the public protector’s motives.
When the president spoke on Sunday, he said that, after consulting his legal team, he believed Mkhwebane had overstepped her powers in her investigation of his campaign financing.
In her investigation, Mkhwebane was confined to pursuing the R500 000 donation from the corruption-tainted company, Bosasa, to the CR17 campaign. But she strongly infers that in the course of her investigation she uncovered money laundering on a much grander scale, linked to the CR17 account and that of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation.
Commentators concluded that the public protector was, in effect, inviting a complaint from the public to pursue this further.
Ramaphosa insists there was no subpoena to look at the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation bank account, the one alleged to have ultimately been used to pay unknown beneficiaries.
In her investigations into allegations of an improper relationship between Ramaphosa and Bosasa, now called African Global Operations, Mkhwebane said she had found evidence that indicated that some of the money collected through the CR17 campaign was paid into the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and to other beneficiaries from the foundation.
In her final report, Mkhwebane said: “I have evidence which indicates that some of the money collected through the CR17 account was transferred into the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation account where it was also transferred to other beneficiaries.”
She has since referred her findings to the National Prosecuting Authority, which will pass the information to the elite crime fighting unit, the Hawks, to investigate allegations of money laundering.
In the report she found Ramaphosa to have “deliberately misled Parliament” and that he personally benefited from the campaign donations. Mkhwebane listed all the banks she had subpoenaed for records, which included Absa and FNB.
But Absa denied receiving any subpoena relating to her probes into Ramaphosa. “We wish to place on record that Absa is not aware of such a subpoena and therefore has not refused to co-operate with her investigation,” the bank said in a statement.
But, Mkhwebane did not mention serving a subpoena on Standard Bank, where the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation has its account.
“The PP did not request CRF (Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation) bank statements,” said presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko. “It came as a surprise that she mentioned that she has evidence of money going to other beneficiaries from the foundation, without giving an opportunity to respond to such.”
The question then is: How did the public protector come by this information? And what exactly is Mkhwebane’s relationship with the State Security Agency?
In the Constitutional Court’s put-down of Mkhwebane this week, with respect to her handling of the Bankorp matter, questions were asked about a meeting she had with the security agency and former president Jacob Zuma. It had emerged in court papers that, in between the preliminary report and the release of her final report — which went much further than the interim one — Mkhwebane had consulted the security agency and the presidency but did not go back to the banks.
She also did not reveal the meetings with the presidency in her final report. When she was asked in litigation to explain why, she did not.
She also did not explain why these meetings were not recorded and transcribed as the other meetings in her investigation had been.
The Constitutional Court concluded that her explanation made no sense and “compounded the case against her”. It found her to have conducted her investigation into the Reserve Bank’s bailout of Bankorp (later bought by Absa) in bad faith “and in a grossly unreasonable manner”.
Mkhwebane had not replied to questions at the time of publishing.
But the questions that she has thrown out about the amounts of money that fund our politics will remain. And they will grow. This is why people are now calling for the laws governing political party funding be extended to include the money funnelled into individual’s campaigns.
Political analyst Rendani Ralinala said it seemed that the public protector was trying to encourage another complaint when she stated
that she has evidence against the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, but did not make such information available.
“The public protector’s graphical assertion regarding the money laundering inference is a clear attempt to incite the public to file a complaint on such inference since both the DA [Democratic Alliance] and EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] complaints do not reach that border.
“Wittingly or unwittingly, the public protector has pulled the trigger like an infantry soldier to scare South Africans about the character of the president and the CR17 campaign with a sole intention to draw commonalities between the exponents of state capture and all who are at work to get rid of it.”