Letepe Maisela | By saving his own skin, Ramaphosa saved all of us

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Ramaphosa was not just a helpless spectator like a fan in a recent Kaizer Chiefs football match. Photo: File
Ramaphosa was not just a helpless spectator like a fan in a recent Kaizer Chiefs football match. Photo: File


Finally, four years later, like a recalcitrant groom who had taken his own sweet time to propose, thick-lipped Justice Zondo presented his final report on State Capture, accompanied by terse recommendations.

It seems not long ago when the previous Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, presented her hastily prepared report called State of Capture on October 14 2016, which recommended formal investigations of the so-called State Capture.

For those who understand soapies or films, this was series one of The State Capture debacle. This was during the second term of former president Jacob Zuma.

Ironically, Zuma was implored by convention to personally institute such a commission even though he was the primary suspect. This was tantamount to asking a suspect to investigate his own case.

READ: Mondli Makhanya | Cyril was an enabler

The only proviso made was that then Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and not our Msholozi, appoint the judge who would preside over the commission.

Nevertheless, the erstwhile president had to still endorse that choice and ratify the judge and appointment of the commission that became known as The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, which later moonlighted under the moniker ‘Zondo Commission’. Strange how this ideology called democracy functions.

In the final chapter of the report, which was presented live to President Cyril Ramaphosa by Zondo on June 20 under the full glare of television camera lights and with the whole country watching, the Chief Justice came out like a medieval dragon hissing fire and brimstone out of his broad nostrils.

As expected, Zondo came out calling names like a disgruntled whistleblower and even prescribing what the National Prosecuting Authority had to do.

He did not spare anyone, least of all our sitting state president, who was sitting right next to him – pardon the pun. It reminded one of the Biblical Last Supper when Jesus Christ sat and enjoyed the last meal with his disciples where he boldly and nonchalantly announced: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” But I digress.

About President Ramaphosa, Zondo pointed out that the man could have done more to challenge his own then boss president Zuma, when the whole country was privy to what was happening between Msholozi and the Guptas in their quest to capture the ship called Enterprise South Africa that appeared to be rudderless and caught in heavy storms, fed by strong winds of greed and reckless abandon.

Well, as he explained, his indifference or was it fear? Our incumbent president in his earlier submission to the commission had claimed that though he saw and heard almost everything, he could not interfere as he knew that he was likely to be fired on the spot like other “clever Blacks” before him, who had rubbed Msholozi on the wrong side.

After all, the man was armed with the most potent weapon of them all – our much revered South African Constitution of which Ramaphosa knew better as he was one of its compilers in 1996.

The same Constitution states:

The executive powers of The Republic are vested in the president. He appoints various officials listed in the Constitution.

Section 84 deals with powers entrusted to our president, which are mind-boggling, to say the least. This includes the appointment of a deputy president, Cabinet ministers and their deputies.

Constitutionally speaking, the president also enjoys the power to remove them from office if he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Ramaphosa, joined by his 34 Cabinet colleagues, assumed the deputy presidency after Kgalema Motlanthe chose to contest for the presidency rather than remain number two during Zuma’s second term.

Ramaphosa was much familiar with these presidential powers. He had seen them during his tenure as deputy president and how they had been implemented several times. He had watched at close quarters the severed heads of those fired rolling into the baskets like the guillotine days of the French Revolution in 1789.

The aftermath of the release of the last series of the Zondo Commission had led to the unleashing of turbulent emotions, depending on what side of the so-called political factional divide one stands.

READ: The Zondo script on how to repair SA

But, there are also a lot of detractors, some of whom have taken an ideological route in condemning the findings of the commission and labelling it in all sorts of populous languages. Some, like the Jacob Zuma Foundation, have dismissed the report as a simple setup to harass and thus continue besmirching the ‘good’ name of the former state president.

One thing certain is that the report has unleashed a torrent of lynch mob proportions by some of those named in the report as perpetrators in the State Capture. Others, like Ramaphosa, have been accused of being casual observers of the process and doing nothing to halt its destructive march.

Zondo was, however, also scathing about the role (or was it omission?) of Ramaphosa during the State Capture process. As he put it succinctly:

The option Ramaphosa chose did not prevent state capture from continuing.

“There are good chances in my view that if he (Ramaphosa) was removed, that would have shaken those who were pursuing state capture.”

Then, in his conclusion, Zondo contradicts himself when he says that Ramaphosa’s victory at the ANC national conference in 2017, a critical time when the Guptas and their minnows were swarming all around South Africa and its SOEs like vultures, was critical because his loss would have left South Africa in a dwang.

This nullified his previous assertion that Ramaphosa could have done more to prevent State Capture.

This finally leads me to an editorial of a lowly newspaperman (his own description not mine). In that editorial, the said lowly one asserts that Ramaphosa was not just a helpless spectator like a fan in a recent Kaizer Chiefs football match.

He posits that he was actually an enabler of State Capture by electing to do ‘fokol’ when he was deputy state president and faced with a rampaging tsunami. He echoes Zondo’s view that it could have helped derail the process of State Capture.

READ: Rebone Tau | It is time for South African spies to redeem themselves and save the country

The problem with hindsight, which some cynic once described as the best science, is (to paraphrase): the average person only has that ability to understand, after something has happened, why or how it was done and how it might have been done better.

My defence of Ramaphosa in the State Capture debacle is that he did what he deemed reasonable and much safer at the time because, as already mentioned, he knew about the presidential powers that could have easily landed him in the streets outside Parliament like Economic Freedom Fighters MPs on Debate Day.

In full acknowledgement of the Japanese idiom, which says, “a protruding nail shall be hammered down”, he chose to lower his head. If that had not happened, Mzansi would probably have become a colony of Dubai even before one could finish saying Phala Phala.

Maisela is a businessman and author.


Sthembiso Lebuso 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Latest issue
Latest issue
All the news from City Press in PDF form.
Read now
Voting Booth
Stats SA's recent consumer price index data this week indicated the rise in food prices was the largest in 14 years. Economists say continued load shedding also adds to the rise in the cost of food production. How are you feeding your family during this tough time?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
I have a food garden
7% - 55 votes
I rely on sales
21% - 161 votes
I buy necessities
72% - 548 votes