Ramaphosa began two highly anticipated days of testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Wednesday as he was quizzed about what he knew and did about grand corruption from 2012 when he was appointed ANC deputy president.
He faced questions about the ANC’s deployment committee and how it rammed through candidates for state jobs and even tried to influence judicial appointments. In his opening statement, the president accounted for his time as party leader and for his role as deputy president from May 2014. He told Judge Raymond Zondo that he chose to stay and fight State Capture from the inside since resigning would have had little effect.
Ramaphosa revealed that he had spoken out only twice and threatened to resign once when Zuma axed Nene in December 2015. “I immediately contacted [ANC deputy secretary-general] Jessie Duarte, as I was concerned that State Capture had reached this level, and said that I would resign my position as deputy president of the republic,” Ramaphosa revealed for the first time.
The message was conveyed to Zuma and a flurry of meetings followed. Two days later, Zuma replaced the “Weekend Special” finance minister Des van Rooyen with Pravin Gordhan, who is now Public Enterprises Minister in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.
That didn’t stop Zuma, who not even two years later fired Gordhan and his deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas. “At a meeting [with President Zuma] I raised my concern that they were being removed on the basis of an unsubstantiated intelligence report,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said that he had five options when State Capture went into high gear – a period that coincided with his deputy presidency. “The first option was to resign from the executive. While I would have earned praise, it would have impaired my ability to bring an end to State Capture… had I and like-minded individuals resigned [it would have led to] the unfettered expansion of the State Capture project.”
If he had adopted a more confrontational approach, then Zuma would have fired him, said Ramaphosa, adding that acquiescing was not an option for him. “The fifth option was to remain but not to acquiesce, to work with others in the executive [and] resist the abuses. This meant staying in the arena. To resist and ultimately bring about the changes to end State Capture relied on a balance of power. That was among the reasons I chose to remain in the position of deputy president – to shift the balance of forces and make myself available to be president of the ANC.”
In 2017, Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency and became President of South Africa in February 2018. He initiated a programme of reform which he outlined to the commission.
Ramaphosa also faced questions about what he knew about the creeping capture of Eskom from 2015, when the Gupta family’s lieutenant, Salim Essa, interviewed potential board members at his Melrose Arch offices.
These individuals were appointed to the board, and four executives were fired after a meeting at Zuma’s Durban presidential residence in March 2015 presided over by Dudu Myeni, then Eskom chairperson Zola Tsotsi and Myeni’s bag-carrier Nick Linnell who illegally dismissed Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona.
At the time, Ramaphosa was chairperson of the Eskom war room, an interministerial committee to oversee the utility’s debt, supply and market confidence crisis.
See Cyril Ramaphosa’s opening statement to the Zondo inquiry here.
Under cross-examination by evidence leader Pule Seleka, Ramaphosa testified that he had recommended that Zuma wind up the war room and appoint Brian Molefe as CEO. Zondo asked Ramaphosa if he did not know of Molefe’s proximity to the Gupta family and how the family’s media mouthpiece, the New Age, had campaigned for his appointment. In further questioning, he told Seleka: “I had never really connected Mr Molefe in any way with the Gupta family. I had no inkling or knowledge or suspicion of that connection. In the fullness of time that became a real concern.”
Testimony is continuing. DM