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Phala Phala scandal – opposition parties unite to pile pressure on Ramaphosa in parliament

Phala Phala scandal – opposition parties unite to pile pressure on Ramaphosa in parliament
The draft progress report coming from the ANC Integrity Committee regarding the burglary which took place at party president Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in 2020 mentions that the incident has brought the organisation into disrepute. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Pressure on the President is mounting in Parliament, with several opposition parties flexing their muscles in unison on Wednesday, calling for a motion of no confidence in Cyril Ramaphosa to hold him accountable over the Phala Phala scandal.

Pressure on President Ramaphosa is building as a number of opposition parties united on Wednesday, saying they would seek a motion of no confidence in the head of state. 

The forum of political parties – including the DA, EFF, National Freedom Party (NFP), United Democratic Movement (UDM) and African Transformation Movement (ATM) – has been calling for the President to be held accountable over the Phala Phala scandal since the allegations surfaced in early June

Former State Security Agency (SSA) boss Arthur Fraser lodged a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa at the start of June for not declaring the theft of millions of US dollars stolen at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo in February 2020. 

Read in Daily Maverick:Ramaphosa can’t take ‘the fifth’ on Phala Phala for much longer

Ramaphosa, who is in the middle of a battle to be re-elected leader of the ANC in December, has remained largely silent on the issue. While the Presidency has confirmed the burglary did take place, it has continuously denied criminality on Ramaphosa’s part. 

On Wednesday, 17 August, the ATM, EFF, African Christian Democratic Party, UDM, Congress of the People, Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the IFP briefed the media about their decision to table the motion.

Reading from their joint statement on Wednesday, EFF leader Julius Malema said all the parties except the DA agreed to bring the motion. 

However, the parties believe that, as the official opposition in Parliament, the DA should table the motion. While present at meetings on 3 and 10 August, the DA and NPF did not attend the final one on Wednesday. 

“We have assembled a team from among ourselves to hold a bilateral engagement with the DA to discuss and finalise the motion of no confidence as a complementary measure to holding Ramaphosa accountable,” added Malema. 

The DA’s chief whip, Siviwe Gwarube, said the party had decided not to support the other opposition parties in their bid to initiate the motion because it believes the parliamentary processes under way should run their course. 

“It remains our view – as previously argued in the meetings with the opposition parties – that the Section 89 inquiry process, which has been initiated by the African Transformation Movement, should be given the requisite time and runway to be properly exhausted in Parliament,” said Gwarube on Wednesday. 

“Crucially, we believe moving a motion of no confidence simultaneously with the Section 89 inquiry will undermine the results we seek from this process – holding President Ramaphosa accountable and ensuring that Parliament does its oversight work in this regard.” 

On Friday, 5 August, National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula accepted a request by the ATM to start proceedings against Ramaphosa under Section 89 of the Constitution. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Political parties push for probe into mysterious Ramaphosa game farm robbery

This came after ATM leader Vuyo Zungula filed a motion to Mapisa-Nqakula, requesting that the House initiate an inquiry into the removal of Ramaphosa from office, based on allegations that he had contravened the Prevention of Organised Crime Act by not reporting the theft at Phala Phala. 

In terms of Section 89, a president may be removed from office by a resolution of the National Assembly, supported by two-thirds of MPs, because of “a serious violation of the Constitution or the law”, “serious misconduct” or “inability to perform the functions of office”. 

Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten reported that, following a motion which substantiates a charge relating to the three constitutionally permissible grounds for removal, the Speaker is to refer the matter to an independent panel of three, which may include a judge, whose verdict will go to the House for a final determination. 

If the House gives the go-ahead, it will establish an impeachment committee and the removal process begins.

In response to the ATM, Mapisa-Nqakula said she would request that political parties make their recommendations for the Section 89 committee by 1 September 2022. 

On Wednesday, the forum of opposition political parties statement said that the parties had concurred, after three meetings, to nominate former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, former Constitutional Court justice Yvonne Mokgoro and former judge president Bernard Ngoepe to serve on the Section 89 inquiry panel. 

The ANC, Freedom Front Plus, African Independent Congress, Good and Al Jama-ah were invited but did not attend the meetings. 

During Wednesday’s briefing Malema said that the collective did not need the ANC for the motion of no confidence to succeed. 

“By the admission of the President that there were dollars under mattresses and sofas, and that resources of the state were used without any case being opened, it’s reason enough to pass a motion of no confidence against the President,” he said. 

When contacted for comment, Good’s secretary-general and member of Parliament, Brett Herron, told Daily Maverick he was not able to attend the meetings because of his position on the Section 194 inquiry committee, which was hearing evidence into whether the Public Protector should be removed from office, when the meetings were held.

“Regardless, Good will consider whatever proposals are presented to Parliament on their merits when and if they are tabled.” 

Good’s decision “not to participate in a gang of parties” does not mean the party doesn’t take the allegations against the President seriously, he added. 

“We take them very seriously – too seriously to participate in symbolic and opportunistic PR exercises. We have called on the President to provide the nation with some explanation for the events. In the absence of an explanation we will allow the evidence to be revealed through appropriate processes.” 

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said that while the party did not attend the meetings, it “fully concurs with other opposition leaders that the executive authority and the President are accountable to Parliament, and therefore, supports the process that will call him to account for the Phala Phala millions”.

While the DA has declined to support the motion, it will continue to explore the option of establishing an ad hoc committee in Parliament to investigate a range of allegations linked to the burglary and to “ascertain the facts around what appears to be a grand cover-up by the President”, said Gwarube. 

The DA’s proposal for an ad hoc committee was supported by the other opposition parties in their statement on Wednesday. 

Parliament oversight

The decision to table the motion of no confidence comes on the back of a recent report by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group which found that Parliament had failed dismally in its accountability and oversight duties during the State Capture era under former president Jacob Zuma. 

The report followed damning findings against Parliament by the Zondo Commission in its report on State Capture, and concluded that it was time Parliament evolved to ensure it plays its oversight role more effectively in future. 

“Parliament was heavily criticised for not having exercised its role of holding the executive accountable,” said Malema, recalling the 2016 Constitutional Court landmark judgment that found the National Assembly had acted in a manner “inconsistent with the Constitution” in the Nkandla scandal.

“That’s why we don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of the Constitution and the law, because we have got a responsibility to hold the President accountable,” said Malema. 

In August 2017, opposition parties, led by the EFF and the UDM, tabled a motion of no confidence in Zuma, which was ultimately defeated with close margins. 

During the briefing, Malema and UDM leader Bantu Holomisa described the 2017 motion as a success because it eventually led to the ANC turning against Zuma and pressuring him to resign in 2018, on the eve of another no-confidence vote in Parliament. 

Speaking to Daily Maverick, political analyst Levy Ndou, based at Tshwane University of Technology,  said that while there is nothing untoward about Parliament or opposition parties pushing for a no confidence motion, as it is provided for in the Constitution, “based on the fact that there are these serious allegations against the President, it becomes the right time for oppositions to be seen to be doing something about accountability”. 

“But at the same time, there is anxiety in the whole of South Africa about this matter. People would want to know exactly what has happened at Phala Phala,” he said. 

Ndou added that because political parties want to be seen as doing their work effectively, “there is an element of rush-rush” to calling for a motion of no confidence, after the National Assembly Speaker has agreed to a Section 89 constitutional inquiry into the President’s conduct.

“This has the potential not to bring desired results,” he said. 

In the parties’ statement on Wednesday, they also agreed to “intensify [their] collective and individual court actions against the Speaker” and “all other institutions that are attempting to suppress Parliament’s constitutional obligations to hold the Executive and Parliament accountable”.

According to the DA, at the previous meetings opposition parties expressed “misgivings and discontent” with the manner in which the Speaker of the National Assembly had handled their demands to hold the President accountable. 

Political analyst, Mcebisi Ndletyana,  a professor at the University of Johannesburg, told Daily Maverick there is clout in launching joint actions in Parliament, and there is “a sense that the House Speaker is not acting speedily enough, especially on the impeachment request”. DM

This timeline contains a summary of complex, intricate and often disputed details. It is not able to document everything. Please consult the supporting documents provided for further information.

This is a developing story and this timeline may be updated.

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