South Africa

PARLIAMENT

Ramaphosa takes back the optics he lost in the CR17 saga, one question at a time

Ramaphosa takes back the optics he lost in the CR17 saga, one question at a time
President Cyril Ramaphosa answers questions on August 22 2019 in the National Assembly for the first time since he was inaugurated as the country's president in May. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

A well-prepped President Cyril Ramaphosa made short shrift of opposition leaders’ questions about the CR17 palaver, while also affirming the ANC is ‘irrevocably committed’ to National Health Insurance.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday 22 August used his Q&A in the House to reverse the bad optics of the festering CR17 ANC leadership contest donations. It was a classic switcheroo of the platform provided by opposition questions to insist CR17 was “forward-looking” and above board.

The opposition DA and EFF leaders had asked the questions related to the CR17 donation saga – from instituting another commission of inquiry focussed on Bosasa donations, to details about donors at fundraising dinners. According to parliamentary rules, those questions had been submitted some two weeks ago and had been published in the parliamentary papers for days already.

On Thursday afternoon a properly prepped Ramaphosa made short shrift of both. This unfolded with a marked difference in tone and temperament for the respective political party leaders – exasperation for DA leader Mmusi Maimane and giggly camaraderie for EFF leader Julius Malema.

Ramaphosa basically told Maimane his question about another inquiry just on Bosasa was nonsensical, given the terms of reference of the Zondo State Capture commission and testimony already heard.

It should be obvious the [Zondo] commission of inquiry into State Capture has both the mandate and authority to investigate the matters Honourable Maimane refers to,” said Ramaphosa, adding later: “There is therefore absolutely no reason to institute another inquiry to hear matters that are already being heard.”

He’d already deposed an affidavit and indicated to the commission he was ready to appear before it at any time. But the courts should be allowed time to review Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report that, on the back of a complaint about a R500,000 Bosasa donation, moved from a probe into misleading Parliament to one of money laundering by CR17.

There was just the slightest hint of frustration after an appeal to allow the courts to deal with this.

I, more than anyone, want this matter to be resolved as soon as possible so that all of us as South Africans can get on with our lives.”

Ramaphosa remained deadpan when Maimane, again, waved papers about in the House. In November 2018, it was an affidavit regarding the R500,000 Bosasa donation that ultimately led to the public protector report. On Thursday, it was a March 2014 letter of thanks from then ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize for a R3-million Bosasa donation made in the run-up to the 2014 elections that saw Jacob Zuma return as president.

As deputy president at the time, Ramaphosa effectively was in possession of money gained from illegal activity, argued Maimane:

Will you ensure the ANC will repay to the fiscus all money from Bosasa, as it’s been proceeds of crime?”

Ramaphosa replied:

One of the observations made by the public protector against me was that when Honourable Maimane played the same sort of gimmick the last time, the public protector, in one of the paragraphs in her report, said: ‘Mr President, when that was done to you, you should have actually asked for a copy,’ and I said I will deal with it later.

She and I differ on her outcomes and conclusions. On this, I will take her counsel. Please give me that letter and I will reflect on it.”

Maimane stepped to the podium to give Ramaphosa the letter, which was put into the presidential document folder. No date for a reply was provided, although National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise reassured Maimane she would follow up on his behalf.

The DA leader looked grim-faced for much of the presidential question time. His efforts had been rebuffed easily and repeatedly, with him being described as “a stuck record” over earlier comments on the dire state of the economy.

By contrast, EFF leader Julius Malema was all smiles and giggles with Ramaphosa, who turned on the charm. It was Malema’s question about the details of CR17 donors at fundraising dinners that solicited the more substantive, meaty presidential replies.

The CR17 campaign was a legitimate, forward-looking, necessary effort to promote the renewal of the governing party. It was undertaken under difficult conditions. There was no wrongdoing, no criminality – and no abuse of public funds,” said Ramaphosa.

Those who contributed to the campaign (organisers, volunteer, service provider or donors) did so out of a genuine concern for the future of our country. If there are members of the executive, they did so as individual party members exercising their constitutional and democratic rights. In this regard, they owe no apology for what they did.”

Ramaphosa said he had started the discussion on funding internal party contests at the last ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at the end of July.

He added: “Others have more sinister agendas, using leaked information selectively to undermine progress in our country.”

He threw down the gauntlet to political parties represented in Parliament: discuss and decide whether there must be a law to regulate internal party contest donations.

But right now, because there is no law or regulation on this internal political party contest disclosure, it would be “unreasonable and prejudicial” to expect disclosure from him for the CR17 campaign. This may change, depending on Ramaphosa’s lawyers’ review of the bank statements and donation information Mkhwebane has handed to the court as part of the review, which remain under seal.

Do we want internal party political contests, from the governing party to the smallest party, to be regulated so that there will be disclosure? Parliament must take responsibility for ensuring the same standards of accountability and transparency are applied to all leaders, are applied across the board. If that’s what we want to do…”

It’s a back-hander. No political party wants to expose what its leadership contests cost. The DA doesn’t, nor does anyone else. When Ramaphosa started illustrating his point with the example of EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu deciding he now wanted to be president, it was all smiles from the EFF front benches, although Shivambu did fire off a point of order:

He must use the example of Honourable DD [Deputy President David Mabuza] contesting him, because that’s going to happen. We here [in the EFF] are still stable.”

Giggles all around. On the ANC benches and those of the EFF.

The Presidency had wanted to spin the economic questions and replies in a statement that Ramaphosa would “brief” Parliament.

While the focus of the prepared response to the ANC sweetheart question on progress in the economy tried to sketch some progress, it was in the follow-ups that the clearest signal yet emerged that prescribed assets were no longer the no-no they once were.

It also emerged that the ANC was “irrevocably committed” to make National Health Insurance (NHI) happen. As Ramaphosa put it:

We could lose everything if we don’t introduce this one. We cannot abandon the 84% of our people from getting access to quality healthcare”.

On prescribed assets – the mandatory requirement for pension fund asset managers to invest in, among others, government bonds and state-owned entities (SOEs) – much seemed to rely on indications Cosatu and trade unions would not necessarily be opposed. This may signal prescribed assets for the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), already a key investor in the state-owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC), but not private pension and retirement funds.

It wasn’t quite as clear-cut in Thursday’s presidential question time even as DA MPs started chanting “Yes or no?” after Maimane asked whether the president supported prescribed assets.

We are facing a situation where our financial resources have been depleted and our developmental needs are enormous. In other places, pension funds are being used to generate investments,” said Ramaphosa.

Labour is well disposed towards the utilisation of their assets towards generating investment. I happen to know Cosatu is not opposed. We need to have a broad and wholesome discussion”.

Such national discussions on issues of South Africa’s future were what Ramaphosa returned to time and time again in almost three hours at the National Assembly podium.

Perhaps it’s a distraction from the CR17 donations saga – the president clinched back control of the optics that had slipped his grasp – but it fits Ramaphosa’s narrative of democratic South Africa’s journey to a different, and better, thuma mina future. DM

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