/ 10 August 2023

ANC ‘fixer’ Gwen Ramokgopa pulling the party out of the red

ANC treasurer general Gwen Ramokgopa. (Felix Dlangamandla/Gallo Images)

In 2021 the ANC was under huge financial strain, its creditors were baying for blood, its staff had had enough and it was even alleged that President Cyril Ramaphosa had to step in to pay the house bills. 

At the hands of the then treasurer general, Paul Mashatile, day after day, the party’s scandalous financial woes were splashed across headlines. So much so that the party was appealing to staff to be flexible in implementing a go-slow protest to allow for the completion of its processes of selecting candidates for the 2021 elections

Workers had embarked on the go-slow in protest against late salary payments. 

In less than seven months of her term, treasurer general Gwen Ramokgopa, who was elected in December last year, has stabilised the party’s finances. 

After years of staff action, under Ramokgopa, there have been no incidents of strike and staff are receiving their salaries monthly. 

The ANC leader has a reputation for being a fixer. When the ANC knocked on her door during the Life Esidimeni tragedy, she took over from disgraced Gauteng MEC Qedani Mahlangu. Ramaphosa allies also looked to her to fill in at Luthuli House when deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte died. 

But, when asked whether the ANC could finally breathe a sigh of relief over its financial issues, Ramokgopa said: “Not yet.”

“We have stabilised and we are on the way to recovery and we still need to work towards a mixed diverse source of funding. We were highly dependent on donations and we welcome the parliament approved budget, it does a lot. We have put in measures to manage it better as well.” 

In 2022, political parties received a 30% hike in funding allocations. Political parties represented in parliament received R166 million in 2021-22. This would increase to more than R342 million in 2022 and R366 million in the final year of the three-year budget framework, News24 reported. 

The Political Party Funding Act (6 of 2018), signed into law by Ramaphosa, compels political parties to disclose their sources of funding for amounts above R100 000. The ANC has complained that the Act limited its donor participation. 

Despite the limitations of the Act, Ramokgopa has achieved what her predecessors failed to do in their five-year terms. 

The ANC is managing its sources of income better, she says. To rescue itself from its financial difficulties, Ramokhopa increased levies for party members deployed as public representatives. 

“We are looking at a more mixed source of revenues,” she said. 

Part of Luthuli House’s problem was the bloated staff complement. The party would often absorb many of its recalled ministers and MPs to its headquarters. These highly paid leaders were treated to the same benefits they had while in cabinet. 

During Ace Magashule’s term as secretary general, the party recruited many former ministers to Luthuli House, including former finance minister Malusi Gigaba, former water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane — now ANC deputy secretary general — former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and even Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus, whose role at Luthuli House was often questioned by ANC leaders. 

Ramokgopa has all but stopped this tendency. Only six national executive committee members are part of the paid full-time staff at Luthuli House. 

“Each one has a responsibility. All the six full time members have full time responsibilities,” she said. “There is no one who is just loitering because they happen to be out of a position as a minister.” 

Despite how unpopular this decision made her, Ramokgopa said it had to be done. 

“The organisation could not cope. We couldn’t pay staff so we had to act rationally. Yes, maybe there are days when I feel that there is pressure, especially when we were increasing levies, but I think many of our comrades who are contributing really realise that we have to work together on this one so there is more collective effort than anything.” 

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) slapped the ANC with a R102 million bill for unpaid taxes in 2022. 

A judgment by the high court attached assets of a little over R102 million. The ANC owed Sars R80 million in unpaid pay as you earn debt and about R140 million in provident fund debt. 

“I’m glad that we have fully paid Sars, we were under a garnishing order. We also owed the bank for a long time. We also fully paid the municipality,” Ramokgopa said. “We are in a process where we have engaged with the relevant authorities on paying our provident fund so we have been able to honour the arrangements which we had made. We prioritise the issue of creditors because it’s also part of the renewal of our profile of trust worthiness and also sustainability.” 

Ramokgopa credits the ANC’s leadership for stabilising the organisation’s finances and said the ANC’s 55th elective conference guided her focus.  

“We are also implementing it collectively. It’s not only about me. What I’ve always done whenever I get into difficult situations … is to look at the mandate, the systems, the people you are going to work with and form a collective approach. I’ve been briefing the officials regularly, briefing the NEC [national executive committee] regularly and also being given feedback. But what works is when you have governance and systems and processes and compliance, those are the principles that really helped,” she said. 

Although Ramokgopa has crossed several hurdles, she may have to fork out R105 million, the ANC cannot afford to pay its creditor, Ezulweni Investments.

The Newcastle-based print company whose owner has long-standing links to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, went to court after the ANC failed to pay for the printing and installation of the 30 000 banners across South Africa for the 2019 election campaign.

The company claimed R102 million plus interest, and successfully secured a judgment against the ANC in September 2020. 

The party didn’t pay and Ezulweni has since secured two writs of execution to seize assets — including properties in South Africa and abroad — from the ANC, which also failed to approach the supreme court of appeal within the prescribed period to lodge an appeal.

But the party’s lawyers have brought an application for condonation, which has been challenged by Ezulweni.

Ramokgopa said ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula is handling its legal affairs. 

“The matter is being dealt with by the secretary general. What I know is that the matter is still in court. The other party proposed discussions without prejudice over a settlement,” she said.