South Africa

PARLIAMENT

Phala Phala dollars came from animal sales, not money laundering, Ramaphosa tells MPs

Phala Phala dollars came from animal sales, not money laundering, Ramaphosa tells MPs
On Thursday, opposition MPs finally could fire off the follow-up questions to President Cyril Ramaphosa on the Phala Phala theft, left pending from the disrupted presidential Q&A slot at the end of August. (Photo: GCIS)

While dismissing accusations that the dollars stolen from his Phala Phala farm were linked to money laundering, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday dropped a quiet bombshell that the blind trust he intended to establish on becoming Deputy President was never set up.

After the 2012 Mangaung ANC conference elected Cyril Ramaphosa as party deputy president, some of the first questions he faced were about his wide-ranging business interests. A review was started. And when Ramaphosa became Deputy President of SA after the 2014 elections, many of these business interests had been shed — in 2013, he stepped down from the Mondi board and before that, on 16 August 2012, from the board of Lonmin, where the police had killed 34 striking Marikana miners.

Other business divestments followed, in compliance with the executive ethics code, and to avoid conflicts of interest, leading to a “complete divestment” from the Shanduka Group, according to the then deputy president in a statement on 24 May 2014.  

“In the interim, my family’s interests will be held in blind trusts,” he said in that statement.

Now President, Ramaphosa on Thursday told MPs that never quite happened.

“Initially, the intention was a blind trust. I do not intend to do any other form of business except in the agricultural sector [game and cattle farming]. In the end, no such [blind] trust was formed.” 

But all financial and other interests were declared, Ramaphosa said.

This was in response to a question from African Transformation Movement (ATM) leader Vuyolwethu Zungula.

In the parliamentary disclosures, Phala Phala as such was not publicly declared, but game and cattle farming was, as Ntaba Nyoni Estates and Ntaba Nyoni Feedlot. Both also featured as part of directorships and partnerships. As of 2017, the cattle farming Ntaba Nyoni Feedlot was valued at R6,070,450, while the game farming Ntaba Nyoni Estates had more than doubled in value to R120,735,000. 

Phala Phala, as such, was not declared as a residence in the public section — although it may be in the confidential section — of the parliamentary register of members’ interests that Ramaphosa would have completed as ANC MP and Deputy President from 2014 to 2017.

After being elected President in February 2018, Ramaphosa resigned his parliamentary seat, and since then has made his declarations to the Presidency director-general at the Union Buildings.

A change of tactics

But Thursday was important on another level.  

After months of facing off bruising questions and disrupted sittings in Parliament, Ramaphosa’s tactics of invoking “due process” changed in an apparent effort to improve the optics.

“I have said and admitted there was a theft on the farm and I reported that to a general in the SAPS, who later informed me he had reported it to another general. I deny there is any form of money laundering. I have said it publicly, it was the proceeds of sales of game,” Ramaphosa told MPs.

“I have been a cattle farmer and a game farmer for a number of years. I have disclosed that here in Parliament and to the secretary of Cabinet [the Presidency director-general].”

None of that is particularly new. Shortly after the theft of dollars stuffed into sofa cushions at Phala Phala emerged in early June — ex-spy boss Arthur Fraser laid charges over the February 2020 theft — Ramaphosa told the Limpopo ANC conference: I’m a farmer. I’m in the cattle business. I’m in the game [farming and selling] business. This was a clear business transaction of selling animals.”

On Thursday, opposition MPs finally could fire off the follow-up questions to the Phala Phala theft pending from the disrupted presidential Q&A slot at the end of August.

Ramaphosa stayed on the message of his being accountable and not involved in any dodgy dealings, abuse of power or conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise. 

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When asked whether it was a conflict of interest to have reported the theft of what has been described as the proceeds of animal sales only to his protection detail boss, Ramaphosa said it was not.

“In my own conclusion, there has not been a conflict of interest,” Ramaphosa told DA leader John Steenhuisen.

Strictly speaking, the President may be quite correct.

Clause 34(1)(b) of the 2004 Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act simply says that a theft of more than R100,000 or just a suspicion of theft, fraud, extortion or forgery must be reported to “any police official”. The head of the Presidential Protection Services would qualify as a police official.

Ramaphosa, cleared of the possibility of a parliamentary ad hoc committee’s public hearings into the conduct of public entities in the Phala Phala scandal, hammered home his participation in various investigations.

By the President’s own count, eight entities are investigating the forex theft at his Phala Phala farm that was, at the time, not protected by police.

It wasn’t clear whether the Section 89 impeachment inquiry was included in the eight entities, as the independent panel that will assess whether the President has a case to answer, has not yet started its work.

Leafing through a lever arch file at the podium in the Good Hope Chamber, Ramaphosa found the right page.

“There are eight institutions that have been processing this matter and conducting thoroughgoing investigations. In some instances, they have also questions of clarifications,” said the President, describing the process as “very tough” and without bias against him.

“My cooperation has been solid and it continues. I have not held back. It’s good for governance and accountability,” Ramaphosa insisted on Thursday. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    It’s a damp squib. He reported the theft. The money was the proceeds of sales. There was not even an accusation that he was personally involved in the juicy bits about torturing and kidnapping, if they even happened. That leaves the forex regulations which will be brushed off as corporate non compliance.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      I agree…we will never know the true amount or if it was in Rands or Dollars….just as long as this income is disclosed on his tax return!
      CR is the best of a bad bunch – for the taxpayer he’s the choice of the devil or the deep blue sea. God help us!

    • Bheki Mthethwa says:

      My understanding is as follows, a potential buyer wanted certain animals from the farm and this buyer decided to leave a deposit while he/ she was arranging documents for exporting animals to his country. While he was busy with these documents, the deposit (money) was stolen. From this, it is clear that CR never own the money as the deal was not finalised and the buyer has every right to demand refund – cancel the deal, therefore there was no need on CR to declare the money either to SARS/ SARB as it was never his. Most companies has security guards who whenever something is stolen or criminal event is taking place in their area of responsibility, they report the same to the police and the owner, CR was therefore correct to report the matter to those responsible to secure and guard the area so that they investigate and report to relevant authorities if they don’t have the authority.

  • Sue Malcomess says:

    Surely it’s suspicious that the sale of animals was effected in cash totalling thousands of US dollars and it was a Sudanese politician. Why all this cash and why did he want to buy stock in SA. That never seems to be explained. Neither that this money was paid but the animals not collected. It seems Ramaphosa is deflecting rather than explaining.

    • David A says:

      Probably because you’re not going to find the quality of breeding bulls of whatever breed/species he bought from Phala Phala in Sudan. It’s pretty common for farmers to buy cattle from all over the world.

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    I’m sorry but I remain unconvinced. i’m sure if these were legitimate transactions they should attract taxes and VAT and there should be a paper trail. Produce the paperwork and the questions will go away.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    I believe this whole thing is a set up by Arthur Fraser and JZ. Just think about these aspects: Arthur Fraser put together the PAN private intelligence network that used millions of dollars of state funds to protect JZ. He facilitated the release of JZ from jail in breach of the medical parole board. If Fraser know about the the “burglary” since February 2020, why only lay a charge in the run up the the ANC elective conference? One of they guys involved in the burglary has photos of himself and JZ posted all over his FB page. Do you really believe CR would stuff thousands of dollars into cushions? I am convinced the architect is JZ, but evidence proving that will be difficult. As PG says, Join the dots.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      The President has created a problem by ducking and diving and has admitted to the theft. To accuse other people he knew he was in their sights, he ought to know that he must do things by the book. The Reserve Bank ought not to be asking question but punching a computer for the information and not smoke and mirrors of a non – existent investigation. It does not need 3 months but 10 seconds for them to come up with the information. The case number for theft must exist and if does not it is very strange. There is the Namibian angle and questions. Do not defend rubbish.

  • Garth Kruger says:

    Arthur Fraser. He knows where the skeltons are. And he is not going away.

    • Margaret Jensen says:

      Yes Garth, I believe both you and Peter Dexter are correct. This is orchestrated by Fraser and JZ.

      • Malcolm McManus says:

        It probably is a framing, but having millions of dollars in cash lying around is certainly questionable. Cyril has made himself an easy target. He has admitted to this relating to a sale of a buffalo to a Dubai Businesman if I recall correctly. I don’t know much about game auctions or private sales, but do they deal in cash forex in a typical South African scenario.

  • William Kelly says:

    I’m also not convinced. Where is Kieswetter? He preaches morals, let us see the value of his words and let us see him do a High Nett Worth investigation here. It stinks. But then again, much easier for SARS to hit those without the resources, or office, to fight back. Must also ask how Cyril, being responsible to report the theft, has the time to run
    two jobs simultaneously? Clearly his business interests detract from his duties, you know, as the president?

  • Nos Feratu says:

    IF and it’s a big IF the buyer was an Uitlander and the animals were exported there would be no VAT but there would be a clear paper trail ….. or did they jump the fence into Botswana?

  • Marthinus Wolhuter says:

    “Animal sales” , in particular game and farm animals like cattle, sheep, etc are primary channels for money laundering, especially for cross-border and international sales or auction transactions.
    The prez may have made a confession in the parlementary Q&A session? Where there is smoke there is usually a fire.
    And why would a farm manager or employee stuff foreign bank notes in furniture? Any respectable game farm has at least one gun (rifle) safe in which the notes could be securely stored when it could not be banked.
    Why was the “break-in” and robbery kept under wraps for so long?
    This whole thing smells very fishy, but SA’s elite will most likely get away with it again, as they always do.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    Has anyone asked him why he stored the dollars in his furniture?

  • Steven Burnett says:

    Casting away all the details from this incident, CR did not get back into politics to make money. He had plenty already, the opportunity cost of being able to sit back on boards and shuffle his bars of gold around is huge. There doesn;t have to be a conspiracy as the motive is unlikely.

    This doesn’t exonerate him from whatever happened here, but it is very different to the patronage network built around the Guptas et al.

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