Ralph Mathekga

Ramaphosa may be on firm legal ground, but has a serious political problem

2019-07-23 09:20
President Cyril  Ramaphosa at the ANC's elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017.

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017.

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Ramaphosa's response to Mkhwebane is that the Public Protector has no business probing the president's campaign financing. Even if the court affirms this, it doesn't answer the political question about who made the donations, writes Ralph Mathekga.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's presidency is off to a terrible start. This is after questions emerged regarding financial donations that were made to his campaign to become the ANC president.

It all started with what appeared to be harmless revelations that Bosasa donated R500 000 to Ramaphosa. This was followed by the president flip flopping on whether the money was intended for himself, or his son. The Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane was brought into the fray when a complaint was laid with her office to investigate whether Ramaphosa deliberately misled Parliament in his earlier response that the money from Bosasa was paid into his son's account and not his.

The president insists that he did now know about the Bosasa donation, hence his initial error that the money was paid into his son's account. The Public Protector found that he violated the Executive Ethics Code by failing to officially declare the donations he received, including the Bosasa donation. Mkhwebane went further and found that the extent of the donations that Ramaphosa received were so vast that the president should be investigated for money laundering.

A small matter which was initially about a donation from Bosasa eventually revealed that Ramaphosa's campaign account was host to over R300m. Mkhwebane was initially asked to investigate a molehill, only to stumble upon a mountain. Even those who do not take the current Public Protector seriously for various reasons would be curious to find out who donated over R300m to the president's campaign. Call me naïve but for an internal ANC campaign, that figure is too high and raises serious questions.

As far as I'm concerned, the president has a political obligation to explain the donations to the public. This is where we need to be careful not to confuse the message with the messenger. The response by Ramaphosa to Mkhwebane is that the Public Protector has no business probing the president's campaign financing; it is beyond her jurisdiction. Even if the court affirms this argument, this does not answer the political question: who made such donations?

This is not to say that those who donated to the president are expected to get something in return. It is rather about the simple matter of transparency, according to which the public should know about who donated to Ramaphosa's campaign. Since the campaign was about the internal leadership contest of the ANC, the party should have in place regulations regarding the processes through which donations are received and managed.

If indeed the president received over R300m in donations, I am very much interested in knowing more about those donations. The explanation given by the president that he did not know its details is worrying. This is the type of explanation one came to expect from former president Jacob Zuma. But the campaign driven by Ramaphosa was anchored in transparency and accountability. It means that he made a tacit moral commitment to do things in a manner true to the integrity ticket he assumed in his campaign to become the president of the ANC.

Therefore, for Ramaphosa to resort to "I did not know" as an explanation is quite worrying given the fact that knowledge about the source of money is the most material information for any political campaign.

It is inadequate for the president to say that he did not know who was making donations to his campaign. For someone who has been talking about clean government, Ramaphosa is off to a bad start. If he does not disclose who donated to him simply because he believes the law does not require him to do so, then he will have to live with the speculation that he might in the future be beholden to powerful special interests.

The fact is that if he received money from Bosasa, he could have also received money from even more controversial sources. At this point, we just do not know.

Ramaphosa should seriously consider meaningful communication with citizens about the donations. If he continues to behave as if it is normal to receive over R300m in donations for an internal party leadership contest, then he is too far from the people and perhaps dangerously too close to money to get a sense of what it means to others.

Some might curse Mkhwebane for escalating the matter to where it is. To that, someone once said that some of the best developments in our society have come from those with the most sinister motives.

- Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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Read more on:    bosasa  |  anc  |  busisiwe mkhwebane  |  cyril ramaphosa
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