South Africa


Ramaphosa spoke up against State Capture only twice in the five years of grand corruption

President Cyril Ramaphosa appears before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on 11 August 2021. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS)

The president has confirmed reports that he threatened to resign as deputy president when his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, fired then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and tanked the markets.

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.

Archive Photo: Former Acting CEO of Eskom Brian Molefe. (Photo: Gallo Images / Business Day / Trevor Samson)

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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    Such lame excuses. The ANC is now tough on corruption. That’s why ministers involved in corruption are on special leave with full pay.

    How wonderful.

    • Carol Green says:

      And that is why there are people who have been accused of corruption and are still members of the executive. Disgraceful.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      No idea why, but oftentimes I feel like writing:

      – My word, is South Africa really screwed?
      – Oh no, please don’t tell me that the ANC is a mess!


  • Charles Parr says:

    My goodness, with this lameness in the ANC executive one has to wonder how this country has survived thus far. I’ve tried to think of this man as our only hope but really he makes it impossible.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    Ramaphosa is such a pathetic figure.
    I have more respect for Zuma than for him.
    At least Zuma acted decisively to get what he wanted.

    • Charles Parr says:

      That is the most unfortunate fact to accept, but it’s there staring at us. Well said.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      I don’t agree at all. It is easy to act decisively when completely devoid of a social or moral compass. Ask any psychopath.

      A different perspective is to ask the question: Who would be president now if Cyril had gone head to head with Zuma?
      – Do you think it would be Cyril?
      – And if not, which realistically possible alternative person do you think may be better than Cyril?

      • Charles Parr says:

        Clearly no one would be better off but my take on this type of discussion is that some of us are very disappointed with the outcome with respect to CR but haven’t yet got to think of what could have been without him because it was bound to be worse. In the long run we’re just humans with feelings that want a future for our kids and grandchildren and therefore more hope for all people in the country.

  • Andy Miles says:

    What this means in simple English is that there is no affordable timely mechanism within the Constitution , the Courts, the rules of Parliament or other Sate enterprises checks and balances/accountability systems to remove corrupt politicians, or those guilty of other wrong doing. Those in power can dance to their own music. Any balance of probabilities investigations following up on the work of investigative journalists would undoubtable see many removed from office. The mechanism within a functioning democracy where voters, vote the corrupt out fail us as our political legacy leaves us with virtually a one party state. As we have seen there is no mechanism or will inside the ANC to clean its own house. One wonders what events will play out to move us from this present conundrum.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Very smooth indeed- and no real taking of responsibility- it’s always somebody else who must take blame! That is how the ANC works, and until it rids itself of cadre deployment and that won’t happen!

  • J LOMBARD says:

    President Ramaphosa staved off the “unfettered expansion of the State Capture project.” It must have been an extremely testing period for him, but his patience won the day.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    What is the appropriate strategy when with:

    – an encumbent president who shows no compunction in sidelining – or worse – anyone who gets in his way; and
    – a cabinet and party full of thieves who will destroy you at the first sign of risk to themselves and their voracious appetites.

    Let me tell all of you detractors, for whom it apparently isn’t obvious.

    Tread very very carefully.

    • Charles Parr says:

      Let’s increase the hurdles for BBEEE compliance.

      • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

        Charles, please don’t mistake me – I am not for a moment saying the situation is perfect. I am simply making the point that it is almost (I hope) – impossible for an honest person, even a president, to achieve progress faced with the combined moral vacuum that is the ANC leadership and the uneducated morass of the voter base.

        For me, it helps bring Cyril’s achievement into focus by measuring him against the baseline where Zuma – or any number of others – is currently president.

        Perfection – no, but in my book SA should be thanking the lord for President Ramaphosa and supporting him as there really is no viable alternative.

        • Charles Parr says:

          Richard we’re on the same page but I get really irritated with the fact that he is the best that we have. For goodness sake, he’s a dollar billionaire and he’s impotent. The Chinese have done it and they took the bottom 10% and really shook them up and they took the middle 50% and shook them up even more and the top 1% became dollar billionaires. But they worked for it and he hasn’t – he’s done deals here and there with no consequences if they failed. And there’s my beef, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions and only thinks of ANC power. I’m probably, and hope I am, but I get no hope right now.

          • Charles Parr says:

            Apologies, I didn’t express myself well there but we have an understanding, whether we like it or not.

  • P G Muller says:

    Sad..frightening and hopeless….a leader who did nothing said nothing and continues to do little is what we have been given. Worse still he paints himself as a saviour ..”if it was not for me saying nothing (or little) we would be in a worse position”. There is no hint of an apology but rather arrogance. Grow a spine Squirrel

  • Christine Ambler-Smith says:

    So much talk about defending our democracy but never any talk about our parliament. Surely the two go together – but it really is all and only about The Party, isn’t it Mr President?
    You say you learned about State Capture from journalists and civil society? Pity you don’t hear your parliamentary opposition – or answer their questions more sincerely – or appoint their new speaker more thoughtfully.
    Great pity.


    Cyril has sugarcoated his testimony to Zondo but bottom line is there is NO WAYS he did not know what was going on in the ANC.
    The ANC was and still is the most corrupt organization in SA.
    If Cyril “does” clean out the rouges there will be little left of the ANC.

  • Herman Meyer says:

    This was the same staid argument used by the NP, Broederbond and Dutch Reformed Church about fixing from within. It didn’t hold water then and it does not do it either now.

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