SPIES R US
Ramaphosa cleared of wrongdoing in Phala Phala scandal by Public Protector, Wally Rhoode now in firing line
In the closing report into the handling of the housebreaking and theft at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s private Phala Phala farm in Limpopo, the acting Public Protector has cleared him — but the head of the Presidential Protection Service has questions to answer.
Acting Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka has cleared President Cyril Ramaphosa of wrongdoing in the complaint against him over the handling of the housebreaking and theft at his private Phala Phala farm in Limpopo, which occurred in 2022.
The announcement was made during a media briefing by the Office of the Public Protector on Friday 30 June, 2023. Although there were 12 reports, much of the focus of the briefing centred on the Phala Phala scandal.
Initially, a leaked preliminary report — which at that point was confidential — showed Ramaphosa had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the handling of theft of forex at the president’s private home in Limpopo.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Public Protector’s preliminary Phala Phala report clears Ramaphosa of wrongdoing
First issue — conflict of interest
In her breakdown of the case against Ramaphosa, Gcaleka said the allegation that the president improperly and in violation of the Executive Ethics Act exposed him to any “risk of a conflict between his constitutional duties and obligations and his private interests arising from or affected by his alleged paid work at Phala Phala farm” was not substantiated.
During the briefing, Gcaleka said the PP Investigating Team inspected the Register of Financial Interests of the president, particularly between 1 April 2019 and March 2020. The President’s financial interests and members’ interests held in Ntaba Nyoni and Tshivhase Trust were declared — with the value and nature thereof disclosed. Gcaleka said on remuneration, “it was observed that the President declared that he received no remuneration other than as a member of Executive during the reporting period 2020”.
See our visual timeline here: Ramaphosa’s Farmgate scandal – a timeline of what we know (and don’t know) so far
Gcaleka said evidence does not support the allegation that the President’s financial interests in game and cattle farming at Phala Phala farm exposed him to “any situation involving the risk of a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private interests”.
Second issue — abuse of power
Gcaleka said evidence indicated Phala Phala farm was not listed as the President’s private residence on which there was a full-time deployment of Presidential Protection Service (PPS) at the time of the crime of housebreaking, as “he seldom visits the farm”.
“This, according to the President, was intended to mitigate the use of state resources,” said Gcaleka.
Gcaleka added, according to the Head of the PPS, Major-General Wally Rhoode “since his appointment on 1 June, 2018, he attempted to persuade the President that PPS personnel should be deployed at the farm, as the President visits it as one of his private residences”. Rhoode would state that when the President was not at Phala Phala, there “were no SAPS (South African Police Service) or PPS members to prevent breaches of security”.
Gcaleka also added that Rhoode stated that Ramaphosa “always refused the deployment of PPS personnel and technology at the farm”.
Speaking on Friday, Gcaleka said evidence was evaluated to establish if the conduct of the President can be equated to an abuse of his position of power and whether he utilised state resources — including the deployment of PPS members to Phala Phala farm to investigate the crime of housebreaking. Gcaleka said Democratic Alliance leader JohnSteenhuisen stated the President consented or knew of the use of PPSA resources beyond its mandate. “Mr Steenhuisen insisted that the President acquiesced, either actively or passively, in the abuse of power and PPS resources,” said Gcaleka and added: “Mr Steenhuisen did not furnish any evidence to support this contention”.
Gcaleka said no evidence was found to prove that the President was aware of investigations into the housebreaking by Maj-General Rhoode.
However, finalising the investigation, Gcaleka said a finding “cannot be made that assumes a position with respect to the President’s state of mind, without empirical evidence to support the allegation that he consented to the use of PPS resources beyond their mandate and for an ulterior purpose”.
Third issue – the follow-up investigation
Another issue was that an official of the Presidential Protection Services, Sgt Hlulani Rekhoto during an interview with the PP’s investigating team, said they conducted interviews with the alleged suspects. This interview was confirmed by Rhoode.
According to Gcaleka, Rhoode read the constitutional rights to one of the alleged suspects. The rights, she said were understood to be read to a person who is arrested, detained or accused.
“The act of reading these rights to [the alleged suspect] Mr Joseph is indicative of an interaction between a police officer conducting a criminal investigation and a suspect.”
The PP found information disclosed to Rekhoto and Rhoode by the suspects placed a legal duty on them as police officers to report this act to a commanding officer.
In her report, the PP highlighted the role of Benjamin Chauke, a presidential advisor. She said he was neither employed by SAPS nor covered by any policy, when he travelled to Namibia accompanied by Rhoode using PPS resources, with approval.
According to the PP, the trip was signed for and submitted by Rhoode. “It is clear from paragraph 1 of the memorandum seeking approval for the trip, that Gen. Rhoode would be accompanying Mr Chauke to Namibia from 25 June 2020 until 26 June 2020”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: AMABHUNGANE: Papa J and Prince — the men roped into Phala Phala burglary ‘mastermind’s’ escape to Namibia
But during the briefing, Gcaleka said: “however, in terms of the evidence, no link or nexus could be established between this trip to Namibia and the investigation that was conducted by the PPS in respect of the crime of housebreaking with the intent to steal and theft, committed at Phala Phala farm on or about 9 February, 2020”.
Remedial action recommendations
In her recommendations, Gcaleka said the Minister of Police Bheki Cele must take note of findings of maladministration and improper conduct against SAPS, in connection with the allegation that members of SAPS attached to the PPS acted improperly by investigating the crime of housebreaking, the intent to steal and theft, which took place at the farm, “in line with the authority vested on the Minister of Police, in terms of section 206 of the Constitution”.
The acting PP recommended that the National Police Commissioner, Lt-Gen Fannie Masemola must, within 60 calendar days of receipt of the report, ensure that “appropriate action” is initiated against Rhoode and Sgt Rekhoto for contraventions of SAPS prescripts. Within 90 days of receipt of the report, Masemola must develop an appropriate PPS directive, instruction, and policy which direct how PPS members must manage crimes reported directly to them by VIPs under their protection.
The complaint against Ramaphosa was laid by African Transformation Movement MP Vuyo Zungula, which then led the PP’s office to investigate. During the briefing, Gcaleka said a complaint was also filed against Ramaphosa by DA leader John Steenhuisen. In addition, two members of the public — Elias Muller and Simphiwe Ndlovu laid a complaint. Gcaleka said the four complaints were consolidated and complainants were notified of this.
“An objection was raised by Mr Zungula to this method of dealing with the matter, the objection was premised on the notion that the consolidation of the complaint would have the effect of prolonging the investigation, said Gcaleka, who added that Zungula was advised that it was the Public Protector’s sole discretion to determine the format and procedure to be followed in conducting any investigation.
The PhalaPhala scandal broke initially on 1 June 2022, when former spy boss Arthur Fraser laid a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa for alleged forex abuses and other allegedly criminal conduct. As reported by Ferial Haffajee, he walked into the Rosebank police station, laid the complaint and released his arsenal. DM
This is a developing story.