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Like a cat on a hot tin roof, Ramaphosa danced his way through the Zondo Commission

Like a cat on a hot tin roof, Ramaphosa danced his way through the Zondo Commission
Corruption put ANC on the road to electoral defeat, Ramaphosa acknowledged. Graphic: Rudi Louw

Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged that corruption put the ANC on the road to electoral defeat.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

When polls started coming in ahead of the local government elections in 2016, the ANC realised corruption had become a problem, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture this past week. Then the results came in. The party had lost control of both the economic heartland metro of Johannesburg and the political capital metro of Pretoria, among other power-political nodes.

Corruption “leads to a breakdown of party morality, and the ANC becomes less attractive, and it leads to the loss of electoral support. If we don’t [do something], we are on a one-way ticket to oblivion and defeat,” he said on the second day of testimony on State Capture and his role in addressing it.

He admitted that State Capture “had deeply damaged the effectiveness of the ANC itself and its ability to carry out its mandate and its mission”.

Ramaphosa spoke about political culpability in a way former president Jacob Zuma has refused to do in the almost three years he has dodged the commission. Ramaphosa did not mention Zuma’s name once, keeping it general and unspecific.

He could not dish the dirt because, in the ANC, his back is to the wall. A fightback against reform led by Secretary-General Ace Magashule is in top gear. Ramaphosa repeatedly said the commission had detractors among ANC leaders.

As Ramaphosa was testifying, Magashule missed the deadline to step aside from his role because he has been charged with corruption. He also reinstated former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo as an ANC member after he had been suspended for ill-discipline for five years by the party’s provincial leadership.

So, we must read Ramaphosa’s testimony in this political context. He was never going to be explicit. He still sees SA’s future as tied to a renewed ANC. But he made important concessions.

On day one, he acknowledged State Capture had taken place under the ANC, which did not always live up to its values and principles. He said he testified “not to make excuses or defend the indefensible”. And, in 12 hours of testimony, he didn’t.

The parlous condition of state-owned enterprises was the result of a massive system failure in how their boards were appointed, he admitted.

Over the two days of testimony, he acknowledged that the party had taken too long to react. It was first alerted to the outsize influence of the Gupta family on Cabinet appointments in 2011, by then Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, but this “did not prompt any specific concerns”.

Evidence leader Paul Pretorius asked Ramaphosa why it took the ANC 20 years to get serious about corruption. In 2001, it published a document titled Through the Eye of the Needle, which diagnosed the corruption – the “sins of incumbency” – already besetting the ANC.

Judge Raymond Zondo and evidence leaders repeatedly asked Ramaphosa and ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who appeared earlier in April, whether cadre deployment or the electoral system should be changed in order to prevent this kind of corruption.

Ramaphosa said the ANC was unlikely to change how it recommends cadres for state positions. Asked by Zondo whether the electoral system needed to change, Ramaphosa noted: “We are the odd one out on our continent, where most people vote for a president.”

“Do we want an imperial president or one who operates based on collegiality? You will hardly find an ANC president who will wake up and [tweet] that we are going to build a wall from here to Beit Bridge,” he said, taking a dig at former US President Donald Trump.

What is clear is that, despite the corrosive impacts of the cadre policy and the party-based electoral system, these suit the ANC. Change will have to come from civil society. Ramaphosa is a reformist, but only insofar as it does not affect ANC power. In this, he is the quintessential party man.

Party funding has repeatedly emerged as a catalyst of State Capture in testimony before the Commission. Pretorius asked how Bosasa, the facilities management company that made a fortune from contracts with the state and state-owned enterprises, could also be an ANC funder.

Ramaphosa said the ANC “would not knowingly accept donations from companies involved in criminal activities”. Yet evidence by former Bosasa COO Angelo Aggrizzi in 2019 revealed that the ties between Bosasa and the ANC were so close that, in some periods, they were indistinguishable.

“It was a major lapse,” said Ramaphosa. He also claimed the funding for his campaign to become ANC president was nowhere near the rumoured R1-billion figure. He said it was “only about R300-million or so, but I don’t know the full facts”. His campaign kitty is an albatross around his neck and his detractors in the party use it against him.

It came up this week because Ramaphosa’s campaign got money from Bosasa’s now-deceased chief, Gavin Watson. Ramaphosa said one of his fundraisers had asked for personal, not corporate, donations, and he did not know of some donors, including Watson.

The Political Party Funding Act would deal with party funding, he said, and he supported similar principles for internal party campaigns.

“Is it not concerning that proceeds of procurement go to private companies and then come back to the party?” asked Pretorius, referring to the Guptas and asbestos magnate Edwin Sodi of Blackhead Consulting, who funnelled money to the ANC after receiving state contracts.

Ramaphosa was noncommittal, possibly because this round-tripping is a prevalent method of ANC fundraising. “There is everything wrong if that business wants something in return” was all the president would concede, although he put the kibosh on the common practice of state-owned enterprises funding ANC events. “That should not happen as those are public monies. The companies should use that for developmental purposes.”

When Ramaphosa returns to the Zondo Commission in May, he is likely to face questions about the axing of Cabinet ministers and corruption at Prasa, Transnet, SAA and in the provinces.

He became deputy president in 2014 and, over the next two years, corruption reached a high-water mark as the Gupta patronage network enabled by Zuma went into overdrive. Daily Maverick has calculated that R1.2-trillion was lost in public funds and economic opportunities.

Did Ramaphosa turn a blind eye to this, on his way to the presidency? He didn’t say, but it’s known that he was instrumental in stopping the capture of the National Treasury when Des van Rooyen was finance minister for two days in 2015. Zuma backed down. Ramaphosa played a back-room role in forcing the ANC to see the deleterious impact of corruption on its political fortunes.

Ultimately, Ramaphosa is a long-game politician. He is a reformist but he’s also non-confrontational – that much was clear from this week’s testimony. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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  • Gerhard Pretorius says:

    CR had the opportunity to become an icon of the same calibre as Ghandi if he just dared to show he had balls. Most journalists have more guts than he will ever have. The anc government should have been defunct by now, yet the criminals are still free to partake in organised crime daily. Sickening.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    There is clearly no seriousness by the ANC to root out corruption, they only want to do as little as necessary to remain in power. The factional infighting and the interests of the party clearly continue to take precedence over the interests of the country. Corruption continues largely unabated.

  • wilhelm rigaardt says:

    Sadly,this great country is bereft of leadership…..

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      True to a large extent… & the part that was or is there has moved into the margins, largely because the ‘movement’ wants ‘disciplined’ (has its own conundrums!) members (euphemistically called ‘cadres’!) from whom ‘deployment'(sic !) will be made ! The degradation of leadership is inexorable !

  • Cedric de Beer says:

    He is long game politician. He could have fought a public and valiant fight against corruption when Zuma was at the height of his powers. He would have lost, Zuma would have had another year and someone far worse would be president now. The right choice in the circumstances? difficult to say.

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      Cedric, cr has been ‘in power’ for years and still no real action. How long do the people of SA have to wait?

  • Auke Van Der Meulen Van Der Meulen says:

    Question that should be asked:
    Why should a campaign in a closed party for president of that party cost R300m? Surely it is to buy-off voters that is corrupt in itself.
    Further question should be who accepted the payments and have it been declared?

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    “Change will have to come from civil society. Ramaphosa is a reformist, but only insofar as it does not affect ANC power” – and that is why he cannot, ultimately, be trusted.

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