/ 22 September 2022

ANC stalls opposition motion on Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm

Ramaphosa is seeking to review and set aside the public protector’s Bosasa report.
The ANC said it was not ready to debate a mini-plenary tabled by the DA, prompting the speaker to let it stand over for a week (Yeshiel Panchia/AFP)

The ANC on Thursday managed to delay debate on an opposition motion calling for an ad hoc committee to probe events surrounding the burglary at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in 2020.

The motion was tabled by the DA for debate in a mini-plenary on Thursday, but met with objection from the ruling party that, firstly, it was brought at short notice, and secondly, it would interfere with the work of an independent panel that must consider whether the president should face an impeachment inquiry. 

The motion calls for the committee to “conduct an inquiry into matters surrounding the Phala Phala game farm theft with specific reference to the involvement and response of the various government departments and agencies in the alleged cover-up of the crime”.

At the ANC’s urging, the motion was removed from the day’s order paper. 

This led to a standoff in the morning meeting of the National Assembly programming committee, hours before the mini-plenary where opposition parties backed the DA and speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula eventually directed that it be scheduled for debate next week. 

DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube said other parties were informed last Friday that it wished to withdraw a motion on land invasions it had tabled for discussion in the mini-plenary and replace it with the one on Phala Phala.

But the secretary to the National Assembly on Wednesday received a letter from parliament’s programming whip to say that there had been no agreement in a meeting of the chief whips’ forum on Tuesday to allow the DA to supplant one motion with another.

The letter noted that “there were strong views regarding the late notification which impacted parties being able to prepare adequately for the debate” raised in the chief whip’s forum.

In the programming committee meeting on Thursday, ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude complained that the matter was “smuggled into the chief whip’s forum” and had taken other parties by surprise, hence they were not ready for it to be debated. 

“I want to put it on record that as the ANC, we are going to withdraw that order paper that we signed based on the initial motion of the DA, not this one that they are trying to sneak in,” she said.

“We cannot allow that, even if it is their right to change their motion, they cannot do so within a short space of time [and] not giving other political parties time to prepare for this.”

She then accused the DA of trying to preempt the outcome of a section 89 process to determine whether the controversy provided grounds to initiate an impeachment inquiry against the president. 

That process flows from a motion tabled by the African Transformation Movement

A three-person caucus was appointed last week to determine whether there was prima facie evidence that necessitated the establishment of a committee in terms of section 89 of the Constitution to consider whether to recommend to the National Assembly that Ramaphosa be impeached.

“We know that there is this process that is underway… the panel will be discussing whether there is prima facie evidence for an ad hoc committee to be established to deal with those matters,” Dlakude said. 

“So what we see here is the DA trying to preempt those processes and to give other parties a short space of time to prepare for this debate, hence we are saying Speaker, we reject this motion.”

ATM leader Vuyo Zungula pointed out that Dlakude was confusing two separate processes.

“What the DA is submitting as a motion is not an impeachment motion … therefore what the DA is submitting or doing is a separate process. When the panel says there is prima facie evidence, there will be an impeachment committee, not an ad hoc committee. The house must of its own volition decide whether to have an ad hoc committee, an impeachment process is a separate process.”

He cautioned that parliament should not limit discussion of the controversy to the section 89 process only.

“I do not agree with the notion that because this issue also concerns Phala Phala, any other processes of parliament must come to a stop if it is going to investigate, debate or discuss anything to do with Phala Phala because there is a pending impeachment process. That is not factually correct.”

Gwarube pleaded that the motion should stand, noting that the rules merely required that a party give at least a day’s notice of a motion it wished to bring in a mini-plenary. She added that the chief whip’s forum has no say in the matter.

“Ultimately, the rules give us the right to change our motion as and when we need to, as long as we are able to get our motion onto the order paper at least 24 hours before. So our motion should be debated and we should not be stifled in terms of what we would like to debate,” she said.

“I would also like to remind the committee that the reason why mini-plenaries exist is so that they can allow members to bring their motions for discussion.”

Mini-plenaries are breakaway sessions of the National Assembly where any matter can be discussed or debated without members being required to come to a decision on the subject at the end of the session.

Mapisa-Nqakula has been accused by opposition parties of allowing Ramaphosa to stonewall parliament on the worst political storm he has faced in his four years in office. 

In a presidential question session at the end of August, Ramaphosa told MPs he had been advised not to give a full version of events until all investigations into the theft of foreign currency from his farm had been completed. The session was declared closed before he could respond to supplementary questions on the subject, officially because the allocated time had expired.

Ramaphosa is due back in the chamber for a question session on Thursday next week — having advised the speaker that he could not avail himself earlier — where the opposition is expected to revisit the subject.