What lies beneath — excavating Phala Phala investigations (and their runup) from mud and murk
Claims and developments about Farmgate are churned up every few days, muddying an already murky arena. Here we focus on the bones of the saga — the investigations — adding to the piles of skeletons in SA’s dank political closet.
When former State Security Agency (SSA) boss Arthur Fraser lodged a criminal complaint against Cyril Ramaphosa at the start of June about millions of US dollars stolen in a robbery, he detonated a scandal that keeps sparking further political fallout.
One would not be remiss in thinking that as a former spy boss of a country with a history of filthy politics, intentional misinformation and diversion campaigns, he was fully aware of the ripple effect his actions would have.
In any event, claims contained in Fraser’s statement branched out and transformed into carrots dangling in front of journalists keen to sink their teeth into the saga.
And those carrots turned out to be juicy — let’s not forget News24’s piece on how one of the possible thieves, who after the robbery at Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in Limpopo, allegedly “splurged R250,000 on diamond-studded dental work and dropped millions on luxury cars — some allegedly paid for in crisp wads of US dollars.”
Then there were claims of underworld links and, recently allegations surfaced that a secret state fund was used to help capture the thieves.
What — or who — lies beneath
Scrape away the layers of detail and the core of the saga is exposed — high-ranking individuals in the state are under investigation by others in state entities, adding to heavy political problems dragging behind them that could contribute to swaying South Africa’s trajectory.
So far, the Hawks, the police watchdog, and Public Protector are looking into police officers and the President in relation to Phala Phala.
Parliament will probably follow suit.
Given all the Phala Phala drama, we should perhaps ask questions about what could be unfurling in the country’s spook-frequented corridors beneath these investigations, or what we are possibly (and intentionally) being distracted from.
There is much happening in this country, from mass shootings to the electricity crisis, and the lasting damage from the July 2021 attempted insurrection and State Capture that surged under Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
Who did what (allegedly)
Fraser is seen to be aligned with Zuma and the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction that wants to unseat Ramaphosa as ANC president. He lodged the criminal complaint against Ramaphosa on 1 June in relation to the theft at Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo that happened back in February 2020.
According to Fraser, Ramaphosa “concealed the crime” — during which “large undisclosed sums of United States dollars” were apparently stolen — from the police and the taxman.
Fraser, therefore, asked police to investigate Ramaphosa and Major-General Wally Rhoode, who headed Ramaphosa’s presidential protection unit and was alleged to have illegally constituted a team to probe Phala Phala for Ramaphosa.
Rhoode was subsequently sidelined within the police.
The Presidency, while it confirmed a robbery took place at the farm, denied criminality on Ramaphosa’s part.
“President Ramaphosa remains resolute in leading the fight against corruption, restoring the integrity and capability of public institutions and overcoming the legacy of state capture, and will not be deterred by disinformation campaigns,” it said in a statement.
Disinformation campaigns were a trademark of State Capture-style projects.
Fraser the focus of State Capture findings
Fraser’s complaint to cops was lodged three weeks before Chief Justice Raymond Zondo released his final report into State Capture. It just so happens that a significant portion of that report delved into the SSA and implicated several individuals, including Fraser.
Zondo’s final report recommended that law enforcement should investigate Fraser in relation to “the withdrawal, handling and distribution of [the] SSA’s money”. It also recommended that the Hawks resume investigations into other possible criminal conduct relating to Fraser.
So, if Fraser was or is under investigation, he levelled this field by basically ensuring that Ramaphosa is now also under investigation.
Police watchdog and Hawks home in
The tables have also turned on certain cops who are being probed.
Earlier this month the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) issued a statement confirming it was looking into Phala Phala-related matters, as were the Hawks.
The political party the African Transformation Movement (ATM) submitted a request, based on Fraser’s allegations, for the police watchdog to investigate.
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Ipid said it would look into the alleged actions of police officers in terms of SA Police Service regulations; “while the Hawks is investigating the criminal element by the SAPS officials which includes amongst others, defeating the ends of justice and kidnapping”.
This means the Hawks, who Zondo recommended resume investigating Fraser, are now also looking into police officers, basically because of Fraser’s allegations about Phala Phala.
Meanwhile, the Public Protector is looking into Ramaphosa.
A week after Fraser lodged the criminal complaint, the Public Protector’s office confirmed on 8 June that it was investigating Ramaphosa for “allegedly breaching the Executive Code of Ethics”.
The ATM, much like it had with Ipid, submitted a complaint to the Public Protector.
About three weeks later, on 1 July, the Public Protector’s office said investigations were on track and it had received a total of four complaints against Ramaphosa.
“Two were lodged in terms of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act (Emea) while the rest were lodged under the Public Protector Act,” a statement said.
“Following a letter written to him for a response to the allegations, the President — through his attorneys — requested an extension of the initial return date of 22 June 2022. Upon careful consideration of the request, which was brought to Acting Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka’s attention by the investigation officer for approval, it was acceded to.”
See our visual timeline here of the #Farmgate showdown to date:
On 18 July a further extension for Ramaphosa to respond to the allegations was denied and it emerged Gcaleka would subpoena him to provide answers. Four days later it was reported that Ramaphosa had responded in writing.
But the Public Protector now sits with another issue.
This month the office announced it was “concerned about undue political pressure and demands for evidence presented to the institution as part of the ongoing investigation into allegations” relating to Ramaphosa.
It cautioned that “the actions of those exerting pressure on the institution to publish the evidence in question, while the investigation is underway,” equated to interference.
Parliament on cover-up and secret fund claims
National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula wrote to the joint standing committee on intelligence on 5 August, saying that DA leader John Steenhuisen asked for an ad hoc committee to be set up to investigate “a range of allegations” linked to the Phala Phala robbery.
Daily Maverick has seen her letter. Mapisa-Nqakula believed that two allegations warranted the standing committee’s consideration.
One was that deputy state security minister Zizi Kodwa knew about the theft, but chose to keep it a secret. Kodwa reportedly denied this.
The other allegation was that “a secret Crime Intelligence fund was used to finance the undercover operations which traced the thieves.
“Should this be true, this would constitute a flagrant abuse of our taxpayer’s money.”
Investigations into the robbery at Phala Phala and related issues should be carried out to determine if figures in the state committed crimes. If that turns out to be the case, it means dirty or greedy politics is at play — infuriatingly this will be nothing new to South Africans.
If that is not the case, it still means dirty politics is at play, with figures trying to settle scores through state entities like the fragmented police service — this will also be nothing new to those in the country. Residents’ lives seem to hold far less value than, say, mounds of dollars and political power.
In July 2021, following Zuma being temporarily jailed (he was released by none other than Fraser, who happened to be the commissioner of Correctional Services at the time), unrest broke out mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng — 354 people died.
Earlier this week it emerged the SA National Defence Force issued an internal notice, that was meant for planning purposes but was leaked, for 200 soldiers to be on standby.
It said: “The situation in the Republic of South Africa is gradually deteriorating into unrest due to criminality that is taking place within the borders. This is also exacerbated by a perceived lack of action from the security forces to combat criminality.”
This is the reality on the ground beneath investigations into some of the country’s highest-ranking former and current leaders. DM