President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo by Nic BOTHMA / POOL / AFP)
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday placed the blame for the fact that no docket was opened following the 2020 burglary at his Phala Phala game farm on the police, including Major-General Wally Rhoode, the head of his protection unit.
In a question session in the National Assembly, Ramaphosa was asked by Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen why, if the theft of foreign currency from the farm in Limpopo was reported to a police general as he claimed, no case was opened.
“I reported it as one would report, and when you report to a police general you expect that processes will unfold in the way that they should and in the end the police general will be able to answer that question,” he responded.
Ramaphosa said there was no abuse of power on his part and to his mind he had duly reported the theft to a policeman when he briefed Rhoode.
“I don’t believe I abused my power because I am surrounded by police officials. When I informed the general, I was informing a police official and even at the time on the farm my manager interacted with police officials who were involved in the whole process, so I want to dispute the argument that I abused my power.
“I am not the type of person who will abuse my position or my power and having reported it to the police official, I did believe that they will do what they need to do to ensure that the matter is properly handled.
“So in my book, honourable Speaker, it was reporting a crime to the police when I did inform a police general.”
Steenhuisen’s question was a follow-up to one asked by African Transformation Movement leader Vuyo Zungula.
“Why did you not report the crime in Phala Phala to the relevant and appropriate law enforcement institution like how all citizens are expected to report a crime,” Zungula asked.
“Secondly, what message does it send to the nation when the allegations of money-laundering, kidnapping, torturing, all happening at the president’s farm…and the president refuses to take the nation into his confidence?”
He added that Ramaphosa had failed to account to parliament, a reference to his last question session in the chamber three weeks ago, when the president told MPs he had been advised not to divulge more on what had happened until all investigations into the incident and its aftermath had been concluded.
The burglary became public knowledge when former director-general of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, opened a case at the Rosebank police station in which he accused the president of concealing a crime, as well as corruption, kidnapping and money laundering.
According to Fraser, Ramaphosa had instructed Rhoode to investigate the incident and retrieve the money – a sum he put at some US$4-million. He claimed in his affidavit to the police that Rhoode and former crime intelligence officials had then kidnapped and interrogated the suspects.
Replying to Zungula, Ramaphosa said: “I have said and admitted that there was a theft at the farm and that I reported it to a general of the South African police who later informed him that he has also reported it to another general of the South African police. That matter obviously is under processing within the police service, they are dealing with it.”
He added that the question of money-laundering did not arise as he had been open about the fact that he farmed cattle and game and sometimes sold livestock.
“I deny that there was any form of money-laundering, I have said that, and I have said it more publicly, that it was proceeds of the sale of game. I have been a cattle farmer and a game farmer for a number of years, as a matter that I have disclosed in my disclosures here in parliament as well as to the secretary of the cabinet, and that is an activity that sometimes results in the sale of cattle as well as the sale of animals.”
Ramaphosa said staff at the farm had recently sold buffalo.
“That is a matter that takes place from time to time and even recently we have been able to conclude, my managers have concluded, a process where a parcel of buffalo was also sold. So that in my view is not money-laundering.”
He reiterated that he was “willing, able and prepared” to subject himself to investigations, inquiries and all due parliamentary process, including a section 89 process in the legislature where a panel has been appointed to establish there was prima facie evidence meriting an impeachment inquiry.
“I will cooperate to the fullest of my ability.”
Ramaphosa said at last count eight authorities were conducting investigations into the controversy.
Among those is the office of the public protector, who launched a probe after Zungula laid a complaint.
Rhoode in his affidavit to the public protector, recounted that Ramaphosa informed him of the security breach at the farm on 10 February 2020, while they were in Addis Ababa for an African Union summit. A few weeks later, the president called him to his private home and informed him that money had been stolen.
He said he told Ramaphosa that he had to inform his superiors and approached deputy national police commissioner Sindile Mfazi, who asked him to gather further information and said he would institute a full-scale investigation.
“It is beyond the scope of my work to be allocated matters or case dockets to conduct criminal investigations,” Rhoode added.
He confirmed that he and a fellow member of the presidential protection services and one Trevor Fredericks had interviewed the domestic helper at the farm and her brother but denied this was done forcefully.
According to his affidavit, he then submitted what he gleaned to Mfazi. “I assumed that Lieutenant Colonel Mfazi would as part of the full-scale investigation follow the prescribed process, including opening a docket if appropriate.”
Mfazi and Fredericks both died last year.
In a separate affidavit to the public protector, police commissioner Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola confirmed that “no case was opened following the alleged theft”.