South Africa: Zondo report shows Ramaphosa didn’t do enough to stop the rot

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Friday, 24 June 2022 17:33

South Africa graft inquiry hand over final investigation report
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa rspeaks before receiving the final investigation report from Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the government's Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, June 22, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Findings contained in the final report of South Africa's inquiry into the large-scale corruption under former president Jacob Zuma's watch asserts that President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was Zuma's deputy at the time, didn't do enough to stop the rot. It also implicates the entire governing ANC in state capture.

In the report, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – who chaired the inquiry – says Ramaphosa claimed in his testimony before the commission in April and August last year that “he would have been dismissed [as Zuma’s deputy] if he had been more confrontational”, but “he did not give any evidence as to why he believed this was the case”.

Ramaphosa told the commission that the balance of forces within the governing ANC meant that resistance inside the party was better than resigning to try to oppose the corruption from a marginal position.

“The crux of President Ramaphosa’s ‘balance of forces’ explanation is that any other approach would not have been allowed by the ruling party, and he and others were unwilling to damage the ANC by publicly going against it,” Zondo says.

Although it’s not possible to prove anything to the contrary, Zondo asks whether “these processes [of state capture] could have been arrested sooner had more powerful figures, like President Ramaphosa, been willing to act with more urgency. They instead chose to work ‘strategically’ from within”.

For a long stretch of time, these allegations [against the Guptas] went unanswered

Zondo also notes that journalists and civil society activists sounded alarm bells in 2010 over “serious and credible allegations of corruption against the Gupta family”, the businessmen brothers who Zuma claimed were his personal friends.

The brothers are also at the centre of the “state capture” claims. Extradition proceedings are currently underway to get two of the three brothers, Atul and Rajesh, to account on charges of graft, money-laundering and fraud.

They were arrested in Dubai earlier this month after an Interpol red notice was issued in what could be considered one of the highlights of Ramaphosa’s administration.

However, the Zondo report represents one of Ramaphosa’s lows. It says he only started speaking out about the activities of the Guptas around 2015, and although he now “credits journalists for playing a key role in uncovering corruption and State Capture”, Zondo says “for a long stretch of time, these allegations [against the Guptas] went unanswered”.

Delayed response

Ramaphosa received the report from Zondo on Wednesday evening after several delays and a phone call, which opposition DA leader John Steenhuisen says was “a dangerous and unacceptable interference of the judicial process” and could cast doubt on Ramaphosa’s credibility.

In a brief question-and-answer session with the media after the report handover, Ramaphosa said the phone call wasn’t sinister, but that Zondo was merely informing him about the delay.

Ramaphosa is yet to comment on the contents of the report with a press statement from the presidency only saying: “The president has committed to consider the commission’s report in its totality and to present a comprehensive response and implementation plan to Parliament.”

The Thursday statement also said: “The presidency will therefore not respond at this stage to specific aspects of the commission’s findings and recommendations.”

Ramaphosa is expected to make a submission when he tables the report in parliament in four months’ time, but it’s not clear whether he will react to the report before that.

He might want to delay acting on the recommendations for as long as possible, as any sudden moves could cost him at the ANC’s elective conference in December. Whereas it appeared to be a shoo-in for Ramaphosa as he prepares to run for a second term, things seem less certain now.

One 1 June, former spy boss Arthur Fraser revealed explosive information about an alleged theft of an undisclosed amount of cash from Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm. Fraser said it was around $4m and that Ramaphosa tried to cover up the crime, but both of these claims were disputed by Ramaphosa.

Some have claimed that Fraser dropped this bombshell in order to shield himself from possible prosecution.

Fraser was also implicated in wrongdoing in the report, with Zondo recommending that he be investigated for the way he handled money when he was head of the state security agency from 2016 to 2018.

There are other individuals implicated in the report, who would be difficult for Ramaphosa to act on, despite commentators and opposition politicians calling for swift steps.

Former intelligence minister David Mahlobo, for example, was one of Zuma’s key allies, but was retained by Ramaphosa in his cabinet as the water and sanitation deputy minister. He has recently sided with the ANC in shielding Ramaphosa from immediate scrutiny on the Phala Phala scandal, but, like Fraser, he could drop a bombshell based on intelligence he was privy to, should prosecutions authorities act on him.

Ramaphosa’s allies have also been implicated, such as Zizi Kodwa, the deputy minister in the presidency, who is responsible for the intelligence portfolio. According to the Zondo report, Kodwa has been linked to the receipt of irregular payments from a businessman who got tenders from the government.

Minister of communications and digital technologies, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, is another ally. Zondo found that she was “probably culpable” in the Guptas’ looting of Denel, the state-owned arms manufacturer.

Another high-ranking politician credited with helping Ramaphosa get into power, minerals and energy minister Gwede Mantashe, has also been implicated as having received a free security upgrade to his home by the now-defunct Bosasa, which received over-inflated tenders from the government in return for kickbacks from the ANC.

It is not clear whether Mantashe and Ramaphosa are still close, however, as Mantashe is said to have presidential ambitions of his own.

Will it affect Ramaphosa’s chances for re-election?

It is not just Ramaphosa who is implicated in the report. Zondo points fingers at the entire ANC, and this might explain why the party has been slow to act against individuals implicated or criticised by the report – and why the party might be slow to act on Ramaphosa, too.

“Understanding the role of the ANC is vital to understanding State Capture in South Africa,” Zondo says. “It has been the only governing party since the advent of democracy, and specifically during the years of review. It has been responsible for deploying persons to the highest positions in the state.”

It goes to the core of the party

He further notes that the ANC, with its “significant majority in Parliament”, allowed the institution to exercise ineffective oversight over the executive.

The party repeatedly protected Zuma against motions of no confidence in Parliament until after he was ousted by the party at its elective conference in 2017.

Although the party has set up a committee to deal with Zondo’s recommendations on the ANC, and although it has promised to call those implicated in criminal wrongdoing before its integrity commission, these processes have been moving at a snail’s pace.

The nature of Ramaphosa’s culpability as outlined by Zondo isn’t the kind of criminal wrongdoing that would be examined by the integrity commission, but he is yet to answer questions on the cash theft at his farm.

Opposition Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema claimed there was money laundering, in dollars, and that he has “more [evidence] where money is [being] counted in the plane”.

“There is more that these people have been doing in this country … bringing money illegally [and] not being held accountable,” he said.

However, the video Malema promised three weeks ago has not been revealed and it’s not clear what any possible criminal charges would be based on.

ANC postpones discussions

Meanwhile, the ANC’s top leadership appears to have postponed discussions about the Zondo report for now. On Thursday night, its national executive committee called a special meeting on short notice, but the party said it was dealing with disputes around this weekend’s provincial party conference in Gauteng, which is closely contested. There have been disputes between leaders sympathetic to Zuma, and those more sympathetic to Ramaphosa.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the party should be dealing with the inquiry’s report diligently and swiftly, especially also because it pointed fingers to Ramaphosa and to a number of ANC leaders as well.

“It goes to the core of the party,” he told the SAFM Sunrise programme.

Mathekga said if Ramaphosa keeps postponing his reply to questions on the Zondo report and the theft at his Phala Phala farm, it could damage his and the party’s credibility.

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