/ 14 February 2022

Ramaphosa denies knowledge of abuse of public funds for party elections

South African President Ramaphosa Campaigns In Meadowlands
President Cyril Ramaphosa on the campaign trail in October 2021. (Photo by Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa has denied any first-hand knowledge of the abuse of state funding by the ANC for internal party elections in a letter sent to parliament’s watchdog standing committee on public accounts (Scopa).

The five-page letter was sent in response to questions the committee sent to the president after now-suspended governing party member Mervyn Dirks asked it to investigate a recording of Ramaphosa raising the issue at a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC).

In the recording, Ramaphosa addresses NEC members about the funding of his CR17 campaign and tells them he had given the party’s integrity commission a breakdown of where the money came from and what was spent.

He can then be heard saying he would rather have only his campaign investigated than “some campaigns” ahead of the 2017 elective national conference probed, to avoid further embarrassment to the ANC.

“We also know as ANC cadres that, in some cases, state money has been used in some campaigns. We know that we will not talk about it, to the extent comrade Tony [Yengeni], where some comrades even said that, ‘well, let’s investigate all campaigns and not just one’,’’ Ramaphosa said.

“I even said to one of the officials that I think it’s enough to focus on one only, CR17, and I even said because I don’t want the ANC to be dragged, once again, in the mud, when those assessments, investigations, will reveal that a lot of public money was used.”

Protecting the ANC

He later in the recording added that he was “prepared to fall on [my] sword” to protect the image of the ANC.

In his letter, Ramaphosa confirmed the authenticity of the recording, but asked that the committee note “the full context” of the discussion, which took place in March last year.

This, he said, included ongoing work within the party to renew itself. A part of this is to promote transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour with respect to the funding of internal party activities. 

“This requires a recognition of practices that are unacceptable and taking the necessary steps to correct these,” he said.

The president then stressed: “I do not have any direct and specific information on the alleged misuse of public funds for party political purposes. 

“The statements I made in the NEC meeting were based on allegations already in the public domain and rumours circulating within the organisation and broader society,” he wrote. 

“Some of the information regarding this matter had already been in the public domain prior to the meeting at which the statement was made.”

Scopa had asked, in its missive to Ramaphosa, if he had any information that could assist in determining whether funds were misused by the ANC or any of its members and if so, how much was diverted for which purpose and on whose instruction. 

It asked in particular whether he could assist with information on “goods and services” procured or any other contracts concluded by the ANC with public money.

“I have no knowledge of any such contracts for goods and services,” Ramaphosa replied in his letter.

“Where I referred to ‘bussing people around’ for example, I spoke in general terms about activities common to campaigns, and that require resources.”

Abuse of state funds

He referred the committee to five instances in which allegations of the abuse of state funds in this regard were made publicly, including the report of the high-level panel of the State Security Agency (SSA) and the testimony of former top intelligence officials Moe Shaik and Gibson Njenje at the state capture inquiry, again on the abuse of SSA funds.

Further, Ramaphosa said, there was the evidence in the court case involving the police and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate about the alleged purchase of a surveillance scanner before the governing party’s bitterly contested 2017 elective conference

“The allegations included information that monies in excess of the actual price of the equipment was intended to be used to influence the outcome of the ANC national conference of December 2017,” he added.

Lastly, Ramaphosa said two separate witnesses had told the Zondo commission in July 2020 and January 2021, that funds from the SSA budget were abused, including to fund “political party matters”.

In response to a Scopa question on whether any ministers or accounting officers were made aware of illicit spending in this manner, Ramaphosa said not to his knowledge and referred the committee to the transcripts of the commission’s hearings. 

“I do not have such information. I refer the committee in this regard to the work of the commission of inquiry, and any information that the auditor general may be able to provide,” Ramaphosa.

He added that the third and final report of the Zondo commission, which he is due to receive on 28 February, could clarify the issue.

“Based on the evidence led before the commission of inquiry, there should be information in the report that can shed further light on this matter,” Ramaphosa said.

Scopa is confining its investigation to whatever information Ramaphosa had regarding the acts of corruption. The committee will not rule on whether he had committed ethical violations, or any crime, by failing to report unlawful activities of which he had become aware.

However, Dirks has also asked public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate possible ethical violations by the president.