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President Cyril Ramaphosa during the announcement of the new Cabinet in Pretoria on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)
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Mkhwebane's questionable legal competency aside, Ramaphosa is making mistakes that, cumulatively, have the potential to destroy him politically. He should lead by example in his own rhetoric, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
President Cyril Ramaphosa stands a good
chance to succeed in his pending review application to set aside Busisiwe
Mkhwebane's inexplicable findings related to the CR17 campaign.
The Public Protector was excited when she
saw large sums of money flowing into Ramaphosa's ANC presidential bid. This
raised suspicion of wrong doing. She turned suspicion into a fact by suggesting
Ramaphosa personally benefitted from the money donated through a trust of which
he, based on what we know so far, was neither a trustee nor a registered personal
Her report is flawed because she failed to
understand a simple fact that the CR17 campaign was a party-political campaign.
Ramaphosa was campaigning to be president of the ANC, not the country.
Theoretically, you could be president of a
governing party and choose not to stand for election in the first sitting of
the National Assembly as president of the republic. It's a nuance Mkhwebane
missed in what seemed to be a haste to find fault in Ramaphosa.
Even on the allegation that Ramaphosa lied
to Parliament, Mkhwebane somehow squeezed a guilty verdict even though her own
report doesn't support it. She, however, makes an important point that the
president should have requested time to answer the question posed by the DA's
Mmusi Maimane about the R500 000 Gavin Watson donated to CR17, instead of
voluntarily providing a wrong answer when he was under no immediate obligation
to. This observation should have concluded Mkhwebane's report on the complaint
that Ramaphosa misled Parliament.
With regard to her concerns about the grey
area of intra-party campaigning and the potentially corrupt impact it might
have on public representatives, including the president, she could have
requested the Speaker of the National Assembly to note her concerns and urge Parliament
to use its own mechanisms to find measures to close the gap.
She could have made it a matter of
principle. She chose to personalise it because she happened to have had access
to the money flow of the CR17 campaign while she was investigating whether or
not the president misled Parliament on the R500 000 donation.
Had she raised it as a matter of principle
that potentially affects all parties and drew Parliament's attention to it, she
would have been applauded by many South Africans who are concerned about the corrosive
influence of money in politics. In fact, it was out of similar concern that Parliament
passed legislation to ensure disclosure of party funding. There would have been
nothing wrong of her to ask Parliament to investigate ways to deal with
intra-party campaign funding especially concerning members of the national
Mkhwebane's questionable legal competency
aside, Ramaphosa is also making mistakes that, cumulatively, have the potential
to destroy him politically. The unwarranted haste with which he answered the
question on the R500 000 donation is one of them.
Before the elections, he made the mistake
of announcing he was going to address the nation at night. The announcement
came as if he had something important to say in his capacity as head of state.
The public broadcaster treated the address exactly like that. He proceeded to
address the nation in his capacity as president of the ANC.
In a Parliament question and answer
session, he entertained opposition party members who asked him about ANC
politics. He should learn from Thabo Mbeki who could not be drawn into party
political issues in Parliament because in Parliament he appeared as president
of the country, not the ANC.
Ramaphosa repeated the error when he called
an evening press conference to respond to the Mkhwebane report. In answering a
question from a journalist, he said the ANC would discuss the issue of funding
of intra-party campaigning. Strictly speaking he could have avoided saying
anything about the ANC. It's important that he must separate party and state. However
tempting, he should not use a Presidency platform to address ANC issues.
It would be a good idea for him to join ANC
secretary general Ace Magashule when he addresses the media usually after the
party's national executive committee (NEC) meetings. Not only will such a move
foster policy coherence from Luthuli House, it will also help Ramaphosa deal
with party political issues which he should not address through the Presidency
of the country.
Ramaphosa must distinguish himself from
Jacob Zuma who used the Presidency's communication facilities to respond to
issues that were personal and had nothing to do with the work of his office.
Most recently, Ramaphosa made another mistake in Parliament that escaped public
While responding to the Presidency's budget
vote debate last week, Ramaphosa made an ill-advised comment about the SA Reserve
Bank's decision to cut interest rates by 25 basis points. "Good news such
as the reduction of the repo rate by the central bank this afternoon is what we
can build on and we hope much more will happen from the central bank," he
The problem with this comment is that it
raises political (presidential) expectations of the central bank to cut
interest rates in future and could easily be misunderstood as an attempt to
interfere with its independence. Ramaphosa and Reserve Bank governor Lesetja
Kganyago have correctly undertaken to preserve the bank's independence as enshrined
in the Constitution. They have objected to what Kganyago describes as "political
noise" that sought to undermine the bank.
But the president should lead by example in
his own rhetoric. In this case, leading by example would have been to say
nothing of the bank's decision. He must not raise any expectations, however
highly unlikely, that by expecting the bank to reduce the repo rate, he will
condemn a hike. These kinds of mistakes pose a danger to Ramaphosa's presidency.
He must display better statesmanship.
- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.
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