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16 Aug 2019 00:00
In full swing: Fundraising for Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to be elected as president of the ANC at the Nasrec conference in December 2017 worked like a well-oiled machine. (Paul Botes/M&G)
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s CR17 campaign to be elected the ANC’s president has, with its fund-raising infrastructure, professionalised and institutionalised what other candidates would do out of the boots of their cars.
The fallout from the emails leaked from Ramaphosa’s 2017 campaign marks another positive development in heightening transparency.
This comes after civil society organisations scored a victory when the Political Party Funding Act was signed in January, which requires parties to reveal their funders.
The ANC is taking this a step further by turning its attention towards regulating internal party elections, including the way they are funded and what funding is used for.
But a clear distinction should be made between money used to fund a campaign and money used to buy delegates’ votes. There has not been an ANC elective conference in the past decade in which votes were not bought.
The details of the inner workings of the CR17 campaign were provided in Ramaphosa’s submission to public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which he publicly released in July.
It shows how money was collected, what it was used for, that regular salaries were paid to individuals who worked on the campaign full-time and how the bank accounts belonging to the campaign were used.
Ramaphosa’s campaign team formalised a process that is commonplace in intra-party politics and generally done in a rather rudimentary way.
Ramaphosa is not being accused of the insidious practice of paying cold, hard cash to individual delegates in exchange for their votes. Nor is he being accused of the even more harrowing practice of taxpayers’ money being diverted to the campaigns of individuals running for posts in the ANC.
Analysts say that Ramaphosa’s conduct was not illegal and the CR17 campaign broke no laws.
All political parties in South Africa survive and bankroll their day-to-day running using donor funds.
Lawson Naidoo, director of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said the Political Party Funding Act did not cover elections within political parties and that the law is largely silent on the matter.
“My view is that we need a regulatory framework for intra-party politics. It is not surprising that he raised money for a campaign, it is common practice across political parties,” he said.
He referred to an example from 2015 when former Democratic Alliance MP Wilmot James and current DA head Mmusi Maimane were battling it out for the party’s top position. James revealed publicly that he spent some R150 000 on his campaign, funded mostly by himself, and challenged Maimane to reveal how much he spent and where it was obtained. Maimane declined to do so.
The main argument against the donations to the CR17 campaign is that donors would expect “repayment” and favours from Ramaphosa, now that he is head of state. It’s a rather cynical argument, driven by the Economic Freedom Fighters and the faction in the ANC aligned to Zuma, who are both familiar with the art of palm-greasing politics. Think self-confessed cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti and Atul Gupta.
In a statement this week the EFF accused Ramaphosa of being “made by white monopoly capitalists” and urged him to “disclose all conflicts of interest between the money he received and all the appointments he made” since being elected president.
A senior leader, who formed part of the now-disbanded CR17 campaign and wished to remain anonymous, said a decision was taken to keep Ramaphosa at an arm’s length from the fundraising process, although there were times when his input was sought.
The fundraising team also decided to approach only “individuals with integrity”, who wanted to arrest the economic and political decline in South Africa — in other words, people who would “never say ‘what’s in it for me’ ”.
“Nobody was promised anything… it was about the country. We had to fight the tyranny jointly to bring back our country,” the senior leader said. “If we had lost the elective conference at Nasrec [in December 2017], where would this country be?”
The senior leader said people were approached because of the extraordinary situation in South Africa, when Zuma’s state capture project was exposed after he removed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister at the end of 2015.
The period was characterised by political and economic upheaval, from which the country has yet to recover.
It was marked by protests against Zuma’s leadership by citizens, opposition parties, civil society organisations, as well as ANC allies the South African Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu.
The problem for Ramaphosa, which the EFF is set to scrutinise further in Parliament next week, is whether he lied when he told the public protector and Parliament that a deliberate decision was taken that he would not be involved in fundraising. In his July response to Mkhwebane, Ramaphosa indicated that there was an agreement that he would be kept in the dark about the donations and he was “generally accordingly ignorant” of donations to the campaign. The leaked emails suggest that he was drawn in.
The problem for Mkhwebane is whether she had obtained the emails — as well as other information such as bank statements — legally, and why, having had sight of these, she still managed to get transactions wrong in her final report, as raised in Ramaphosa’s submission.
For instance, she found money was deposited into the Standard Bank account of Ria Tenda Trust five months before the account was actually opened. The public protector also double counted the amounts.
This contributed to perceptions that the CR17 campaign raised the exorbitant figure of R1-billion for Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential bid, but a member of his fundraising team said the figure was a maximum of R300-million.
This, as well as the mounting number of court judgments against her, continues to erode the public protector’s credibility.
A problem for the EFF and the Zuma faction is that Ramaphosa continues to make progress — albeit slowly — in both cleaning up the state and turning around the ANC’s electoral fortunes. Recent by-elections saw the ANC snatch two wards from the DA in Gauteng and one in the Northern Cape.
The axing of corruption-accused eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede is also a huge breakthrough for Ramaphosa, given her proximity to the Zuma faction and the strategic significance of the Ethekwini metropolitan municipality.
In the end, as head of state — particularly after the disastrous Zuma years — Ramaphosa’s conduct should be beyond reproach. The funding revelations have placed the nation in uncharted territory, because there is a grey area in terms of whether any laws were actually broken by the CR17 campaign team.
Intra-party funding should be opened to scrutiny as much as political party funding is and this should not be limited to the ANC, but apply to political parties across the board. The EFF, which has been leading the charge against Ramaphosa, is scheduled to hold its second elective conference this year, has an opportunity to set an example.
Natasha Marrian is Mail & Guardian's politics editor. Read more from Natasha Marrian
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