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Damage: With Ramaphosa in fight for his political life, the ANC has only bad, worse and terrible options

Damage: With Ramaphosa in fight for his political life, the ANC has only bad, worse and terrible options
ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Tolga Akmen)

Can a president who came to power with a stated agenda of reform, and promised to ‘renew’ the ANC, really stay in office with such a finding against him?

The findings of the parliamentary Phala Phala panel that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated laws and the Constitution has the potential to throw the ANC into a chaos never seen before. It may also underscore that Ramaphosa was perhaps the only/last national leader to demonstrate support from many parts of the country. And it could open the door to the only other person who appears to come close, current Treasurer (and acting secretary-general) Paul Mashatile.

The party’s leaders and influencers may also try to think of the longer term, and into the 2024 election. They may now have to come to grips with the possible fact that Ramaphosa’s apparent electability is no longer a given.

On a technical view, the findings of the panel, that the President has a case to answer, are just that, and the starting point for a much longer process involving a committee of MPs and a vote in Parliament.

This is a process which could go on for some time, as has already been demonstrated by the process investigating the fitness for office of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwebhane.

But this technical view only obscures the bigger, political problem. To put it crisply, can a president who came to power with a stated agenda of reform, and promised to “renew” the ANC, really stay in office with such a finding against him?

It is astonishing to note exactly how much of this is the fault only of Ramaphosa. It was his version of events, given to the panel, about the foreign currency found in his farm that got him here.

As the panel found, it simply raised a long list of questions which only Ramaphosa could answer, but has chosen not to. This is particularly about the “Mr Hazim” who Ramaphosa claimed bought the buffalo, whose first name and about whom no other details are known.

As the panel put some of the questions this raises:

  • There is no evidence as to how this money came into the Republic;
  • The exact amount of foreign currency stolen is yet to be disclosed;
  • The investigation by the SARB suggests strongly that it had no records of this money entering this country or being reported as having been received;
  • Other than his name, there are no other particulars of Mr Hazim such as his physical address, telephone numbers, business address and other personal details such as his passport number;
  • Having bought 20 buffaloes, Mr Hazim has not collected these buffaloes for the past two and a half years;
  • Instead of keeping the money in the safe until the next banking day, the money is kept concealed in a sofa for well over a month;
  • The theft of the money was not reported to the SAPS and no case number or docket is registered;
  • Information placed before the panel suggests that more than$580,000 was stolen; and
  • Suspects were arrested, interrogated and cooperated with the investigating team and yet no one is charged, prosecuted and convicted. This occurs amid allegations that the suspects were paid R150,000 each to buy their silence.

All of this is raised on the President’s own version, and shows the strength of the case against him.

This leads to a series of political questions, and in particular whether the ANC could recall him, whether he could resign, whether he could still be re-elected leader of the party this month, and whether someone else could take over as party leader and as President.

It should not necessarily be assumed that a decision to resign would be his, and his alone. It is likely to be the result of consultation, since ANC leaders may want to manage this situation carefully.

For several years it has been assumed that one of the sources of Ramaphosa’s apparent strength in the ANC is that there was “no one else” who could lead the party.

Read in Daily Maverick: “SA politics in turmoil as panel says President Ramaphosa must face impeachment

This was based on the track record of other ANC leaders, the fact he was more popular than the party, and that he had broad support across its provinces, as was demonstrated by the fact that branches in eight provinces overwhelmingly nominated him to be re-elected as leader.

Much of this has now changed.

It is now entirely possible that Ramaphosa is no longer more popular than the ANC, and thus cannot claim to be able to help the party win the 2024 elections.

Also, his stated agenda of renewal lies in tatters. It seems impossible to imagine him taking questions from voters while on the campaign trail, simply because of this finding.

And it is likely that one other leader could now come to the fore, having demonstrated his own popularity in the party.

While it is true that Ramaphosa received more than 2,000 branch nominations for the position of leader, Mashatile received 1,791. Like Ramaphosa, this was from most of the provinces in the country, including KwaZulu-Natal.

Read in Daily Maverick: “As President Ramaphosa faces impeachment, tough political and constitutional decisions await

While there must be a huge overlap of branches that wanted Ramaphosa to be leader and Mashatile to be deputy leader, it does not automatically follow that those branches want Mashatile to be leader now.

Also, in KZN, 643 branches voted for Dr Zweli Mkhize as leader, and 541 nominated Mashatile as deputy leader. In other words, most ANC branches there probably voted for both Mkhize and Mashatile. If they have to choose now for the position of leader, they will probably go with Mkhize.

Also, there has been some reporting that KZN is not happy with Mashatile, since while its branches supported him, his branches did not support their leadership candidate Mkhize.

This means that while the door may be more open for a Mashatile nomination-from-the-floor election as leader than it ever has been, this is not the end of the story.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

It could well be that the leadership race ends up being between Mashatile and Mkhize.

In other words, suddenly the situation becomes a lot less predictable.

This underscores what may be the real problem in the ANC. That Ramaphosa was the last leader with a true mandate, and these findings have now removed his moral legitimacy to lead.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Ramaphosa’s Farmgate scandal – a timeline of what we know (and don’t know) so far

For example, in the short term, if Ramaphosa were to resign, constitutionally Deputy President David Mabuza could suddenly occupy the Union Buildings.

But he has no mandate and no constituency. In the nominations process, he received just 77 nominations. And he may not even be available, as he was recently in Russia for medical treatment.

At the same time, and to add to the chaos, the mandate of the ANC’s national executive committee, as it is currently constituted, is about to end. Some of its members, such as Tony Yengeni, may be constitutionally not allowed to contest again (under the new rules, people with convictions cannot run for a position on the NEC). This means that even if the NEC were to recall Ramaphosa, or accept his resignation, the party members may claim it lacks the legitimacy to do this.

This would go the other way too – it could be claimed that the NEC lacks the legitimacy to allow him to stay on.

All of this means that the real question of the ANC’s conference now becomes whether Ramaphosa can remain as leader of the party, and as President.

Under some scenarios, it may in fact be that, for the ANC at the moment, Ramaphosa staying on is the least-bad option.

The argument might go like this: Ramaphosa could tell the NEC that he is going to challenge the findings of the panel (Professor Richard Calland has already said he believes there are problems with the findings which makes it reviewable). His allies could argue that it would do more damage to the ANC for Ramaphosa to resign than to stay on, simply because it is not clear who would take over.

The party could use its majority in the National Assembly to quash the impeachment process, and reject the panel’s findings.

This would be very similar to what happened during the Nkandla scandal when ANC MPs voted to take no action against then president Jacob Zuma.

While this may be one option in the short run, this would still damage the party in the longer run. Because Phala Phala would suddenly be a huge issue in the 2024 elections, and the party could face the anger of voters at that moment.

That said, such is the apparent weakness of so many opposition parties at present, the NEC may be prepared to take its chances.

All of this demonstrates how for the ANC, there are no really good options, only bad and worse options. Many things can happen now, very little is certain – except to say that these findings have seriously damaged Ramaphosa. And the ANC. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sarel Van Der Walt says:

    Honestly, this whole saga smells of an intelligence operation, from the original purchase of cattle with foreign currency (the unaccounted billions in SSA monies???), to the theft of the money, to the eventual very public reporting of it to the police by the former boss of intelligence. It’s the sorto stuff one reads in all the books by former Apartheid operatives in subverting the struggle.

    Yes, Ramaphosa could have handled it better, but its likely the outcome would have been the same no matter what.

    The pressure on the NPA to prosecute will be enormous, no matter how weak the evidence or investigation may be. If I were Batohi, I will prosecute & let a judge decide how strong the evidence is, and thus ensure all evidence (or the lack of it) is in the public domain. It will also allow Ramaphosa to clear his name &/ show the strength of our institutions.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      I have to agree that there might be truth in this scenario.
      CRis also innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. It’s not up to Parliament to find him wanting and Steenhuisen must beware what he wishes for… the alternative candidates are no better, if not a worse choice.
      CR must be able to prove who the buyers were, it’s his own money and if it’s been declared then he has every right to hide it in his sofa,in the bank, or offshore providing he has a tax clearance. He doesn’t appear to have stolen the money so no tax payers have been compromised by this event. And he has a right to choose how and who helps him Perdue the thieves.
      Storm in a political teacup folks…playing into the hands of the thieving RET faction! Nothing to see here, in my opinion.

      • Glyn Morgan says:

        Lots to be seen! Steenhuisen knows what the dangers are. That is why he is pushing for an early election and not just a quick leadership change. With an early election Ramaphosa will remain President till the new government comes in, whatever that is. An early election would take a lot of pressure off Ramaphosa, it may even end up with him surviving the election. The number two party would be the DA. Those tiny parties would not feature highly, half will probably disappear and leave the landscape a lot cleaner after the elections.

    • steve woodhall says:

      I can’t help thinking that there must be some titanic Deon Meyer-style intelligence agency action going on behind the scenes here. To allow Cyril to not only unveil the real mastermind behind Phala Phala (Arthur Fraser for sure), but to present solid, unassailable evidence that this is so. Would explain why he’s sitting vas, tjoepstil.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Correction – pursue not Perdue …sorry prescriptive text!

    • Peter Dexter says:

      I’m convinced this was an event set up by Arthur Fraser’s spooks, then the information put on ice awaiting the ANC elective conference. It would difficult for Ramaphosa to claim it was an intelligence set up if they had created a whole trail of “evidence” and he has none. I find it ridiculous that he would hide US$ in his furniture, but that will resonate with many ANC voters. His inability to counter the story with credible evidence places him between a rock and a hard place.

    • Jacobus Van der Vlies says:

      It is a very real and stark possibility indeed.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The author is trying to say that Ramaphosa was a better option without actually saying what makes him a better option than other candidates. Journalism as a public service ought to inform and educate readers. The author does not say out of how many potential delegates or official delegates have these contestant been nominated to give a clear picture of what might be the dynamics. The other issue is that you do not vote what is wrong to right as author suggests. The author fails to explicitly put that the Phala Phala saga is the making of Ramaphosa and him alone. There is no proof that Cyril is more popular than the party except claimed internal polls that have no credibility. Cyril has done worse than Jacob Zuma in the polls in 2019 and 2021 and that can be verified by looking at the actual polls.
    The drivel of a nontente called Mondli Gungubele that he is 8% more popular than the ANC are people singing for their supper.
    The challenge on the findings of the Panel will not pass legal muster and would be legally thrown out of courts and would only show desperation on his part. It would be ill – advised to take this route. The legal reasons would be that the Panel is functus officio and that he can only review the decisions of the National Assembly and the Section 89 Inquiry after it has completed its work. He would have punitive costs awarded against him. He can go the Nkandla route but the stigma of a finding against him will not go.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Spot on. Reminds one of the last elections when certain journalists (you know who) recommended to all and sundry to “vote ANC as Ramaphosa is the good ANC”. My opinion is to vote for the only party that has a good record of delivery and runs the best province and best city and the best towns in South Africa.

    • Mark K says:

      It’s clearly marked as a news analysis article rather than simply a news article. I have no problem with your counter arguments but it’s unfair to disparage “journalism” when it is clearly not intended as simply the reporting of the news. It’s basically a lengthy opinion piece about something that is in the news.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    The fact that this originated from one so vile, corrupt, compromised, wayward and odious, a known Zuma poodle (Fraser) and who also ran a parallel intelligence agency, serving only Zuma and Co’s interests against the country’s, makes it unpalatable. To this day, SA is in the dark about the activities of this wicked man and his agency – total impunity and unaccountability!! I hold no torch for Cyril – he has been a big disappointment , the last being his hypocritical cozying up to that bestial and evil mass-murderer that is Putin, but he is the best of a rotten bunch. Does say much about us! What comes next? The last thing this country needs is to be thrust into the clutches of the REThieves and state capturers who don’t give a damn about this country or it’s people. It will be round 2 of hollowing out the NPA, SARS, SIU etc, pardoning all the thieves and corruption will flourish even with renewed vigour and impunity. Cry the beloved country that is so ill-served by its awful and predatory politicians!

    • Paul Mathias says:

      So very sad that we as an electorate are willing to accept “the best of a rotten bunch” as opposed to doing away with the lot of them. Is this really what all the sacrifices made during the struggle were for?

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      This vile person you refer to was retained by Ramaphosa and in fact was given a bigger department with huge resources, Correctional Services. When Fraser made the decision to release Zuma on “medical parole” it was none other than Ramaphosa who welcome this illegal decision with glee! It led to a comment by Steenhuisen that actually Ramaphosa was behind the “medical parole”. This was in the hope to secure the 2021 elections. Whether Cyril is popular or not popular more than the ANC is not a country issue but an ANC issue. He has allowed the attack of the Constitutional Court by fascists of ANC and SACP and in fact has joined them on the Walus matter. He has said the Zondo Commission is not binding him and keeps a thief in Zizi Kodwa that Zondo said he must fire. He keeps a gallery of rogues like Mantashe, Mahlobo, Capa and other corrupt elements in his Cabinet. We have to say how different he is from Zuma. The tendency to embroil the country into ANC processes by the media is complete garbage. We must look at state institutions. Mandela left, Mbeki left, Zuma left and even if he leaves, heaven will not fall as they did not fall when his these left. The people have a choice in 2024 but the ANC Choice in on the 16 to 20th December and is not our matter. They can choose a donkey or a thief, it is their business. Our business is in 2024.

  • chris campbell says:

    I find it hard to believe, there is not a safe in which to keep the money.
    There must be gun safes. I do not believe the president had any direct personal involvement in this.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The small axe chops down the big tree. The straw, the camel, the nail, the coffin… the imagery this situation evokes is provocative. The stumbling of the bull. The licking of lips. Can any good come from it?

  • Johan Buys says:

    If Ramaphosa goes so exits a million taxpayers and most of our skilled youth.

  • Sunil SHAH says:

    OK Let’s assume the enquiry finds:
    – CR contravened forex rules,
    -probably undeclared his income and tax…

    Now with a calm mind…
    how do these (alleged, likely and say proven) contraventions compare with the allegations against ANY SINGLE NEC MEMBER? NB Regarding these allegations against the contenders, some have been proven beyond doubt by evidence, some might be argued, NONE have been ajudged in court.
    So why is CR in the docket?
    I’m willing to bet not a single NEC member or leading politician can point his/her crooked finger at CR in light of the criminal warts/cysts/gangrene festering in his/her sweaty palm.
    How does this measure up to the laundry list of proven crimes against Zuma who’s still managed to evade his day in court?
    “Judge not lest you too be judged.”
    Hardly a template for governance, BUT a perspective direly needed in view of the ghastly alternatives who might stand as his replacement.

    • virginia crawford says:

      Interesting, especially there is allegation that this money stolen from the state: why couldn’t all the crooks mentioned in the Zondo report be held to account so quickly?

      • Sunil SHAH says:

        Exactly,. If ‘evidence’ was presented to the Zondo Judge, isn’t it oblgatory to assess its veracity BEFORE a conclusion ?
        Apparently none done, and report states that !
        Yet the cardinal blunder is CR’s personal statements that have implicated him.
        Every other leading politician has been mute in the face of enquiries
        of the criminal warts/cysts/gangrene festering in his/her pas.., while our NAIVE President blurts a stuttering incredulous narrative that would be credible if buffaloes could fly.
        OK that’s done. But NOW the judicial process must unfold, undermine and reject the ‘Phala Phala evidence’ in order to avoid the tragedy that awaits South Africa if CR’s is displaced.


        • Sunil SHAH says:

          correctopm the Phala Phala panel is what I’m referring to above:
          should read:
          Exactly,. If ‘evidence’ was presented to the Phala Phala panel, isn’t it obligatory to assess its veracity BEFORE a conclusion ?
          Apparently none done, and report states that !
          Yet the cardinal blunder is CR’s personal statements that have implicated him.
          Every other leading politician has been mute in the face of enquiries
          of the criminal warts/cysts/gangrene festering in his/her pas.., while our NAIVE President blurts a stuttering incredulous narrative that would be credible if buffaloes could fly.
          OK that’s done. But NOW the judicial process must unfold, undermine and reject the ‘Phala Phala evidence’ in order to avoid the tragedy that awaits South Africa if CR is displaced.
          I shudder runs down my spine to think of the country’s trajectory with any of the NEC Mob of 5 replacing Cyril Ramphosa.

          And CR, for gawd’s sake, get a skilled lawyer to vet your statements before incarcerating yourself !!

  • Brent Record says:

    The ANC bus, running on its social ideology, is completely broken and beyond repair, so it makes no difference who is going to try to drive the bus, or the next driver after that, or the one after that, and so on, the bus will no longer work. We need a new bus, with a better ideology. Oom Louw Bettrie

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Further to the what I wrote, we must remember that odious characters like Zuma, Fraser and all the band of state capturers and REThieves have absolutely no regard and respect for the law. They are contemptuous of it, villify it and do all possible to derail it. Yet they want to throw the book at Ramaphosa and have the law punish him. Amazing how these scumbags want to use the law only when it suits them.

  • Robert Morgan says:

    How much more tainted can the ANC become? Universally distrusted cabal of self-serving cadre, each holding the end of a thread that will unravel the whole sordid story of theft and misappropriation and graft that will forever sully their struggle. An embarrasement to all good South Africans who only want the best for their country. Really quite heartbreaking how purblind these pitiful wretches are to their own greed and stupidity. History will be ruthless with the ANC when it is done. Not long now, fingers crossed.

  • Bonga Sanele Mkhwanazi says:

    The ANC NEC better make an announcement on this by tomorrow.
    I think taking the report on legal review is a bad course of action.

    The cat is already out of the bag.
    They should decide the best way forward for the country based on the available information.

    There are other more suitable candidates outside the ANC.
    Time to engage those candidates.
    The new president of the country does not need to come from the ANC.
    We need a capable president based on merit and not political affiliation.

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