Cyril Ramaphosa appears to be using the ANC’s step-aside rule to target, purge political opponents
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Pretoria - President Cyril Ramaphosa increasingly appears to be using the ANC’s “step-aside” rule to target and purge his political opponents, while affirming his untouchable supporters, before next year’s elective ANC national conference. In other words, whether or not a compromised party leader is forced out does not necessarily depend on the evidence of wrong-doing. It depends more on their usefulness for the CR22 agenda.
Some South Africans increasingly ask if Ramaphosa is the hope for change when he is hopelessly compromised at a personal level. His role in Eskom as it was revealed at the Zondo Commission, the R500 000 Bosasa donation he received from controversial businessman Gavin Watson and the R1 billion donation made by business people towards his ANC presidential campaign in 2017, just to name a few.
Several of his favourite cabinet ministers, and even premiers, also face serious allegations of wrong-doing.
The president has been leading SA since February 2018. What cannot be denied is that this Cabinet is Ramaphosa's; he didn't inherit it. He appointed the cabinet and must own up to it warts and all. The idea of a Cabinet speaks to a unit working together to a desired end. Yet, the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng laid bare the idea that there may not be a cabinet after all.
We are also increasingly witnessing an emerging group of people who are either connected to or protected by Ramaphosa that we can call the untouchables. It’s in this context that talks of a Cabinet reshuffle should be understood. Such a decision is usually advanced based on claims of assessed efficiency and effectiveness. However, it’s common cause that it’s mostly abused to pursue self-serving interests.
Having alluded to the compromised state of Ramaphosa, it is perhaps time to understand who makes up some of those that, despite ANC reputational risk and grave allegations, somehow never are sanctioned or suspended and appear shielded by Ramaphosa.
Perhaps we must also qualify that Ramaphosa doesn’t seem to be principally loyal to any of them; they appear to be a means to an end in his personal interest. This means he may be willing to offload any of them if the pressure really demands. It all depends on who influences or directs him to do so, including players outside the ANC.
These are all needed for him not to be reduced to a one-term president. Nothing seems to have preoccupied Ramaphosa’s mind more than the fear to be denied a second term. Hence CR22 defines and determines the ANC programme, from its national executive committee (NEC) to the Office Bearers.
Several of his favourite cabinet ministers, and even premiers, also face serious allegations of wrong-doing.
Deputy President David Mabuza
Mabuza is at the centre of a recently delayed R1 billion land corruption case in Mpumalanga that allegedly has 24 people involved. The postponement of the case was reportedly at a request from his legal representatives. The civil lawsuit was set down for a particular 39-day trial. Mabuza appeared before the Integrity Commission on the eve of the finalisation of the cabinet in 2019. The integrity commission later claimed it did not clear Mabuza.
South Africans would be justified to ask Ramaphosa why he has not suspended Mabuza given his much vaunted claim of a clean cabinet. Is it because Ramaphosa has an eternal debt to pay to the one who, on the 11th hour, betrayed the NDZ campaign? On another score, the fact that Mabuza singularly was able to delay the finalisation of cabinet appointments must mean he has some power over number one.
Now former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize is fingered in the Special Investigating (SIU) report and its damning findings related to the NHI communications tender. Extrapolated from the SIU report, we are witnessing the ongoing unravelling of the allegedly corrupt activities Mkhize got himself into by apparently insisting that Digital Vibes be awarded the R150m contract.
According to reports, not only did Mkhize personally benefit in close on R5m. But so did his son Dedani who allegedly collected cash among others at a filling station ran by Radha Hariram.
We cannot pretend we did not hear the evidence of former PRASA CEO Lucky Montana when he appeared before the State of Capture Commission. In his testimony, he detailed how he and Mkhize, then the ANC Treasurer General, met with Angolan Businesswoman Maria Gomes, whose company was a beneficiary of a PRASA tender. Montana, in his affidavit, asserted that he and Mkhize regularly met with Gomes at her house in Johannesburg in the period after PRASA had awarded the controversial locomotives contract to Swifambo Rail Leasing. He also said Mkhize provided the account numbers for the transfers of money.
We all recall how long Ramaphosa took to act before Mkhize was placed on special leave. His inaction to deal with matters is often explained in his awaiting SIU reports to justify his actions. He sat on the SIU findings for a while, fully cognisant of how it fingers his Mkhize. While the integrity commission two days ago recommended that Mkhize step aside, there is no initiative yet from Ramaphosa to let go of Mkhize.
Police Minister Bheki Cele
On 23 July, Real Democracy, an NGO, wrote a letter requesting an investigation into the recent Phoenix violence, with the official number of more than 36 fatalities. Not spared in its critique of the violence of the KZN province is Minister Cele. Real democracy categorically asserts that, "Minister Cele doesn't have the will nor the intention to order the arrest of the murderers and attackers involved in these atrocious crimes. Minister Cele is conflicted in that he has connections with the crime syndicates in the Phoenix area. There are security companies operating in the area who participated in the carnage in Phoenix who also have ties to the drug trade, which Minister Cele is alleged to be connected to."
They went on to assert that, "Minister Cele has been charged at the Prestbury police station on the 1 July 2021, CAS 7/7/2021, for alleged corruption, racketeering and embezzlement of public funds. These charges emanate from the evidence produced by the Independent Online News media consisting of telephone conversations between Minister Cele and a billionaire, convicted drug dealer known as Timmy Marimuthu. He resides in the neighbouring suburb of Umhlanga Ridge.
Perhaps the most damning assertion from the NGO is its emphatic conclusion that "minister Cele cannot be trusted with any investigations in KwaZulu-Natal, especially Phoenix and must be suspended with immediate effect so that proper investigations into the atrocities committed in Phoenix can proceed unhindered. In the meantime, the charges laid against him must be referred to advocate Cronje at the Investigative Directorate dealing with corruption at the National Prosecuting Authority."
It is not the first time that Cele stands accused. We all know how in February 2011, then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found Cele, the then police commissioner, guilty of improper conduct and maladministration when the police authorised a R500 million lease for the Sanlam Middestad Building in Pretoria. Madonsela went on to say, "This conduct [on the part of Police Commissioner Bheki Cele] was improper, unlawful and amounted to maladministration."
The African National Congress and its Integrity Commission warrant explaining how the Real Democracy letter on Cele, even citing the Case number 7/7/2021, lodged at the Prestbury police station, does not translate to any reputational damage. It needs to explain why these allegations do not translate to actions that brought the party in disrepute. Ramaphosa, for his part, warrants explaining why Cele is not suspended since he has this letter with its severe allegations against his police minister.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande
City Press recently published a story under the headline, " Blade told me to break the rules". This is the claim and allegation, among others levelled by the now suspended director general Gwebinkundla Conde. Among others, Conde alleges that Nzimande had tried to force him to violate procurement processes during the failed acquisition of 500 000 laptops for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students. Qonde added that he, on no less than two occasions, reached out to Ramaphosa, who was rather lacklustre about the issue. This means that Ramaphosa's inaction against Nzimande cannot be justified unless one appreciates the centrality of the CR22 success that needs the SACP support, albeit a faction.
Public Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu
Mchunu's alleged conduct remains disgusting, particularly in light of the crisis of gender-based violence challenges that terrorises South African women. It is claimed that the ANC subsequently actively aggravated the victim's suffering by engineering a cover up designed to protect Mchunu rather than his accuser. Before the allegations emerged in public, she wrote a letter that was addressed to Febe Potgieter-Gubule detailing what she was subjected to harassment by Mchunu. However, these fell on deaf ears.
Mchunu's case again places the ANC as charged with inaction, indifference and incapable of holding its leaders accountable. Let us not forget that Mchunu was on the CR slate in 2017 as the preferred secretary-general, leaving us to conclude that he is protected as an untouchable.
State Security Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa
In May, the State of Capture Commission of Inquiry heard testimony from the head of forensic investigations at ENSafrica, Steven Powell. Powell testified that Kodwa, among other things, received payments and luxury accommodation from EOH director Jehan Mackay between 2015 and 2017. According to Powell, Kodwa received a R1 million settlement into his private bank account on 28 April 2015. Furthermore, he received a transfer of an additional amount of R890 000, 00 that Powell concluded was for Kodwa's car.
Kodwa's aggregate response to the information was that he was not charged for any criminal matter, meaning there was nothing wrong for him as an ANC staffer to receive money from EOH. The question that evades his reason is why Mackay paid him almost R2million because it could not have come as a goodwill gesture.
Payments were made periodically, meaning there was a standing arrangement between businessman Mackay and Kodwa. We do not know Kodwa was benefiting the business interest of Mackay, and we thus can only speculate.
While Kodwa insists there is no criminal case against him for the payments, the question he evades is how this inspires organisational renewal claims, trust and confidence in ANC leaders. He does not appreciate that this plausibly makes him susceptible to future similar payments in his current role as SSA deputy minister. Equally so, Ramaphosa is burdened with explaining why Kodwa given this history, is still serving as deputy.
Deputy Water and Sanitation Minister David Mahlobo
The Zondo Commission heard evidence that implicated Mahlobo in the SSA– related allegations of cash withdrawals that were made for “SONA- related expenses’, during 2017. The witness, ‘Dorothy’, a senior SSA official was questioned on approximately R28,5m in cash she withdrew between 2014 and 2016. Her testimony contends that while she was deployed, she met the SSA member and collected the bag of money which she handed personally to Mahlobo at his official residence. The witness could not confirm the exact amount of money in the bag that she was handing over, though the amount of R1,5million is what the commission entertained as the questionable amount. There are several other allegations levelled against Mahlobo that do not augur well to contend him a worthy choice for cabinet position.
While the commission has not yet concluded on its findings, the challenge remains: what do these allegations mean and how do they declare Mahlobo fit to occupy his current position and possibly a new full cabinet role in what Ramaphosa refers to as a ‘reconfigured cabinet’.
Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane
Mabuyane under Ramaphosa has emerged into an utterly untouchable since a slew of his wrongs and shenanigans, some alleged corruption, are casually ignored. Among the allegations, accusations and even lodged cases include his deregistration from Fort Hare University following alleged fraudulent and unethical activities at the institution. Mabuyane appears number nine on a list. He is also not the only one from his provincial cabinet who made it to the list, but his MEC for Cogta, XE Nqatha, is also on the same list, as de-registered for the same reasons.
According to CAS 546/3/2001 with Park Road reference, Mabuyane has to answer to allegations of money that went into his bank account. It includes the alleged purchasing of the car. Despite the case assigned to SAPS Captain BF Calitz as the SMS details, the Eastern Cape police appear to have done absolutely nothing about this case.
Another case, CAS 180/7/2020 of the Amatola Water Board against its former CEO, Ms V Z Zilumane and her co-conspirators make up some of the accusations against Mabuyane. Amatola Board Chairperson, MM Malotana, wrote to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Lindiwe Sisulu asking for assistance in expediting the stagnated case it brought against Zilumane.
The challenge is that the SAPS and Hawks in the province do not seem to have appetite for the case, leaving the impression of political interference. The lawsuit, by extension, implicates Mabuyane's wife, as section 1.1.11 confirms. Sisulu apparently wrote to the ANC top six requesting their intervention in the stalled corruption case.
If the ANC or Ramaphosa were in any sense serious about SA and stamping out corruption, Mabuyane would long have been history. Mabuyane, whom the Provincial Integrity Commission cleared, would long have been suspended since claims include a minimum of two cases that detail grave allegations.
What then is the reason for Ramaphosa's reluctance to act against Mabuyane if it's not the ever-pervasive and often singular dominant CR22 campaign interest? The de-registration alone should have been grounds for suspending and firing Mabuyane. Instead, Mabuyane has emerged as the Eastern Cape strong man of the CR22 agenda.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura
Makhura has been escaping accountability for several things that went horribly wrong in Gauteng under his leadership. The most notorious and painful of these are the Life Esidimeni health massacre. In any normal society, Makhura would have stepped down since 144 patients died on his watch.
The honourable thing was for him to have volunteered to step down, yet Makhura never owns up. Last month, former Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu's advocate, Lawrence Hodes SC, in the ongoing inquest, categorically asserted that the final decision for the transfer of the mental health patients from Life Esidimeni to bogus care centres, where 144 of them died, was that of Makhura.
The PPE corruption scandal which Gauteng remains a significant role-player, ultimately had casualties in the former Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku. However, Makhura failed to take accountability and own up to his deplorable lack of oversight.
He is not held accountable by the ANC or Ramaphosa who appointed him for these two crimes against the Gauteng people. Is Makhura also part of the untouchables duly protected from accounting?
If organisational renewal is the cornerstone and aims to preserve and protect the ANC's reputation, why is the step-aside rule so nakedly biased in its application? Why is the application of the step-aside rule made subservient to the ever-pervasive CR22 interest application?
The application of the step-aside rule warrants being used with much more consistency and without fear or favour. It cannot be that the ANC under Ramaphosa is obsessed to deal in the most robust sense with some foes in the party.
At the same time, it turns a convenient blind eye to those who glaringly face similar if not worse allegations, only because they make up those who will carry him to a CR22 victory. How sustainable is the ANC's dualism of step aside and the new untouchables created because of political CR22 interest?
Why has Ramaphosa not acted against these untouchables when he focuses on destroying political foes and possible candidates who will stand against him come December 2022? Can South Africa continue to allow the ANC's dalliance with integrity and suspensions?
* Clyde N. S. Ramalaine is a writer and political commentator. He’s completing a PHD at the University of Johannesburg.