A Presidency In Peril: The ANC vs Ramaphosa

A Presidency In Peril: The ANC vs Ramaphosa

A Presidency In Peril: The ANC vs Ramaphosa

South Africans are reeling from accusations made against President Cyril Ramaphosa by former spy boss Arthur Fraser, and by all accounts this is not going to be resolved soon.

The president is feeling the heat from all sides. With a few tumultuous years behind him, his biggest test is yet to come – as his own party will have to vote on his suitability as captain to rule the ship.

The latest allegations throw a hefty spanner in the works, and it’s necessary to consider the implications. Rand Rescue takes a look at the accusations and implications. 

Threats from all sides

As always, there are two polar views on the allegations: those who believe this is all a ploy against Ramaphosa aimed at decrediting him, and those who believe that Ramaphosa has been involved in nefarious activity all along and is not suitable to lead.

Arthur Fraser: a score to settle

For those who believe the President is being framed, the idea is not that far fetched. After all, the person responsible for the accusations is none other than controversial former State Security Agency (SSA) director-general, Arthur Fraser.

Firstly, it’s important to ask – as the president has asked – why Fraser has waited two years to bring these allegations to the fore. If he believed there were definite signs of money laundering and kidnapping around this case in 2020, he certainly had a duty at the time to raise his suspicions. Those in the president’s camp believe that Fraser had timed his accusations strategically to derail Ramaphosa’s campaign to be appointed President of the ANC for another term.

With six months to go before the ANC elections and Ramaphosa seen as the frontrunner to the position, those who support the president deem this a deliberate move to discredit him and prevent his second term.

But Fraser’s timing may have more to do with settling scores, particularly given his stance against the Zondo commission and his links to former president Jacob Zuma. The Zondo commission found that Fraser had personally signed off on payments of R20-million to manage media via the African News Agency (ANA) during the last years of Zuma’s presidency. Moreover, the commission found that former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni had used the SSA to illegally vet employees – something which could clearly not have been possible without the cooperation of the SSA. A total of 118 employees at SAA were subject to extremely personal and invasive vetting due to their knowledge of classified information. The SSA further provided VIP protection to Myeni and other people who weren’t eligible for police protection.

Fraser, who acted as Correctional Services Commissioner after his position as spy boss clapped back at the National Prosecuting Authority and accused witnesses to the Zondo commission of perjury.  He went so far as laying perjury charges against the chair of the High-Level Review Panel review into the State Security Agency, Dr Sydney Mufamadi, former SSA acting director-general Loyiso Jafta and two other operatives. The last charges of subornation of perjury were made against State Capture Inquiry evidence leader Advocate Paul Pretorius SC and Advocate Veruschka September.

Fraser has also been found guilty of unlawfully granting Jacob Zuma’s medical parole in 2021 while he still served as National Commissioner of Correctional Services. The parole had not been approved by the Medical Parole Advisory Board (MPAB) at the time. The ruling was handed down by Judge Keoagile Matojance who also ordered Zuma back to prison to complete his 15-month sentence and noted that the time spent on medical parole would not be counted as part of his sentence. The National Commissioner of Correctional Services does not have the authority to grant medical parole as the commissioner does not hold the expertise to overrule MPAB recommendations.

While out on parole, Zuma had further undermined his sentence by meeting with political allies Carl Niehaus and Dudu Myeni as well as eThekwini councillors. Zuma’s first request for medical parole had been made the first day of his detainment at the Estcourt Correctional Centre. The following day Brigadier General Dr Mcebisi Mdutywa had requested paramedic access for monitoring Zuma on a daily basis. Dr Mafa of the South African Military Health Services applied for Zuma’s release to a specialist high care facility less than a month later.  Following various other applications and recommendations, MPAB denied the request for medical parole. Zuma supporters then approached Fraser personally to request his parole which Fraser then granted.

Guilty of criminal activity or a new state capture?

If this is all a ploy by the ANC to dethrone Ramaphosa, then the tactic is a pretty smart one. Ramaphosa is, after all, one of the main drivers behind the Zondo commission into state capture.

By backing the Zondo commission and approving Zuma’s incarceration, Ramaphosa has made it clear to his enemies that certain actions will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law. If there are hints of misconduct on his part, then opposing any enquiries or investigations into the matter would open him up to claims of hypocrisy. Everyone’s equal under the law, after all.

This is particularly noteworthy since the president and his supporters had, in April 2022, called on the ANC to rule that criminally charged party members not be eligible to stand for election to any position. Ramaphosa had been incredibly vocal at his dismay for criminally charged members being re-elected to positions. This includes murder-accused Mandla Msibi (ANC treasurer), corruption-accused Zandile Gumede (chairperson of ANC eThekwini), fraud, corruption and laundering accused Ace Magashule (former Premier of the Free State and Secretary General of the ANC) and fraud and drunk driving accused Tony Yengeni. Since he has now been formally charged – does that not imply that he needs to cease his campaign as well?

With allegations against Ramaphosa for misconduct and purported criminal activity, members of his own party as well as the opposition are waiting to see how the president will respond and whether he will allow inquiries into the matter in the same way he established inquiries into charges of corruption and criminal conduct brought against other MPs previously. Political analyst, Professor Sipho Seepe noted that the media had a duty to investigate and scrutinise the president the same way they do other politicians and that the president should not be shielded from such scrutiny.

Opposition’s stance

Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, has jumped at the opportunity to call for Ramaphosa to step aside as president. A rather ironic move given Malema had also been accused of misconduct in the past and refused to yield to those who called for his own resignation. The ATM and UDM have also lodged proposal letters to Parliament on dealing with the matter.

The DA has also suggested criminal conduct on the part of the president, though other parties seem to be rather mum on the matter.

National Assembly Speaker Nbosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has stated that she has sought legal advice to decide how to proceed with investigations and manage the accusations against the President.

What is the president accused of?

Arthur Fraser has lodged criminal charges against President Cyril Ramaphosa for failure to report theft as well as kidnapping and bribing of suspects. Fraser accused the president of breaching the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) for purported theft of large sums of US dollars. He further claims that the president had instructed the head of rht Presidential Protection Unit, Major General Wally Rhoode, to investigate the matter, which is unlawful as the investigation is supposed to be managed by SAPS.

As for the other claims, Fraser stated that the suspects were caught, kidnapped, interrogated and offered bribes to the amount of R150 000 each (including bribes to Ramaphosa’s domestic workers), which defeats the ends of justice. The money-laundering claims seem to relate to the US dollars which have not been recovered and have therefore been circulated elsewhere without oversight as Fraser claims Ramaphosa didn’t inform SARS of the theft. The mere presence of these large sums of US dollars, according to Fraser, is prima facie proof of money laundering. In his affidavit Fraser stated that this is in contravention of Section 4 of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act No 121 of 1998.

The dollars were purportedly exchanged at an informal exchange service in Cape Town operated by a Chinese national.

Fraser’s attorney, Eric Mabuza, claims that Fraser has provided photographic evidence, bank account information, video footage and names of those involved with his charges. Fraser claims to have proof that those who had taken part in the theft (five Namibian nationals) had ‘splurged’ the funds on shopping sprees in Cape Town, which includes the purchase of high performance luxury vehicles.

Confirmation by the president

Not much is known about the matter, though the president has confirmed that theft had indeed taken place at his Phala Phala farm in 2020. The president also stated that his reason for not disclosing the matter publicly is due to the matter still being under investigation and any disclosure would interfere with the investigation.

In a speech at the ANC’s Limpopo provincial conference in Polokwane on 5 June 2022, the president stated that the allegations against him were politically motivated, and that his cattle and game farming business is not something which he is required to declare or discuss in Parliament since this is a private business which is unrelated to his political position.

While he hasn’t disclosed the exact amount of money (or any other materials) which had been stolen, he stated that it is far less than R1 billion and R4 million – the amounts which had been reported in the press. Ramaphosa noted that the misleading statements in the press accusing him of corruption and laundering are unfounded since he was the person from whom funds were stolen, and that the funds were acquired from the sale of game, and not by any illicit means.

Additional complaints and actions

Following the allegations made by Fraser, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane stated that she had received complaints for breach of the executive code of ethics against Cyril Ramaphosa. The complaint was lodged by MP and president of the African Transformation Movement, Vuyo Zungula. The Executive Members’ Ethics Act (EMEA) compels the Public Protector to investigate complaints made by MPs and submit a report on alleged breaches of ethics within 30 days of receipt. Following the report, the president will have 14 days to peruse the report and provide comments or suggestions for actions to be taken by the National Assembly.

The Namibian factor

Namibian President Hage Geingob is also embroiled in the affair. Fraser’s affidavit noted that Geingob had assisted Ramaphosa in tracking the suspects and that Presidential Protective Unit head Rhoode had used unofficial channels to enter and exit Namibia to tend the matter. The independent investigative journalism platform amaBhungane claims that Namibian authorities had identified the suspects and that one suspect had been arrested when entering Namibia illegally. Additional claims by Namibian journalists include that Namibian authorities were asked to let the matter go in order to protect Ramaphosa and that criminal charges weren’t filed with the police in the two years following the burglary, although the theft had already come to light on 16 June 2020.

Geingob has vehemently denied any allegations, stating that he does not offer African leaders any favours.

ANC Integrity Commission

Ramaphosa has appeared before the ANC Integrity Commission twice before, and will have to face them again, though it seems he volunteered to explain the allegations.

Within his party Ramaphosa is receiving significant heat from presidential hopeful Tony Yengeni. Yengeni has, of course, been found guilty of fraud, failed to remove himself as director of his companies following the guilty charge, has been linked to the controversial arms deal and has been arrested for drunk driving. The latter charges could not be pursued as the Goodwood station commander at the time, Siphiwo Hewana, had allowed tampering with blood samples and instructed a constable to change statements on dockets. Hewana was later found guilty of attempting to defeat the ends of justice, though other charges were dropped as Hewana testified that the orders to commit perjury were handed down by the police commissioner of the Western Cape.

Things are heating up

With opposition parties already calling for Ramaphosa’s dismissal, the EFF has further rallied the families and survivors of the Marikana massacre. These families and victims have already lodged a multimillion rand class-action lawsuit against the President for his involvement since he had served as non-executive director of Lonmin Platinum at the time of the shootings.

The Marikana Commission of Enquiry had scrutinised leaked emails by Ramaphosa to Lonmin Platinum shareholders which purportedly stated that concomitant action was to be taken against ‘dastard criminals’ protesting at the mines. While the commission cleared Ramaphosa, a lawyer for the claimants stated that Ramaphosa had turned a labour dispute into a criminal act which catalysed the brutal actions against protesters. Ramaphosa had clapped back by stating concomitant action does not signify brutality and merely indicated that urgent action was to be taken to resolve the matter peacefully.

The EFF with its decidedly socialist stance is fuelling fires by pitting Ramaphosa’s critics against capitalist leaders.

Glencore in the mix

Glencore, which had previously been found guilty of bribery and market manipulation by the US Department of Justice (and found liable for $1,06 billion in fines and $1,5 billion in investigation sanctions, had made an odd attempt at quelling political fallout by stating that Ramaphosa had no connection to corruption in their African businesses. It seemed an odd statement given that the allegations don’t seem to touch on Glencore at all. While the statement seemed to be aimed at distancing the president from Glencore’s misconduct, there is every likelihood that this would only serve to raise questions about the president’s other business dealings. Ramaphosa is linked to Glencore via a former partnership while he was a director of Shanduka Group.

Leader of the UDM, Bantu Holomisa, had subsequently urged the Public Protector to ask the US government’s assistance in investigating Glencore South Africa. Glencore’s response was that Ramaphosa had divested his interest in Optimum Coal (linked to Shanduka) before he took office as deputy president.

Whether the accusations against are strategic or not, they are certainly affecting his campaign for ANC presidency and his duties as political leader. The president had already been compelled to cancel meetings with senior ANC MPs due to being held up by these legal matters.

Stephen Grootes for Daily Maverick notes that the ANC seems to have entered an unprecedented phase of ‘near open warfare’. While opposition within the ANC seems adamant on dethroning their leader, this war may not have the intended outcome as ANC supporters may just deem the infighting the last straw and move their support elsewhere instead of supporting Ramaphosa’s opposition within their party. Grootes notes that the president may for the first time have to decide which is most important – leading his party or leading his country.

The flipside of the coin

While the president has received much backlash, there are also many individuals and organisations who have voiced their support for him.

Deputy President David Mabuza has been vocal in his support for the president, stating that there is no need for him to step down. According to Mabuza it is illogical to call for his resignation while an investigation is still underway. The EFF once more stirred the pot with MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi asking whether Mabuza was ready to take the president’s place and ask him to step down. 

Research professor at the University of Johannesburg, Steven Friedman, seems to think that Fraser and Tony Yengeni are deliberately seeking more votes for Yengeni’s own campaign for ANC leadership through the charges. Friedman noted that the president should be fine, as long as he is indeed innocent of criminal misdeeds.

Political analyst Pieter Duvenhage seems to support the idea that the allegations are part of a smear campaign by Ramaphosa’s opponents, stating that the timing of the allegations are simply too convenient.

Director of Mkabayi Management Consultants and political commentator, Thamsanqa Malinga, claims that while the charges are not irrelevant, they are merely a reminder that South Africans are just pawns in the ANC’s never ending game of Groundhog Day. Malinga notes that the public didn’t bat an eye when R14 million went missing from the farm of DD Mabuza, Premier of Mpumalanga, in 2010. While this doesn’t mean the president should not be investigated, the hypocrisy in how leaders are scrutinised and held to account is quite jarring. And if Fraser had been aware of criminal activities for so long, is he not guilty of criminal activity in his own right in that he refrained from bringing matters to light for more than two years?

Is it not obvious that the only real losers in this incessant political game are the citizens of South Africa? As Malinga notes – is it not clear that the accusations against different politicians aren’t made in an effort to see that justice is served, but rather to stir the pot and fracture our already fragile leadership and economy. Irrespective of guilt or innocence – the motives of accusers are hardly to serve the people of South Africa.

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