SPIES R US ANALYSIS
Mishandling of the Ramaphosa farm forex theft reflected in state accountability documents
As more questions arise over the February 2020 forex and cash theft at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala wildlife farm, it has emerged there is a serious omission of this in the SAPS annual report — thus compromising a key oversight and accountability tool.
The 2019/20 SAPS annual report (South African Police Service Annual Report 2019/2020) states:
“In 2019/2020, a total number of 84,756 protection services were provided by 14 Static Units, which covered 88 identified VIP residences, 29 strategic installations, which are located throughout South Africa, as well as nine buildings occupied by the SAPS. No security breaches occurred during protection duties [emphasis added].”
And specifically on the Presidential Protection Service responsible for “the Presidency and identified VIPs”, the 2019/20 annual report states:
“Their dignity and its resources [sic] are protected with diligence, implement security measures to counter threats and risks that can cause harm to the Presidency, dignity of such Presidency, employees, assets, critical information and operations of the Presidency and identified VIPs. A 24-hour static protection service was provided to 21 identified VIP residences and three offices, without security breaches [emphasis added].”
That this is not true emerged courtesy of ex-spy boss Arthur Fraser’s affidavit and criminal charges laid last week against President Cyril Ramaphosa.
On 9 February 2020, burglars broke into the farm in Limpopo and got away with US dollars estimated to be worth into the tens of millions of rands that were hidden in sofa cushions, as was reported by the Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee and amaBhungane, which also traced the Namibian connection and intelligence backroom channels.
The 9 February 2020 theft falls into the 2019/20 financial year ending 31 March 2020 and thus should be part of the 2019/20 annual report. Except it isn’t.
Yet previous SAPS annual reports included security breaches.
Annual reports are a statutorily required account of how a department performs against determined indicators and spends its money on achieving these targets. Parliament uses annual reports for its Budget oversight — and may amend or refuse a Budget vote, even if lawmakers have not ever used their powers like that.
In the 2009/10 annual report, the SAPS said on presidential protection services, “No security breaches occurred in South Africa or abroad” in relation to transits. But on static protection, 13 security breaches were reported while guarding “76 presidential and national ministerial residences”; nine cases were concluded, four remained under investigation, with 18 suspects arrested.
Incidents included “theft of floodlights from the Presidential Guest House in Bryntirion”, and various thefts from the ministerial residential Bryntirion Estate, including trespassing and housebreaking.
And the 2002/3 SAPS annual report noted:
“No incidents of security breaches were reported. Seven complaints were lodged against members of the Protection Services. Investigations into the complaints revealed that it was not necessary to take departmental steps against the members involved. The situation was rectified by means of in-service training.”
In those days annual reports contained a lot more details and information. That’s been whittled away. In the 2019/20 SAPS annual report, the forex robbery at the presidential Limpopo farm was just MIA.
Crucially, it’s not an option that Ramaphosa’s residences are unprotected. His Camps Bay, Cape Town, home is guarded by presidential protection teams — just ask anyone jogging or driving past.
It would be curious for presidential homes and farms where Ramaphosa spends time not to be protected, when police guard the homes of former presidents and deputies, according to the SAPS annual report. A parliamentary reply in late 2021 showed R8.39-million was spent between 1 April to 30 September 2020 to accommodate the bodyguards of Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza in Mpumalanga.
Security around presidential homes has been “improved” since the February 2020 Limpopo farm robbery, according to Saturday’s statement from the Presidency.
The security breach has had real consequences — and those should have been reflected in the SAPS annual report which is a document of accountability.
To be clear: No legal obligation exists on Ramaphosa to report the robbery at his wildlife farm that makes money from auctions, according to the Stud Game Breeders website featuring Phala Phala as one of its six members.
[Update: If the amount involved is R100,000 and more, according to Clause 34(1)(b) of the 2004 Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, even a suspicion of theft, fraud, extortion or forgery must be reported to “any police official”. Ramaphosa may well argue that getting his bodyguards’ boss involved covers this. And while he’s on public record that the amount involved was much less than the reported $4-million claimed by Fraser, no numbers are given.]
If he had, the proper process and procedure would have involved detectives — perhaps bypassing the local constable, straight to the Hawks — a CAS number and a docket.
But if the President decided he’d rather not report the matter, then everything had to have stopped.
That it didn’t, and an apparent backroom probe by presidential protectors continued, now steeped in allegations of unlawful detention, dodgy border crossings and backchannel intelligence measures, illustrates the continuation of the politicisation and elite focus of South Africa’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Whether then police boss Khehla Sitole was ever told or otherwise knew, would indicate the lack of policy transparency and accountability. As accounting officer, Sitole signed off on the 2019/20 SAPS annual report that didn’t include the presidential security breach.
What to know about the Ramaphosa farm forex theft
Former spy boss Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against the president for holding and being robbed of almost $4-million in cash.
Ramaphosa confirmed the robbery at his Limpopo farm.
The Hawks have taken over the investigation of the multimillion-dollar burglary.
Ramaphosa volunteered to explain the allegations before the ANC’s Integrity Commission.
Stephen Grootes explains why this is Ramaphosa’s worst public image crisis since he returned to formal politics.
Other questions remain.
The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is on public record saying it does not comment on any investigations. And South African Revenue Service (SARS), is well known to maintain taxpayer confidentiality.
So it’s unclear whether Ramaphosa, or his farming business, is registered to handle foreign currency that so-called offshore buyers and hunters deal with. And it’s unclear if the stolen US dollars had been stored in the sofa cushions for longer than the 30-day exchange window. If yes, penalties by the SARB could follow.
Whether Ramaphosa paid SARS dues like Value-Added Tax on the proceeds of the animal sales on his farm also remains unclear.
It was a given that Fraser’s criminal charges would set off an ANC factional political push to scupper Ramaphosa’s second term presidential bid at the ANC December elective conference. But it’s also become enmeshed in statecraft and governance.
“Due to the possible investigation, the Presidency will not be in a position to engage further on the details of the matters…” the Presidency statement said on Saturday. On Sunday Ramaphosa, the ANC president, told the Limpopo ANC elective conference the stolen money was far less than reported.
Reiterating his innocence on Fraser’s claims in a feint invoking taxpayers’ money, Ramaphosa said:
“I have never stolen money from taxpayers. My integrity as a leader will never allow me to do so”.
No one said Ramaphosa did. It’s about forex, being in the cattle and game farming business, tax — and why the President doesn’t seem to know about safes, or seemingly how to use his strongroom.
“I’m a farmer. I’m in the cattle business. I’m in the game (farming) business,” Ramaphosa told the ANC conference delegates on Sunday.
“And through that business that has been declared in Parliament and all over I buy and sell animals… This was a clear business transaction of selling animals…”
Except no declarations have been filed in Parliament since 2018. That’s when Ramaphosa resigned, as he must according to Section 87 of the Constitution, following his election as President in February 2018. Declarations as President would be kept in the Union Buildings.
The available parliamentary declarations from 2014, when Ramaphosa became deputy president and put his wealth in blind trusts, show plenty of property owned, but not Phala Phala wildlife estate, started in 2011.
It may well be in the confidential section of the members’ interest register, although strictly speaking only details like the address and size may be shielded.
What is declared is the Tshivhase Trust that houses the Shanduka interests — and 100 shares in each of Ntaba Nyoni Feedlot and Ntaba Nyoni Estates, listed as cattle and game farms. Between 2014 and 2017, Ramaphosa’s last parliamentary declaration, the value of the estate went from R50,311,251 to R120,735,000, according to declarations.
The February 2020 presidential farm forex theft has raised lots of questions — and compromised statutory accountability documents such as annual reports central to parliamentarians’ oversight.
It is messy. And to no small extent it’s because of presidential fudginess. It’s unlikely the criticism will go away.
The opposition is set to seize the opportunities on Thursday when the two-day parliamentary session on the Presidency Budget vote kicks off. What Ramaphosa does in his Friday reply will be crucial for his presidency of both party and state. DM