NEWS & ANALYSIS

Cyril's spot of bother

Jeremy Gordin writes on the TSI's CR17 funding story

Given that the Sunday Independent (TSI) no longer enjoys the circulation it did in days of yore, Politicsweb readers will be forgiven if they missed an article that appeared on its pages last Sunday, August 11.

But better read it here now. This is a biggie, the reason being that it details how the funds of the CR17 campaign – President (then deputy-president) Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign at Nasrec in 2017 – were allegedly “channelled”. I.e., who got paid what.

The major questions arising from the article are: what does the information tell us about, and what does it mean for, Ramaphosa? And, by extension, since Ramaphosa is the president of South Africa and the repository of the hopes of many, what does the article mean for those living in the beloved country?  Also: what should Ramaphosa do? I hope that, by the end of this article, these questions will be answered.

But first, let’s try to untangle the very thorny bushes surrounding the TSI article. And I promise – if you hold your breath just a little while longer – I’ll set down most of the information contained in the article.

First: how accurate is the article? Given that the two lead writers are Piet Rampedi and Mzilikazi wa Afrika, both of whom I watched operate while working at the Sunday Times, and given that it’s common cause that Rampedi has a dog in this fight, the facts and figures should only be accepted following careful scrutiny.

However, given the ostensible “sense” that the numbers and the overall article make, and given the apparent source of the data, it seems unlikely the journalists concocted the material. Whether they got this or that detail incorrect is another issue, though in some cases it could matter.

More significantly, neither Ramaphosa nor anyone else has – as far as I know – sought to deny the facts. Additionally, Ramaphosa’s attorney, Peter Harris, has asked the high court to seal the records – arguing that the records on which the article was based, particularly the CR17 emails and bank statements, were unlawfully obtained. Generally, when people try to hide things, they have something uncomfortable, embarrassing or maybe even illegal, to hide. (It has just now, Thursday, 15 August, been announced that Gauteng Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba has ordered that the records be sealed “until the dispute over the legality of the evidence is resolved”.)

How did Rampedi et al get their hands on the material in the article? We don’t know for certain. But, given that the material is in the hands of Public Protector (PP) Busisiwe Mkhwebane, which is why it’s in the high court, we can make an educated guess.

By the way, given the contention that the material (or some of it) was “unlawfully obtained,” coupled with a claim that the PP had “asked” Absa bank for some of the material, a claim denied by Absa, where did Mkhwebane get the records from?

Yesterday the PP's spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, said in a statement: Chill out everyone, the PP’s office got the relevant material from the financial watchdog, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC). On eNCA Segalwe also said that FNB had given the PP some documents. Okay. But ask yourselves this: the FIC and a bank doubtless have access to financial statements and records, but why would they have “e-mails” between CR17 team members?

Why is there such a brouhaha about the CR17 campaign and its funding? Ironically, the root of the trouble was the charge made by DA leader Mmusi Maimane that Ramaphosa had lied to and willfully misled parliament. This followed Ramaphosa’s denial in parliament that a R500 000 donation had been made to the CR17 campaign by Gavin Watson of the notorious Bosasa (now African Global Operations).

Ramaphosa later apologised for the denial and acknowledged his mistake – i.e. there was a donation to CR17 from Watson. The PP nonetheless completed her report on the matter which, unfortunately for her, contained suggested remedial action that the PP cannot legally make – that the NPA investigate a case of money-laundering against the president. (The PP can’t tell the NPA what to do.) So, on Monday, the president successfully interdicted the PP’s suggested remedial action relating to his “receipt of funding from Bosasa”.

But the above two paragraphs are an answer to the “why’s there a brouhaha?” question on one level only. What is really happening is that there clearly exists some sort of alliance intent on bringing Ramaphosa down. 

This group appears to consists of – and this list is by no means exhaustive – the PP, the EFF, those in the ANC who oppose Ramaphosa and what he supposedly stands for (corruption-free government?), including, it has been suggested, ANC SG Ace Magashule and various other Zupta-ites, as well as individuals such as Iqbal Survé, owner of TSI, recently savaged at the PIC commission of inquiry, and Rampedi.

Keeping sustained pressure on Ramaphosa regarding so-called money laundering, including the funding for the CR17 campaign, is right up the group’s alley. If you doubt this for a moment, then imagine what volume of money (and from whom) the other candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, received. Yet we’re not hearing any calls from this crowd for her to release her campaign finance details.  In his 2017 book The President's Keepers, Jacques Pauw already indicated from where NDZ’s money probably emanated.

Anyway, right on cue, Rampedi got hold of the details of the CR17 campaign funding. Let’s now look at these. But let’s, for convenience’s sake, divide the information in the newspaper article into two sets.

The first set are the “politicians, campaign managers and strategists” who earned millions for their roles in Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign, with some, according to Rampedi et al, having been on the CR17 payroll for the 12 months leading up to the Nasrec conference.

The alleged beneficiaries of the R1billion in campaign funds included ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Enoch Godongwana, Ramaphosa’s “adviser” Marion Sparg, Small Business Development Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Thembi Siweya, former Free State economic development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana, former DA politician Grant Pascoe, Cosatu and the Western Cape ANC, and others.

Sparg, who was the CR17 campaign communications strategist, was allegedly paid R2.4m, Siweya R2.3m, Pascoe R900 000, Dukwana R600 000, Godongwana R400 000 and former journalist Vukile Pokwana R818 000 in monthly instalments between January 2017 and February last year. They were paid monthly salaries of between R50 000 and R180 000 each, with Sparg, Dukwana and Pokwana receiving payments after the conference.

Cosatu received R800 000 in two tranches of R500 000 and R300 000, the Western Cape ANC R1m, the Mpumalanga Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association R70 000 and the Congress of South African Students R20 000. At least R8.4m was spent on hotel accommodation for ANC delegates at Southern Sun and Protea hotels.

Two entities referred to only as “Maverick State” and “Times Media” were paid R300 000 and R5 200 respectively on March 11 and June 7, 2017. Daily Maverick (DM) Editor-in-Chief Branko Brkic has said there is no connection between “Maverick State” and DM (which is why I noted earlier that getting details correct is important). Why Times Media (now Tiso Blackstar) would be paid R5 200 only is not clear; maybe someone was treated to a very fine lunch indeed by the CR17 campaign.

After the conference, the rest of the money, totalling millions (according to the article), was transferred last year into the accounts of various property companies and trusts.

The second set of people relates to the wealthy businesspeople, including mining magnate Nicky Oppenheimer, who reportedly gave R10 million, Pick n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman, who gave R1 million, Oppenheimer Memorial Trust board member Bobby Godsell, former Imperial Holdings chief executive Mark Lamberti, financial services company Sygnia Ltd board member Andre Crawford-Brunt, and Goldman Sachs Southern African chief executive Colin Coleman.

There is nothing apparently “illegal” about their donations. Donations to political campaigns (even, apparently, “internal” ones) are commonplace internationally. Full stop. These were donors who clearly wanted to put their not inconsiderable finances where their mouths were – to ensure the alleged Zupta candidate and link in the Zuma dynasty, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, did not get elected president.

But, among this second set of donations, according to Rampedi et al, were a number, worth R14m, that the CR17 campaign received post-Nasrec. These were donated by various businesspeople, trusts and organisations between January and October last year, “raising questions about whether the donors sought to buy influence, contracts or positions”.

These donations came from inter alia former Absa chief executive Maria Ramos, who donated R1m on October 25 last year; Johnny Copelyn, director of eNCA and owner of Hosken Consolidated Investments, who put in R2m in August last year; and Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke, who transferred R600 000 in two tranches in January and February last year.

The Presidency has released a statement: “Neither the President nor the campaign has done anything wrong, ethically or legally. It is a common and accepted practice in South Africa and across the world for parties and candidates to raise funding from donors for campaigns.”

Sure.

But, even leaving aside the massively inflated salaries for staffers (well, a girl’s gotta eat), and bearing in mind that this was an internal election not requiring posters, T-shirts or even KFC (presumably the party footed the bill for comestibles at Nasrec), what was all the money for? Yes, there had to be hotels booked and so forth – these amounts are covered separately – so, I ask again, what was all the money for? Why did Cosatu and the Mpumalanga Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association have to get paid?

I’m not a terribly suspicious fellow, at least not when it comes to a candidate who’s very wealthy himself, but it doesn’t take the nose of a rocket scientist to smell the greasing of palms, the buying of votes. I must ask: how many kingmakers had to hire lorries to truck their wallets away from Nasrec?

These are not pleasant things to think about – they suggest that even our Mr Clean had to play the ANC game – to secure the Presidency.

The meta-story here is that eighteen months after coming to power, Ramaphosa has failed to shut his internal opponents down; they’re whacking him, almost at will.

If he is to get the upper hand, he will have to dump his natural inclination to caution – roll up his sleeves and not let the commissions and courts do all his heavy lifting for him.

But he’s not going to do this. Is he?