The 2017 campaign for the presidency of the ANC, and ultimately the leadership of the country, was one of the most closely fought in South Africa’s nascent democracy. With cabals in play, the campaigns for the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Lindiwe Sisulu and Mathews Phosa saw a cacophony of vote promises and lies, influence peddling and last-minute arm twisting. With paranoia high, “fragile” delegates whose votes had been secured were even quarantined from “the enemy”. Right up until the victorious candidates were called to the stage at Nasrec, no one could predict the outcome. For the CR17 campaign, it all started with a gathering on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
“… break the spine of Premier League and capitalise on garnering support of voting delegates in divided provinces.” This would be one of the central pillars of the CR17’s Siyavuma campaign to win the ANC’s elective conference in 2017. This and much of the ultimately successful strategy would be born at a smallholding in Randjesfontein, near Midrand.
The smallholding, in a gated community on the R101, is owned by businessman Cheslyn Mostert, who would become one of the kingmakers of Ramaphosa’s narrow-margin victory.
The plan — titled ANC 2017 CR17 Campaign Framework — had a budget of R122-million. Out of this, R56-million was allocated for campaigns and mobilisation. Among the other high-priority items was the provincial and regional caucuses, with a budget of R25-million, plus at least R5-million to support their conferences.
The donations, totalling more than R400-million, well exceeded the campaign’s budget.
The campaign identified outmanoeuvring the Premier League as key to putting Ramaphosa in power. “Stay close to NC [Northern Cape] & EC [Eastern Cape] elections. Secure the Limpopo, Western Cape, Gauteng and Northern Cape and break the spine of Premier League and capitalise on garnering support of voting delegates in divided provinces.”
The Premier League — the premiers of the Free State (Ace Magashule), North West (Supra Mahumapelo) and Mpumalanga (David Mabuza) — was seen as a strong supporter of Ramaphosa’s closest rival, Dlamini-Zuma.
“Ensure slush fund to the tune of R10m is available in December 2017. Fundraising in campaign peaks and troughs,” states the CR17 campaign document.
Information leaked about the CR17 campaign’s donations and payments has created a storm, including further divisions in the ANC. The leaks followed public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s release of her report about corruption-tainted Bosasa’s R500 000 donation to the CR17 campaign.
In her report, Mkhwebane said that there were a series of trusts and complex transactions to disguise the “laundering” of more than R400-million donated to Ramaphosa’s campaign. Ramaphosa has disputed the findings and has since taken Mkhwebane’s report on review.
A source with intimate knowledge of the CR17 campaign and those involved said that after numerous meetings in August 2016, Mostert was asked to run with the campaign because he had influence with ANC people in various provinces.
“He [Mostert] and Dr Bejani [Bejani Chauke, Ramaphosa’s special adviser] met at Melrose Arch and he [Bejani] hit the ground running, saying that there was not much time, things needed to move quickly and operation structures [set up]. That is when everything moved to Randjesfontein, which became the base,” said the source.
When contacted by the Mail & Guardian, Mostert would only confirm that his Randjesfontein plot was used as a base.
The source said: “There were those in the political committee who wanted to put up a formal structure and it was clear we were not going to win a conference by running it sitting in Sandton. You have to be on the ground and know what people are thinking and want. We had to fight underground and it was not a matter of clean versus dirty but more about overt versus covert.
“They wanted to put up accounts and corporate structures for the campaign — and now it is coming back to bite them with these bank statements.”
Mostert was brought in to the campaign to deal with the party’s structures on the ground because of his influence in the ANC in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and parts of Mpumalanga.
In November 2017, an overwhelming majority of Western Cape ANC branches nominated Ramaphosa to be the party’s president. He received 121 branch nominations, while his closest rival in the province — Sisulu — got 98.
In the run-up to Nasrec, the ANC in the Northern Cape became the first party structure to back Ramaphosa to succeed former ANC president Jacob Zuma.
According to one of the senior ANC members involved in the CR17 campaign, Mostert was identified as a particularly influential person in Western Cape ANC politics.
“He was hopping between campaigns [for the posts of president and secretary general] but one person in the CR17 campaign said this guy has power in the Western Cape and Northern Cape,” said the ANC source.
“He has ANC comrades loyal to him and he supports them, so he was brought into the [CR17] campaign to close the deal with those comrades who were going to be delegates.”
According to the financial statements, which the M&G has seen, Mostert’s company Tendzani received 21 separate payments amounting to R4 124 213.76 between January and October 2017. The largest payment was for R1 430 349.56 and made on October 16, exactly two months before the Nasrec conference. The payments were made through Linkd Environmental Services, one of the four entities used by CR17 to manage its funds.
Big shot: Cheslyn Mostert, one of the main movers in the CR17 campaign, also has a hunting business.
No payments were made to Tendzani between July and October. According to the senior ANC member this was during a period where there was a division in the CR17 campaign. “He [Mostert] left at some point because there were those people that were disagreeing with him in the CR17 campaign, but he was brought back because someone insisted that this man was key.”
The financial statements, first reported on by the Sunday Independent, lay bare the millions of rands paid by the campaign to a group of high-profile businesspeople, politicians and campaign managers.
Ramaphosa has consistently said he was kept at arms-length from the campaign’s fundraising activities. Last week, he won a court bid to seal the banking details of his CR17 donors, arguing that the public protector had allegedly obtained the documents illegally.
One person with intimate knowledge of the workings of the ANC in the Western Cape said Mostert has been a background player in the province for some time.
“At the 2015 provincial conference Cheslyn was manning the ‘Unity in Diversity’ caucus. Some saw that as alienating. He was playing on consolidating the rural bloc of delegates. Because if you have them, you have a balance of power to elect leadership.”
Mostert cut his teeth in anti-apartheid youth politics in Cape Town’s Mitchells Plain in the 1980s, worked at Shell House, Luthuli House and in the office of former ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. He previously helped co-ordinate the ANC’s economic transformation committee and helped design the party’s black economic empowerment policies.
Mostert subsequently moved on to various business ventures. He is a director and co-founder of Maverick Safaris, which “offers pre-packaged as well as bespoke hunting adventures across Southern Africa”, according to its website.
But questions have lingered about where Mostert gets his financial backing and how he wields influence in the province’s branches.
“From a financial side, he’s a very dark man. No one knows where he gets his money from. Some time ago he was involved with companies, and now you don’t even see these companies’ websites any more,” said one person close to ANC circles in the province.
Another ANC Western Cape leader, who was aligned to Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign, said Mostert campaigned for a mixed slate — he backed Ramaphosa for president and Ace Magashule for the position of ANC secretary general.
“He played a role in terms of funding certain lobby groups. He played a key role in the 2015 provincial conference. Then he went away,” the leader said. “He then came back ahead of Nasrec. He was supporting CR where the presidency is concerned, but he was also key in mobilising Western Cape branches to mobilise for Ace Magashule for secretary general.”
The leader, who has now thrown his support behind the presidency of Ramaphosa, said money raised for the ANC presidential bid was probably used to pay for a costly campaign of transporting, accommodating and feeding activists on the ground.
“My own assumption is that money was used for logistics and operational matters. But though I wouldn’t write off paying some people off. But I don’t know. I wasn’t part of that grouping,” he said.
How to win votes and influence people
The company that created the CR17 brand online — and was instrumental in influencing more than 4 700 ANC delegates back in December 2017 — was paid millions of rands from Linkd Environmental Services.
The campaign’s leaked bank statements show that a total of 20 payments were made from Linkd Environmental Services to the company — The Behaviour Change Agency.
Payments amounted to R3.6-million, with the last made almost a year after President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected by a slim margin as the leader of the ANC in 2017.
“The behaviour we sought was to get ANC delegates to return to the core values of the ANC and vote for president Cyril Ramaphosa who represents these values,” says Pat Govender, founder of The Behaviour Change Agency.
Although the payments were secret until recently, the agency seems proud of its campaign for the now president, sharing the details on its website.
It says it used behavioural data analysis and social media to influence millions of people, and that it reached more than 21-million people. “We knew that a single online campaign cannot win an election all by itself. We recruited an army of online supporters and ANC members.”
The company focused its efforts on ANC delegates who would choose the next president, asking them to register for a newsletter and using their details to push CR17 content. The company boasts that it generated more than 1.1-million social media engagements.
In its promotional video on the campaign, the agency says that in the run-up to the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, it recruited an “army of online supporters” and built a database of 58% of ANC delegates.
This comes at a time when the use of social media channels to distribute targeted information and obtain user data has become increasingly controversial. Companies, such as Cambridge Analytica, have been in the spotlight for its unethical means of collecting user data to allegedly manipulate voters via targeted advertising.
The recent Netflix documentary The Great Hack detailed the connections between Cambridge Analytica, the US election of Donald Trump, as well as the Brexit vote.
But Govender says their goal wasn’t sinister. Rather, the company wanted to ensure that members who participated in the online campaigns received the truth about Ramaphosa and not “fake news”.
The company’s promotional video shows texts sent to “comrades” encouraging them to sign up for the newsletter.
Users were then asked to submit their ANC membership numbers to verify whether they, in fact, were official members.
Govender, however, maintains that the agency did not use the ANC’s database. He says that they developed a database by driving subscriptions to the newsletter.
“All online communication was clearly identified as coming from the CR17 campaign and those users had a choice to opt-out whenever a recipient wanted to,” says Govender.
The company was also contracted by another agency, the Avatar Agency, to develop the MyANC mobile app in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.
The Cape Town agency’s clients are diverse and range from CR17 and Eskom to the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Old Mutual. — Jacques Coetzee
Jacques Coetzee is the Adamela Data Fellow at the Mail & Guardian, funded by the Indigo Trust