South Africa


Ramaphosa’s silences on SSA abuses and State Capture may be more important than what he spoke about

President Cyril Ramaphosa during his second day before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in his capacity as the President and former Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa on 12 August 2021. (Photo: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane)

While President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday told the State Capture Commission how the governing ANC’s renewal would ultimately also affect the state over time, he again, at key points, deflected and remained silent.

President Cyril Ramaphosa did not disagree when asked if it were reasonable to investigate a link between July’s violence and public disorder and the State Security Agency’s (SSA’s) so-called co-workers — trained, armed but not vetted persons — allocated as a “private SSA security force” to ex-president Jacob Zuma.

“It is a proposition and not unreasonable. And, may I add, it is part of the investigation that is under way because all these things need to be gone into. It’s about the security of the people of our country,” the president responded to evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius.

Ramaphosa was silent on exactly which investigation he meant.

Chances are it’s a three-strong panel’s critical review, announced as part of the 5 August Cabinet reshuffle that also moved the state security portfolio into the Presidency, as is possible under Section 209(2) of the Constitution. 

The panel’s “thorough and critical review of our preparedness and the shortcomings in our response” to the July violence and public disorder was part of the critical measures to strengthen the security services and to prevent a recurrence, according to the president. No timeframes or terms of references have yet been published. 

Two of the three panel members are linked to South Africa’s intelligence services; the third, advocate Mojanku Gumbi, was legal adviser to former president Thabo Mbeki. 

Chairperson is Professor Sandy Africa, who has written extensively on transformation in intelligence. Perhaps less known is Africa’s time in democratic South Africa’s intelligence structures. 

Her University of Pretoria abridged CV simply states “Senior Official: South African government” from January 1995 to January 2007.  A little more emerges in the bio in the March 2011 policy paper published by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 

“Over a period of twelve years, Africa held several senior appointments in the South African post-apartheid security services. One of these appointments included heading the Intelligence Academy…”, alongside participating in the 1990s as activist and researcher in “the democratic movement’s reconceptualisation of the country’s security philosophy”. 

In February 2010 the Mail & Guardian confirmed that Africa, described as “former general manager of the South African Intelligence Academy” and “a progressive voice in the intelligence world”, had been seconded from academia to set up corporate services in the unified state security department.

The other member is Silumko Sokupa, a former Eastern Cape National Intelligence Agency boss, who served as South African Secret Service, or foreign intelligence, deputy director-general before taking over in 2007 as the national coordinator of the statutory National Intelligence Coordinating Committee. He was also part of the 2018 High-Level Review Panel on the SSA.

On Tuesday Ramaphosa told the State Capture Commission one reason for moving the SSA to the Presidency was to get to the bottom of intelligence malfeasance. And that included the SSA’s so-called co-workers, the presidential security force, trained as far back as 2008. 

“It is something firmly on my radar screen… including the account of those people, who were given arms, including automatic arms, that have never been accounted for,” said Ramaphosa. “It is part of an intensive investigative process that is under way.” 

If the panel must, as Ramaphosa seemed to indicate, investigate this, it would step into a drawn-out probe that was effectively scuppered from inside the SSA.

“All the evidence and documentation was put under lock and key. There was talk of getting a private firm of attorneys to continue,” said Pretorius. “I don’t know why the firm of attorneys rejected that brief.” 

In early April News24 reported that law firm Bowmans had pulled out of the probe agreed to a year before. 

Pretorius was not quite ready to let go. As far back as the December 2018 High-Level Review Panel report made clear, there had been “serious politicisation and factionalisation of the intelligence community over the past decade or more, based on factions in the ruling party, resulting in an almost complete disregard for the Constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts…”. 

And so the SSA malfeasance and corruption were not just lapses, the evidence leader put to the president.

These weren’t mistakes. These weren’t slip-ups. Minister [Ayanda] Dlodlo didn’t arrive one morning and say: ‘Oops, I forgot to do this’, or, ‘I made a mistake here.’ This was a deliberate act of misgovernment that possibly has had the most serious consequences for our state.”

That triggered another presidential silence — and deflection. 

“All these things are the consequences of deliberate incapability of the state, or State Capture. An accumulation of these are the challenges we face now,” said Ramaphosa before segueing into his glass half-full default position.

“But the fortunate part… is that we’ve got your commission, we’ve got a whole number of other processes that have been embarked upon and have unravelled all these things.” 

That response was more than fellow evidence leader advocate Vas Soni got on Wednesday regarding the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). The August 2015 Public Protector report, Derailed, put CEO Lucky Montana firmly at the centre of public scandals. 

“One of the astonishing things of Mr Montana — and he’s asked for my recusal so I can say what needs to be said — is that in a meeting with [then] president Jacob Zuma, he said the Molefe board was appointed without him being consulted,” said Soni. 

“That’s quite frightening. These are the Frankensteins we created. The reason the capture of Prasa flourished, mainly, is by acts of omission. The perpetrators were allowed to get away [with it].”

A presidential silence followed. 

The commission chairperson, acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, followed up with a question. Why was the Prasa board under Popo Molefe allowed to go when it was “seemingly doing a lot”, and quite well, while SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni, against whom others had complained, was reappointed? 

A presidential giggle, then, “Chairperson, I don’t know if you want me to answer this? It belongs to a chapter with the title ‘The Anomalies of Our Times’. That’s what one can say.”

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo on 12 August 2021. (Photo: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane)

Molefe and his board were briefing MPs when they were fired in March 2017 by the then transport minister, Dipuo Peters. This was after neither the parliamentary transport committee, nor the then National Assembly Speaker, Baleka Mbete, apparently responded to pleas for assistance.

On Thursday when Ramaphosa was pushed on SSA malfeasance and corruption, which Pretorius described as a security threat, he repeatedly deflected. 

“The SSA has a number of quite good people, who want to serve the nation and who want to serve the nation diligently. I will not use a broad brush. I will say quite a lot of malfeasance did happen and SSA was purposed to service political and factional interests by certain of its operatives or officials. Certainly not all.” 

That stance echoed the presidential sidestepping of the question of why he has retained ex-state security minister David Mahlobo in his executive as deputy minister, and ex-SSA boss Arthur Fraser as a senior government official heading Correctional Services despite the hard-hitting findings against them. 

“Much of what the commission is doing… will be, in my view, the final guide,” said Ramaphosa. “I want to wait for the outcome of the commission. I think that is about all I can say.” 

Pretorius pushed back, saying it was a question of whether a person is suitable for appointment. 

“Mr Chairperson, I am waiting for the report before I come back to that,” giggled Ramaphosa. 

Zondo stepped in to caution that it was almost certain the commission’s findings and recommendations would be challenged. “People will say you can’t do anything; you must wait for the outcome for the review process. Will you wait?”

But Ramaphosa bypassed that also. “Regarding the reviews, that’s from your lips, so I can’t comment on that.” 

Over the past two days, it’s become clear the State Capture Commission report will be an important tool for Ramaphosa and his supporters in the governing ANC and the government. The commission’s findings and recommendations would be the neutral assessment that would allow action, for example, against persons under a cloud, while avoiding much, if not all, political factional blowback. 

But for now, it’s still being “blindsided”,“ ignoring the signposts” and not seeing the full picture.  

It was important for Ramaphosa to emphasise, repeatedly, that staying put in government during the State Capture years, as he had decided, involved “real battles”, some unknown still, to stem the worst. This helped bring about the changes now under way, he said, emphasising that staying put did not impute complicity. 

“Were we complicit? The answer is no. Could we be said to be negligent? It could well be, but complicit we were not.” 

That, alongside setting an example and using the opportunity to emphasise the extent of change already under way regardless of public impatience was part of the reason why Ramaphosa, as a sitting president, decided to be publicly questioned at the commission. 

“Something really wrong happened in our country, and to put it right, I have to go [to the commission] as head of state,” said Ramaphosa. DM


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All Comments 31

  • And used the impersonal ‘one’ and then putative ‘you’ for the more incriminating statements. And ‘I’ and ‘we’ for more positive ones. Very much the politician.

      • Indeed both.
        What’s left of this CR, after two days of meek, weak excuses, and obfuscating. A spineless, gutless selfserving narcissist,that sacrificed it all to keep the ANC united, in order to move HIMSELF to the ultimate political office in the land.
        He honestly never cared for the country as a whole, in the long term.
        He recently said that it would show that the govt cared for the people when it extended the R 350 SRD grant.
        When the govt cared for the country it would dare to kick but, when needed. And would have reduced the salaries of the 1.3 m self- servants in it’s employ with 50% for the higher echelons, and 25% for the lower wages, and frozen salaries for 10, yes TEN years. That would have helped to raise funds for the desperately needed infrastructure projects. Roads are falling apart all over SA.

  • Of course all in the ANC were complicit; they turned a blind eye to their own malfeasance from the outset. Let us not forget the early days of the ANC permitted corruption, Sarafina, Travel-Gate, cadre appointment above capable appointment. The thin end of the wedge was placed years ago and gradually thickened and continues to do so.

      • Is it not a “sin of omission”, vs a “sin of co-mission”, Gerhard? If you turn a blind eye, you ARE complicit in the crime even though it is a sin of omission…Then again, poor cr was probably constantly being “shocked” – no wonder he’s so smiley and not depressed in spite of the horrors – regular ECT…

  • Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. You don’t show your hand before all the beans are on the table. Poker face with a smile? Nothing wrong with it. He might just clean the table and break the bank. I hope he’s got a loaded six shooter ready on his hip.

    • How long are you prepared to hold your breath. Breaking the bank may become a reality – careful what you wish for.

      He has had more chance to doubt than Thomas. Time he showed his hand so that we might believe him. Right now I don’t.

  • Great President, we’re truly lucky, he remained in cabinet for all the right reasons and did what he could. If he had not, we would now have Nkosizana Zuma and would be in serious trouble. Weak, he is not. He’s playing the political game to perfection, resolving the issues of his party, retaining the Brand name, allowing his newly created structures to flush out the rogues and while it all takes time and frustrates us accordingly, the end result will leave us in a better place. Just being prepared to face the commission shows his metal.

    • Hi John.
      I’m on your side in this debate.
      I see no clear alternatives to Cyril’s approach. No opposition party is in a position to get a big enough support base to have any chance of success.
      Nevertheless it is important to have effective opposition parties. But right now they are all mostly factional.

          • Yes he chose a very difficult path and this adroit balancing act will not bring instant relief. But he is our best chance of rescue from this nightmare. Of course he’s not going to lay all his cards on the table for the bad guys to see.

    • To me it looks as though he is more interested in maintaining his position in the party rather than fixing the country and therefore the next ANC elective conference takes precedence over fighting corruption. After all, one doesn’t stand for election to head a crime family only to take them out of the business of crime once elected. That is simply not how it works.

      • How do you propose he continue with the cleanup without maintaining his position?
        One needs great support to go far vs fast alone. If the opposition parties can play an active role in the cleanup instead of just words and criticism.

    • Hi John, I agree… the alternative to our sitting President is just too horrendous to imagine… heaven forbid that his Deputy should EVER have to step into the breach!

  • For those who have ears to hear, this President is firmly of the same mind set of Jacob Zuma and the ANC before and now – cadre deployment, bee tenderpreneurship, jjobs for pals, racial vengeance.

    Zondo commissions increasingly looks like a power tool for the CR17 faction, to castrate a competitor Zuma – not about fixing anything.

    The reason the capture of state flourish, mainly, is by acts of omission – the State allows it, wins, outright proves it and suggests whose purses should get the top jobs.

    Did the President say corruption was wrong, mistaken, ineffective, counter productive? That merit based selection should be equal to race and political affiliations?


    His words – ‘The Anomalies of Our Times’, His policy and cabinet under score the entrenchment of black elite empowerment, deployment and redeployment of allies and cadres into government and the economy – only, they should be by cadres loyal to him.

    His comment for public consumption, is a legal must as a defendent – but ad odds with the reality of his government. “Were we complicit? The answer is no. Could we be said to be negligent? It could well be, but complicit we were not.” .

    No, Sir. Complicit in the engineering and supporting of the process of corruption is inherent in ANC philosophy to take control of all parastatals, the economy (BEE ownership transfers, such as to Mr Ramaphosa himself), the state … that is more than complicit. It is causal

  • My Word! ..and between the DM’s two Mariannes, Marianne Merten, and Marianne Thamm, there is to be read some of the finest journo reportings/opnionistas/evaluations anywhere across this land. Clive Ndou of The Witness and Mondli Makhanye of City Press are as Gr 3 boys, learning to write.

    Ramaphoosa’s insistence on evading questions does, for me, indicate a compliance. HOW can the State President, with so much time on his hands, not have been aware of malfeasance or constructed plannings in his very own State Security processes and procedures, when they are answerable to him when the nation is under threat? Conjunctively, J Geldleyehlakisa Zuma had put into practice the (unconstitutional?) inter-ministerial committee meetings!
    ‘Complicit’ is the big suspicion presently…or more?

  • It is better for CR’s political position in the ANC for him to use the Zondo report as justification for necessary actions, than to seemingly do them off his own bat, where opposition will focus on him.
    I expect than many words of this commentariat will be eaten before the end of the year.

  • I think he is the best and only Person that can lead SA at this time.
    Imagine Mrs Beetroot and Garlic being in charge! He might be slow but he is clearly strategic, like a game of chess. He will get it sorted.

  • I wouldn’t want his job and I certainly won’t vote for the ANC
    But he is the only person who can get the country out of the mess that Jacob created
    Senior financial managers at Black Rock in London believe that South Africa has a steady hand in Ramaphosa which gives them confidence
    He can’t do anything in a hurry because then he will be ousted
    And then we will be in serious trouble

  • Against the backdrop of the trickiest ANC political landscape imaginable, in the comments section over many articles I broadly see CR placed into one of these categories:
    1. Useless
    2. Spineless
    3. Corrupt
    4. Strategic

    My view is a definite 4.

    I recognise this is personal. My assessment includes the following axes:

    A. observance of what I believe are significant positive changes since Zuma’s tenure
    B. recognition that super tanker South Africa takes time to turn
    C. realisation that tolerance for “acceptable bend” is necessary. (as to come through state capture “completely clean” is an almost impossible ask – as evidenced by those who tried and have been “broken” and wasted)

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