Business Maverick


The ANC’s long history of taking cash from dodgy donors

The ANC’s long history of taking cash from dodgy donors
ANC and DA logo. (Photo: Wikimedia) | Gallo Images | Adobe Stock

By 2010, the system of milking foreign governments for cash was firmly established in the ANC, but then all of a sudden the wheels came off.

Whatever happens to Cyril Ramaphosa and his presidency (at the time of writing it wasn’t clear), it’s ironic and almost inevitable that he was tripped up by his party’s cavalier attitude to party funding. This attitude goes back to the start of the democratic era. Former president Nelson Mandela was enormously ethical in many aspects of his life, but his Achilles heel was party funding.

Actually, “Achilles heel” is a glorious understatement. On party funding, the ANC has always decided, well, to party. Way back when I was a political correspondent in the 1990s, I was told a story I refused to believe at the time. Mandela was meeting with a head of state in 1990 shortly after he was released from prison. I’m not sure who it was, but my guess is that it was General Suharto of Indonesia. He asked for $10-million in cash and it was agreed upon immediately.

So Mandela waited around and was eventually asked what he was waiting for. Mandela said, somewhat indignantly, for the money. So some poor officials had to nip down to the central bank on a Sunday, open the vault, and withdraw $10-million in cash, which, amazingly, they did. It was then presented to Mandela, who took it back to SA in a briefcase.

I didn’t believe anyone would have the gall to do such a thing and after having done so, that the head of state in question would agree so readily. Clearly, I was much younger and much more naive. When the Indonesian ambassador subsequently presented his credentials after the new government was formed, Mandela thanked him for his country’s “generous donations”. Suharto then visited SA in 1997 and was awarded the Order of Good Hope, the country’s highest honour.

Actually, as it happens, Suharto got away cheaply. Huge sums were raised from King Fahd, the former leader of Saudi Arabia, who reportedly donated $50-million in 1994 and then another $10-million in 1999. Before the 1999 election, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan of the UAE donated $10-million, also reportedly paid “on the spot”. At one point, Mandela apparently asked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for $10-million, but he gave $50-million. He also got a gong.

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Of course, the ANC repeatedly got donations from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, leading the party to be way behind the curve on the popular uprising in which Gaddafi was ousted. In the early years, the party also tapped General Sani Abacha of Nigeria. If you were dodgy, the ANC was on to you because there was always the huge upside of basking, for a moment, in the Mandela glow.

By 2010, the system of milking foreign governments for cash was firmly established in the ANC, but then all of a sudden the wheels came off. Gaddafi was forcibly ousted; Suharto exited stage left; Abacha died in 1998. And then, of course, Mandela, who had always been the party’s funding machine, shuffled off this mortal coil.

There was still some support one suspects for the ANC, but as President Jacob Zuma’s popularity declined and corruption blew up, it appears the funding dried up as well. Too much risk, one suspects. We only know this because the treasurers’ reports at the respective ANC conferences became increasingly desperate. There is a big irony here because the person with this hot potato now in his lap is Paul Mashatile, who became the ANC’s treasurer-general in 2017, and he will be in the running for the party leadership.

On taking up the job, he revealed that the party was about R500-million in debt, including to the SA Revenue Service. Every now and then, there are reports of ANC head office staff not getting paid, so clearly, the context is now frantic. And there is another little wrinkle in the system: the new Political Party Funding Act, passed last year, expressly forbids donations from foreign governments. This may explain the need for actual, crisp cash.

Fast-forward to the Phala Phala report. There are two versions here of how the money got into the couch. Ramaphosa’s version, we now know, has been roundly castigated by the Section 89 independent panel investigation headed by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. Ramaphosa’s version is that a Sudanese citizen, Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim, came to view the buffalo on Christmas Day 2019, was shown said buffalo in Camp 6 and paid  $580,000 on the spot. He got a receipt. The receipt does not have Hazim’s address on it (and I’ve had no luck googling it). 

The panel pointed out that nobody seems to be able to find Hazim, the buffalo are still at Phala Phala, and they asked, somewhat pointedly: Who allows someone to visit the President’s private residence unannounced, and who allows that to happen while the President is not there, and who allows all of that to happen on Christmas Day?  Good questions, I hear you saying.

Or, there is the evidence of Mr Judas Fraser, sorry Mr Arthur Fraser, which is that the President’s trusted lieutenant and political adviser, Bejani Chauke, illegally brought into SA large sums of US dollars from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Equatorial Guinea. He estimates $20-million. Some of that found its way to Phala Phala and some of that was put in the couch and some of that was stolen. He claims. Chauke denies.

One does not like to disbelieve a sitting president or necessarily take the word of such a transparent and dodgy turncoat as Fraser, but one is inclined to ask oneself, what are the probabilities here, given the history and the circumstances and all that? DM/BM


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