Ramaphosa's political future uncertain after panel finds he may have violated the Constitution

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Gallo Images
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Gallo Images


President Cyril Ramaphosa’s political future hangs in the balance after a Parliamentary panel found that he has a case to answer over the Phala Phala money theft scandal, as he may have violated the law and involved himself in a conflict between his official duties and his private business. Ramphosa is now set to face the ANC national executive committee on Thursday night after an urgent meeting was organised following the damning findings. There, he may face calls to step down as president.

“The president, as the head of state and head of the executive branch of government, holds the ultimate public trust. He is required to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic. He swears to an oath to “be faithful to the Republic”, and to “obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other laws of the Republic.” Mindful of the fallibility of human nature and that too much power corrupts, the Constitution has, among other safeguards, a built-in safety valve: the impeachment and removal from office process.” - The section 89 independent panel report revealed.

The section 89 panel raised doubt and serious concerns about the explanations Ramaphosa provided to it concerning the matter.

The panel, chaired by the retired Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcobo, handed the report to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Wednesday. Parliament publicly published the report on Wednesday evening.

Mapisa-Nqakula instituted the panel following a motion by the African Transformation Movement (ATM) following the news of theft at the Phala Phala farm.

In the report, the panel raised several questions and concerns about the explanation provided by Ramaphosa about how the dollars ended up at the farm, why they were concealed in a sofa, and why, two years later, the buffaloes that were allegedly bought with the dollars were still at the farm. The panel also raised concerns about why, to date, there was still no case number of the theft.

READ: Ramaphosa tells section 89 panel allegations against him are baseless, have no 'merit'

In his response on why the dollars ended up at the farm, Ramaphosa alleged that a certain Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim from Sudan had paid, in cash, $580 000 (over R9 million) for buffaloes from Phala Phala.

However, the panel said the response offered by Ramaphos needed to be “approached with caution”, and said there were “troubling unsatisfactory features” in the explanation he offered on how the foreign currency ended on his farm.

The report reads: 

It is difficult to understand that a foreigner carrying $580,000 would randomly come on Christmas Day without making prior arrangements. We would have expected that Mr Hazim would have made arrangements with the general manager or the president to come and view the animals; the farm would make arrangements for someone with knowledge of buffaloes to receive Mr Hazim and show him the animals and negotiate the price and conclude the sale transaction. Yet, no such arrangements were made. He was met by a lodge manager whose expertise in buffaloes is not known. Indeed, it is not clear to us how Mr Ndlovu knew what buffaloes to sell and at what price each.

The panel also questioned why Hazim would pay so much money for the buffaloes and yet they were still at the farm. It said Ramaphosa had not explained why these buffaloes were still at his farm after they had been sold. It also raised suspicion on whether Hazim was legit as there were no particulars given of his business or the business he was involved in, the address where he conducted business from, or any particulars that would enable anyone wishing to identify him or establish his whereabouts.

The panel also questioned why the money was stored on a sofa and never banked. In his response, Ramaphosa said the lodge manager had raised a concern that many staff members had access to the safe where the money was initially stored, and as he was going on leave, he did not see it to be a good idea to continue storing it there.

READ: Ngcobo says section 89 panel conducted its work fairly without prejudice

“The information presented by the president on the storage of the money is vague and leaves unsettling gaps. On his version, it would appear that he instructed Mr Ndlovu to have the money stored on the farm pending the return of Mr von Wielligh [the general manager]. Mr Ndlovu decided that the money must be stored in the president’s private residence on a sofa below cushions. It is not clear whether the money was stored below the cushions or inside the sofa. If a sum of $580,000 in cash was “stored below the cushions” it would have been visible to anyone passing by,” reads the report.

“On a probability, the money was carefully stored inside the sofa in such a manner that none would notice that there was money in the sofa. This means that the sofa would have been opened up underneath, and the money stored inside the frame of the sofa.” 

The report further says: 

Thereafter, the underneath cover would have had to be carefully replaced, otherwise, the money would fall out onto the floor. But why go through the process of turning the sofa upside down, opening it up, and stuffing the inside sofa to store money that was destined for the bank shortly? This was a leather sofa, one suspect said.

The panel said it was “uncommon” for that sum of money to be stored in a sofa for over 40 days without being banked.

“These questions must of course be viewed in light of the behaviour of Mr Hazim, who has left his buffaloes on the farm for over two and a half years.”

In the end, the panel concluded: 

There are weighty considerations which leave us in substantial doubt as to whether the stolen foreign currency is the proceeds of the sale.

The panel has found that the information it had received contained prima facie evidence that Ramaphosa may have committed a serious violation of the Constitution and the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Precca) as well as serious acts of misconduct “by acting in a way that is inconsistent with his office” and “exposing himself to a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business”.  

The report found that there was prima facie evidence of “a deliberate intention not to investigate the commission of the crimes committed at Phala Phala openly”.

The report pointed out that questions remained on the real source of the stolen money, the failure to report it to the police and requests by the SA police to the Namibian police to handle the matter “with discretion”.

“The president abused his position as head of state to have the matter investigated and sought the assistance of the Namibian president to apprehend a suspect. There was more foreign currency concealed in the sofa than the amount reflected in the acknowledgement of receipt. This raises the source of the additional currency,” the report added.

The ATM, EFF and the UDM had accused Ramaphosa of violating the Constitution and the Executive Ethics Act and Code by having business interests while he was a member of Cabinet.

Ramaphosa has maintained that he had not violated the law over the large sums of foreign currency kept at his farm as they were proceeds of game farming and that his business interests were no conflict of interest as he did not work for or receive remuneration from the business.

The panel found that there was prima facie evidence disclosing Ramaphosa’s violation of section 96 (2) (a) of the Constitution over his direct involvement in the running of Ntaba Nyoni, which operates Phala Phala.

“The fact that the president clears sale transactions, can instruct on how to manage cash sales and discuss potential buyers suggests strongly that he oversees operations in the business.”

The panel also found that Ramaphosa may be guilty of serious misconduct by violating the provisions of section 96(2)(b) over instructing Major-General Wally Rhoode to deal with the Phala Phala theft.

“Based on all the information placed before the panel, we think that the evidence presented to the panel establishes that the president thrust himself into a situation where there was a conflict of interest between his official responsibilities as the head of state and as businessperson involved in cattle and game farming; and acted in a manner that was inconsistent with his office,” the panel found.

 While Ramaphosa had indicated in his evidence before the panel that he had no personal knowledge of the theft at the farm and that this was the reason he had not lodged a formal complaint with the police, the Ngcobo report found that he was obliged to report the housebreaking and theft to the Hawks in terms of Precca as it was at his private residence and involved amounts in excess of R100 000.

“On the information presented to us, the housebreaking and theft of $580,000 were not reported to a police official in the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation as required by section 34(1). Nor was it reported to any SAPS station, as no case was opened or a docket registered for this offence. In our view, this information, prima facie, discloses that the president violated section 34(1) read with section 34(2) of Precca, the report said. 

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