Politics of the Cyril Ramaphosa campaign for ANC leadership

In the court of public opinion, President 'needs to be more transparent than he has been up until now'

EXPLAINED: The politics of the Cyril Ramaphosa campaign for ANC leadership

13 August 2019

What do we know about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC election campaign? And what does it mean? Hopefully this guide helps you understand what the state of play is.

Who are the main players in this drawn-out battle?

Ramaphosa and his team (including his presidential advisors and his informal kitchen cabinet), Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Julius Malema and the EFF leadership (including Dali Mpofu).

What is the state of play?

The Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has granted Ramaphosa an interdict against Mkhwebane which puts a hold on the remedial action flowing from her investigation into, effectively, the financing of his campaign for the ANC leadership. He is challenging her findings in the same court.

From where does this fight originate?

Complaints were laid with Mkhwebane by the DA’s Mmusi Maimane and the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu after Ramaphosa told Parliament that his son, Andile, had received R500 000 in a business deal between himself and Africa Global Operations, formerly Bosasa. He subsequently recanted and admitted the money was a donation for his private political campaign.

What did Mkhwebane find?

She concluded that Ramaphosa willfully lied to Parliament about the donation, that his campaign might have been involved in money laundering, that there was a conflict of interest between himself, his son and AGO, and that had Ramaphosa benefited personally. Her remedial action includes an investigation by the speaker of Parliament, the national director of public prosecutions and the national commissioner of police.

How serious are the findings?

It is as serious as they come. The findings about violating the Executive Members’ Ethics Act could have serious consequences and could be used as grounds for impeachment. As is any allegation about money laundering. Furthermore, Mkhwebane herself has cautioned the president against not implementing her remedial action, albeit in another matter, warning that he could precipitate a constitutional crisis.

Do we know how the Ramaphosa campaign worked?

There are four major sources which give us insight: Mkhwebane’s report, Ramaphosa’s own submission to the Public Protector, and two news reports with detail about donors and mechanics, one by News24 and the other published in the Sunday Independent. Combined, it shows the complexity, sophistication and extent of the campaign.

What have we learnt from these sources?

That the campaign was big, that the contest was fierce and that it needed large reservoirs of resources to succeed. Many indiviuals, including some of the country’s top businesspeople (like Nicky Oppenheimer) were canvassed to make donations, and Ramaphosa - contrary to what his campaign initially said - was more closely involved than initially thought and millions were indeed channeled to the campaign.

How did the information about the campaign get out?

Mkhwebane’s report and Ramaphosa’s submission are in the public domain. The information in the News24 report was circulating on social media and among politicans and was verified with four sources close to the campaign. The Sunday Independent story, however, cited bank statements as its source. It is unclear how they came to be in possession of those statements. Mkhwebane has said she has had sight of evidence which shows moneyflows, which presumably refers to Absa bank statements. Absa, however, has denied that it was subpoenaed for statements, which does beg the question how she got hold if it.

Are there any indications of illegality or irregular payments or disbursements?

No. Not yet, anyway. The information in the public domain does not intimate that donations came with any strings attached, nor that money was used illegally.

What then seems to be the issue?

Apart from the legal process involving the Public Protector (and which will be reviewed by the High Court), the matter has highlighted the problems with secretive campaign donations. The ANC leadership contest had no rules governing it, and candidates could pretty much do whatever they wanted to ensure victory. South Africans have no idea exactly how much money was donated, by whom and what they expected in return. And in the absence of transparecy, conspiracy theories and suspicion flourishes. Especially after almost a decade of state capture.

What are the roleplayers’ motivations?

Mkhwebane has made common cause with Malema and the EFF: she acted on EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu’s complaint, EFF chair Dali Mpodu acts for her in court and EFF leader Malema is her biggest defender. Mkhwebane has clearly nailed her political colours to the mast in her relentless pursuit of Ramaphosa and his right-hand man, Pravin Gordhan, who are both EFF targets. She has made poor legal decisions in recent times, having suffered a series of legal defeats. She has now become a political symbol.

Does Ramaphosa have a case to answer for, though?

The courts will decide whether Mkhwebane's report stands or not. But in the court of public opinion, Ramaphosa needs to be more transparent than he has been up until now. He campaigned on clean and open governance and he needs to talk openly about it. He hasn’t done so yet, although the submission to Mkhwebane – that he made public – does give unprecedented insight into how the campaign functioned.