Report dims Cyril’s halo




‘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.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

Khadija Patel
Khadija Patel pushes words on street corners. She is a former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, a co-founder of the The Daily Vox and vice chairperson of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). As a journalist she has produced work for Sky News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Quartz, City Press and the Daily Maverick, among others. She is also a research associate at WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand) and has previously worked in community media. In 2017, she was among 11 people from across Africa and the diaspora who were awarded the inaugural Africa #NoFilter fellowship from the Ford Foundation and in 2018, she was awarded honorary membership of the Golden Key Society. She is passionate about the protection and enhancement of global media as a public good.

Related stories

ConCourt asked to rule that Zuma must testify for 10 days next year

It is Zondo's legal end game and will leave the former president, his supporters and those implicated in state capture to increasingly play fast and loose at imputing political motive to the commission

This is how the SIU catches crooks

Athandiwe Saba talked to the Special Investigating Unit’s Andy Mothibi about its caseload, including 1 000 Covid contracts

Richard Calland: Not much has shuffled in the political pack

Stocktake at the end of a momentous year shows that the ruling party holds all the cards but has little room for manoeuvre

Tighter Covid restrictions for N. Mandela Bay — other hotspots may follow

With the number of cases spiralling out of control in hotspots in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, longer curfews and restrictions on alcohol sales are being implemented

Watch it again: Ramaphosa addresses the nation

The president's address follows a special sitting of Cabinet, which considered recommendations of the National Coronavirus Command Council

ATM withdrawal halts no-confidence vote against Ramaphosa

The party wants the court to rule on the secret ballot issue first, with the case set to be heard in early February

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

Blast rocks Durban’s Engen refinery

Residents are being evacuated as firefighters battle to control the blaze

ConCourt asked to rule that Zuma must testify for 10...

It is Zondo's legal end game and will leave the former president, his supporters and those implicated in state capture to increasingly play fast and loose at imputing political motive to the commission

Carlos on Oozymandias’ goodbye grift

"Look on my works ye Mighty, and gimme 50 bucks!"

This is how the SIU catches crooks

Athandiwe Saba talked to the Special Investigating Unit’s Andy Mothibi about its caseload, including 1 000 Covid contracts

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…