Picture: African News Agency (ANA) – President Cyril Ramaphosa stands accused of having acted unlawfully in handling the burglary that took place at his Phala Phala game farm in February 2020.
By Sipho Seepe
The African Proverb that “he who digs a grave for his enemy might as well be digging one for himself” appropriately paraphrases President Cyril Ramaphosa’s predicament in the unfolding drama of Phala Phala. Ramaphosa stands accused of having acted unlawfully in handling the burglary that took place at his Phala Phala game farm in February 2020.
Before the Phala Phala scandal surfaced, Ramaphosa had assiduously portrayed himself as a crusader against corruption. He was seen as a tireless advocate for accountability and transparency. In crafting this image of himself, Ramaphosa enlisted the services of groupings that he could fool all of the time. Discerning observers could not be swayed by Ramaphosa’s smoke and mirrors escapades. This week Ramaphosa joins the ranks of the damned.
The findings of Parliament’s Section 89 Independent panel, headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, tasked with investigating whether sufficient evidence exists to show that the President: (i) committed a serious violation of the Constitution or law; [or] (ii) committed serious misconduct” are unequivocal. Ramaphosa is as guilty as hell. Major news channels around the world echoed coverage by an international television station, Al Jareeza stating that the “alleged cover-up has tarnished the president’s reputation and overshadowed his bid for re-election at the helm of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party”. There is no doubt that he has brought the ANC and the country into serious disrepute.
If truth be told, this is not the first time that Ramaphosa found himself in a sticky situation. He was lucky that his shenanigans were underplayed by mainstream media. Courts have also been helpful in ensuring that some of these do not see the light of day.
In dealing with the Phala Phala scandal Ramaphosa upped the ante by invoking all possible strategies and tactics to ensure that he escapes accountability. Ramaphosa’s submission to the Section 89 independent panel ranks as a masterpiece of deception, obfuscation, obscurantism, and plausible deniability. As a last resort, he sought to find a fall guy. When quizzed about his role in the handling of the burglary, Ramaphosa hid behind “due process”. This proved to be a deceptive tactic of buying time to cover his tracks. Pleading ignorance was not far away. In his submission to the panel, Ramaphosa argued “I have no personal knowledge regarding the theft itself. Similarly, I have no knowledge or suspicion, and cannot reasonably be expected to have the knowledge, of the perpetrators. Therefore, I submit that there was no duty on me to report the theft in terms of section 34 of the PRECCA (Prevention and Combatng of Corrupt Activities Act).”
Having considered all the submissions on both sides, the panel came to a different determination. The panel argued that there is sufficient information to suggest, prima facie, “that the President violated section 34(1) read with section 34(2) of PRECCA.” This determination by this weighty panel leaves little room for the National Prosecuting Authority but to prefer charges against President Ramaphosa.
The “I saw nothing, I heard nothing” tactic is Ramaphosa’s lamentation. When he questioned about the CR17 campaign, he pretended to be blissfully ignorant of who the funders of his campaign were. However, his claim of being oblivious to the facts did not prevent him from rushing to the courts to ensure that the identities of the funders are not known. We are made to believe that this was for the public and the greater good.
The same applies to his claims of having been a mere bystander during his tenure as Deputy President of the country. He saw nothing, heard nothing, and as a result did nothing. Well, that explains why he is perpetually shocked.
It needs emphasising that were it not for Arthur Fraser, the Phala Phala matter would not have seen the light of day in the same way that the country is clueless about the identity of Ramaphosa’s 2017 campaign funders. The Presidency seems to believe in the dictum that ‘thou shall not tell’. When grilled about why this was not reported, the initial argument was that this was done not to scare the neighbours. The story has been shifting since then.
In those instances where Ramaphosa was willing to volunteer information, he did himself a disfavour. To calm the increasing noise around Phala Phala, Ramaphosa thought it wise to calm a seemingly concerned gathering. He averred; “I would like to say that I’m a farmer. I am in the cattle business and the game business. And through that business, which has been declared in Parliament and all over, I buy and I sell animals. Sometimes people buy these animals – I do it yes, though, the sales are sometimes through cash or sometimes through transfers … And so this that is being reported was a clear business transaction of selling animals.”
Ramaphosa did not end there. In an address to Ankole farmers, Ramaphosa excitedly told his audience that the job of being a President of South Africa was “just a nice one to have”. His passion lay in being the President of the Ankole society.
These admissions placed him on the wrong side of the Constitution’s Section 96 (a) which forbids members of Cabinet from undertaking any other paid work. Ramaphosa was also found to be in contravention of 96(b) which prohibits members of cabinet to “act in any way that is inconsistent with their office, or expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and private interests”.
This muddle is far bigger than Nkandla. In the Nkandla matter, the former President was found to have unduly benefitted in that “a number of the measures, including buildings and other items constructed and installed by the (Department of Public Works) at the President’s private residence went beyond what was reasonably required for his security”.
Whereas the Nkandla matter was about undue benefit, the Phala Phala matter is about the possibility of violation of several laws. In the case of Nkandla, the Constitutional Court ruled that to “find oneself on the wrong side of section 96, all that needs to be proven is a risk. It does not even have to materialise”. In the case of Ramaphosa, the panel found a number of instances in which the President could be accused of having acted in a manner that is not consistent with constitutionally stipulated conduct. One such instance is that Ramaphosa “abused his position as head of state to have the matter investigated and seeking the assistance of the Namibian President to apprehend a suspect.”
For now, it appears that Ramaphosa has forgotten his own words. “I have a sense of integrity to step out of the way to say I’m conflicted on this and I have ingrained that in the way I do things so that fingers should not be pointed at one about favouring oneself when you are conflicted.” Integrity is not one of his strong attributes.
The day of reckoning has come at the most inconvenient time for Ramaphosa. But is an opportune moment for the ANC to choose between protecting the interests of one person or those of the ordinary masses that are languishing in squalid and desperate conditions.