ANALYSIS

#CR17 email leaks: Separating the myths from the facts, Part Two

By Rebecca Davis 21 August 2019

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa on stage after winning the presidential race during the 54th ANC National Conference at the Nasrec Convention Centre in Johannesburg on 18 December 2017. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Cornell Tukiri)

The fallout from the disclosure of records related to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2017 campaign to win the ANC presidency continues. Following leaked emails between Ramaphosa and campaign organisers, what looks like the leaked bank records of the Ramaphosa campaign account have also been doing the rounds. And, in a twist few would have predicted, the first two scalps claimed by this messy saga have belonged to EFF MPs.

A fortnight ago we published a fact-check on the claims in the public domain relating to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency in 2017. At that stage, what had set the cat among the pigeons was the publication by News24 of leaked emails between #CR17 campaign insiders dealing with fundraising initiatives.

Although many of the claims being circulated at the time were based on a misunderstanding of the laws relating to campaign finance, we noted that the emails appeared to contradict the assertion made by Ramaphosa and his team to the public protector that Ramaphosa “was unaware of the identity of donors to the CR17 campaign”.

There was evidence within the emails to suggest that, on at least one occasion, Ramaphosa had been made aware by his team of the identity of a donor — Macsteel founder Eric Samson — who had previously given money to the campaign.

As we wrote, there was nothing illegal about Ramaphosa knowing who some of his donors were, but his claim of ignorance on this front to the public protector opened him up to the charge that he might have lied under oath.

Another question that continued to swirl around the #CR17 campaign was why it was necessary to raise, and spend, hundreds of millions of rand on Ramaphosa’s electoral bid — prompting unsubstantiated allegations of vote-buying at the 2017 Nasrec conference.

Since then, what’s new?

The affidavit submitted by Ramaphosa’s lawyers in his (successful) application to suspend the public protector’s remedial action against him has fleshed out the #CR17 team’s explanation as to the expense of the campaign.

The affidavit states that the #CR17 campaign aimed not just to get Ramaphosa elected to the highest office within the ANC, but also to ensure the election of “the best candidate for each position in the ANC leadership”: the 80 NEC positions up for grabs at Nasrec.

The affidavit also claims the campaign “dedicated much effort and resources towards organisational renewal and cadre deployment”, and “undertook a massive political education and conscientisation campaign” over the course of a year nationally.

The implication/translation: this stuff costs loads of money.

Importantly — we’ll return to this later — Ramaphosa’s affidavit also states:

I had no personal entitlement to the donations made to the campaign and therefore no basis to declare them as mine”.

Neither the Presidency nor the former leaders of the #CR17 campaign showed any willingness to elaborate further on what the money for the campaign was spent on. The affidavit states that the public protector has no business investigating this aspect, as it was not part of the original complaint laid with her (relating specifically to a R500,000 payment made by discredited company Bosasa) and does not fall within her legal mandate.

But the rug was whipped out from under Team Ramaphosa’s feet when leaked bank statements from the #CR17 campaign began to circulate on social media, together with a series of articles by the Sunday Independent detailing how some of the money was spent.

So where did all that #CR17 money go?

The bank statements show that millions went on logistics, communications work and, well, campaigning.

Two of the biggest payments went to ANC figures Khumbuzo Ntshavheni and Thembi Siweya, who received R5-million and R2.3-million respectively for their work as #CR17 campaign managers in Limpopo.

Ramaphosa’s adviser Marion Sparg received R2.4-million as the campaign’s communications strategist.

Money was also paid to ANC-aligned bodies: Cosatu, the Western Cape ANC, the Mpumalanga chapter of Umkhonto weSizwe and the South African Students Congress (Sasco).

To get an idea of what these payments were about, Daily Maverick asked Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla what the trade union body received money for. Cosatu was paid R800,000 by the campaign.

We used the money to print campaign T-shirts, hire buses to transport workers to rallies, book venues to host rallies, meetings, political lectures and sometimes fly political activists and pay for their accommodation as they were doing the work of the campaign,” Pamla said.

Cosatu is the only mass-based organisation that openly supported President Cyril Ramaphosa and we contributed to his campaign by providing him and his campaign with nationwide political platforms to address workers and political activists and make his campaign visible.”

Pamla added that, by law, unions are not permitted to use workers’ subscription fees for political purposes. To organise events in support of Ramaphosa, they needed money — which the campaign supplied.

Raising eyebrows was the fact that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula received R40,000 from the account, despite seeming to support Ramaphosa’s rival, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at Nasrec.

Mbalula’s spokesperson did not respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on this, but Mbalula himself tweeted:

You guys are just gullible, check when the deposit was made, 03 January 2019, it had nothing to do with CR17 campaign”. It has since been reported that the money was paid to Mbalula for work he did at Luthuli House headquarters after being axed as police minister.

Which of these payments are dodgy or significant?

It’s important to stress the point that there is no suggestion that the funds used for the #CR17 campaign came from state resources. As far as is currently known, all funds came from private donors, with Ramaphosa himself also contributing large amounts.

As such, there was nothing stopping the #CR17 campaign team using the money for whatever they saw fit, within the limits of the law and the ANC’s electoral code of conduct (ie, no vote-buying).

City Press reported that the leak of the bank statements caused unhappiness among some campaign workers who felt they were paid too little compared with others. But that is a dispute which has little significance here.

Similarly, reports that Khumbudzo Ntshavheni used some of the money she was paid by the campaign to buy a luxury car and a house — which she has strongly denied — would be germane only if the #CR17 campaign decided there was sufficient evidence of misappropriation of campaign funds to pursue legal action against her. Given that the campaign ended in the successful election of Ramaphosa at Nasrec, this seems highly unlikely.

There have also been suggestions that Ntshavheni and Siweya were rewarded for their work on the #CR17 campaign with Cabinet posts: Ntshavheni is now Minister of Small Business Development and Siweya is the Deputy Minister in the Presidency.

Ntshavheni has said she takes strong exception to such insinuation, pointing out that she “was among the few young people who made the top 100 of the ANC candidate list” and that her nomination to Parliament “drew support from across the country, including branches that had a leadership preference different from hers going to the Nasrec conference”.

But even if Ramaphosa made these appointments as a gesture of appreciation for campaign support, there would be nothing illegal — or even unusual — about this.

One might reasonably argue that one of the understandings of the Ramaphosa “New Dawn” presidency was that such cronyism might cease, and feel disappointment as a result, but that would not stop it being standard political practice all over the world.

Former US president Barack Obama, who is not generally regarded as synonymous with political corruption, gave members of his campaign staff top White House positions and lavishly doled out ambassadorial positions to his biggest donors and fundraisers.

One of the payments seized upon by the EFF was made to freelance journalist Oliver Meth for communications work for the #CR17 campaign.

Both the EFF and Sunday Independent journalist Piet Rampedi have repeatedly described Meth as a “Daily Maverick journalist”, despite Meth having written a grand total of two unsolicited columns for Daily Maverick — and currently working for Rampedi’s media house, the Independent group.

EFF spokesperson Mbuyseni Ndlozi tweeted, in reference to Meth’s work for the Ramaphosa campaign:

You had the responsibility to declare. Make it Public! Otherwise, you were a Ramaphosa mole inside journalism! Shame on you!”

But Meth’s Daily Maverick column bio clearly states — and has always stated — that Meth is a “media strategist and journalist” who “recently worked as communications consultant on the #CR17: Ramaphosa ANC Presidential Campaign”.

The most startling payments made by the #CR17 campaign were to two EFF MPs: more on this below.

And the #CR17 campaign donors: anything new to see there?

Sunday Independent reported something seemingly mysterious: that bank statements showed that the #CR17 campaign continued to receive donations worth R14-million, well after the Nasrec conference.

Former Absa chief executive Maria Ramos donated R1-million almost a year after the conclusion of the campaign, in October 2018; Hosken Consolidated Investments director Johnny Copelyn donated R2-million in August 2018.

Why would donors continue to give money after the campaign had successfully culminated in Ramaphosa’s Nasrec election?

Ramos failed to respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment. Copelyn told Daily Maverick via WhatsApp that the explanation was simply that he had made a verbal commitment to donate and only followed up later:

I undertook to make the payment at an earlier point than I paid”.

South Africa currently has no regulations governing individual campaign fundraising for internal political party contests. In the US, money which remains in campaign accounts after the election process ends can be used to settle remaining campaign debts, be donated to charity or another political candidate’s campaign. It may not be used for personal expenses.

Let’s get to the juicy stuff: those two EFF MPs…

Oddly, the Sunday Independent, which has been wringing every drop of possible mileage out of the #CR17 story, appears not to have noticed in its otherwise obsessive scrutiny of the bank records that payments were made to two EFF MPs: Tebogo Mokwele and Nkagisang Mokgosi.

The story was broken not by the news media but by the EFF itself, via a statement on Sunday 18 August. The party said Mokwele had “confessed” to receiving R40,000 from Ramaphosa through the #CR17 account, and urged other EFF MPs to come clean if they had taken money from Ramaphosa.

It since emerged that the money received by Mokwele was not R40,000, but R80,000, and that fellow MP Mokgsosi had also been the beneficiary of Ramaphosa’s apparent largesse to the tune of R80,000.

Surely the strangest revelation to come out of the entire #CR17 story so far.

Mokwele has since been doing the rounds of local radio stations, performing an elaborate mea culpa, expressing her undying commitment to the higher cause of the EFF, despite the fact that she is now banned from holding any leadership position for a five-year period of “rehabilitation”.

In an interview on Power FM, she said she had received money from Ramaphosa on two occasions, in 2017 and 2019.

In 2017, Mokwele was part of a parliamentary project to “establish a fund for young girls in the rural areas to have access to sanitary towels. [Ramaphosa] contributed for the progress to be unfolded”.

In 2019: “I had a very tragic incident this year where my cousin, husband and wife were brutally murdered. As an African woman you will communicate to people,” Mokwele said, indicating she had made a general appeal for funds to help with the bereavement, to which Ramaphosa had contributed.

I never requested any money from the president of the country, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mokwele insisted. “It was a communication between colleagues.”

A day later, speaking to Stephen Grootes on SAFM, Mokwele’s story seemed to change somewhat. Now she said she had indeed approached Ramaphosa, “speaking through his office” as deputy president.

The office of the deputy president is a public office, it can be approached by anyone,” Mokwele said.

There is also some confusion over whether the EFF leadership was aware of the donations at the time: on Power, they weren’t; on SAFM, she had informed them.

Her fellow MP Mokgosi has not elaborated on the circumstances of her own financial aid, saying in a statement that payments were made as a result of “personal” circumstances.

At first blush, this looks highly embarrassing for the EFF, for any number of reasons: they have demonised both the donors to the #CR17 campaign and the fund recipients; they have painted Ramaphosa as comprised of equal parts miners’ blood and white monopoly capital; and apart from anything else, why would its own MPs be so desperate for financial assistance in situations of emergency that they would have to look outside the party for help?

Grootes asked Mokwele on air if she had sought assistance from the EFF leadership first. She said she had, but then digressed into a list of charitable endeavours supported without elaborating on her party’s response.

The EFF has, however, done its best to spin this PR humiliation into something useful, claiming that “Mokwele’s confirmation that she received the money after speaking to President Ramaphosa is a confirmation that Ramaphosa was directly involved in the accounts that were paying money to different recipients in the CR17 campaign”.

In fact, Mokwele’s own version contradicts this, since she has denied speaking directly to Ramaphosa about money.

But there is no denying that the revelation also leaves Ramaphosa and the #CR17 team in a sticky situation.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko told eNCA the only point proved by the payments is that the president is a “caring and compassionate human being”.

That is one interpretation.

Another, inevitably, is the suggestion that Ramaphosa may have contributed financially to EFF MPs in need with the intention of receiving some form of information or support in return. (Mokwele has vehemently denied that she supplied Ramaphosa with anything of the kind.)

Even if Ramaphosa gave EFF MPs money out of the goodness of his heart, why would an account ostensibly containing donor funds to be channelled towards the Ramaphosa campaign be used for this purpose?

After all, Ramaphosa himself claimed, in his previously referenced court affidavit, “I had no personal entitlement to the donations made to the campaign and therefore no basis to declare them as mine”.

On what basis, then, could he use the #CR17 account as something akin to a personal slush fund?

Daily Maverick sent the following questions to Diko:

  1. What was the purpose of the CR17 campaign account after Nasrec 2017 when the campaign had finished?

  2. Who was responsible for administering the account (in other words, who would have had the power to make payments from the account)?

  3. Assuming President Ramaphosa wished to respond philanthropically to the request of his parliamentary colleagues, why would EFF MPs receive financial assistance from the CR17 account rather than from, say, a personal account of the President’s?

  4. Has President Ramaphosa made similar charitable contributions to other MPs from other parties, and if so is it possible to have an example?

Diko’s response:

The funds reflected in the bank statements were used for an internal leadership contest. The President’s submission to the public protector outlined the broad range of areas for which the funds were used. The Presidency is not in a position to comment on the detail of the operations of the campaign.”

President Ramaphosa is due to face questions from MPs in the National Assembly on Thursday — at which point this issue will surely arise.

What, if anything, about this story should be keeping us up at night?

For an independent opinion on this matter, Daily Maverick turned to the director of South Africa’s graft watchdog Corruption Watch, David Lewis:

I think that the sources of the donations are going to have to be revealed, whatever the court says about sealing them, whether the argument is that these were procured illegally or not.

The situation is such that there will be no choice from the perspective of public concern. And I think that under the circumstances that should apply to all of the candidates for the [2017] presidency of the ANC.”

Lewis said that from his viewpoint, however, the biggest source of concern was not the source of donations, but the uses to which the money was put.

I’m really puzzled: what did they do with all that money?” Lewis asked. “[At Nasrec], a couple of thousand delegates are voting.”

Above all, says Lewis, the #CR17 story is a reminder of how urgently South Africa is in need of regulation of the internal affairs of political parties.

They need to be regulated in a way that other voluntary associations, like a sports club or a bridge club, do not,” he says.

Their impact on public life is vast, dramatic, and at the heart of polarisation and corruption.” DM

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