Adriaan Basson: Connecting the dots of the Zupta fightback

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule addresses journalists.  Photo: Jabu Kumalo
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule addresses journalists. Photo: Jabu Kumalo

The actors enabling Jacob Zuma and the Guptas to have their way are desperate to divert attention away from their own sins to whatever mud they can throw at Cyril Ramaphosa, writes Adriaan Basson.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the EFF, two controversial Sunday Independent journalists and a sophisticated social media bot campaign are the main actors at the heart of the Zuma faction's fightback against the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency.

Although it is still unclear at this point whether the fightback campaign is orchestrated, centrally driven or linked to current or former intelligence operatives, events of the past two months have shown an intensity in targeting Ramaphosa and his public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan.

There has rarely been a week during which Ramaphosa and/or Gordhan has not been publicly attacked by one or more of these actors. The background to this is the intensity with which Advocate Shamila Batohi, the national director of public prosecutions, is assembling a strategy and team to arrest and prosecute the biggest benefactors of the Zupta era's state capture.

At this stage, it seems that the Zuma fightback squad has been faster out of the blocks than Batohi, who has had to make peace with the fact that she was handed a limping NPA. Batohi had to apply Dettol and band-aid to people and systems to recover quickly from a lost decade of political interference in the work of the NPA.

She is down two deputies with the early retirement of Advocate Silas Ramaite over the weekend and needs to strengthen the team around her expeditiously to make up lost ground.

What is she up against?

It is estimated that South Africa lost more than R100bn during the reign of Zuma and his friends, the Guptas. Through a litany of dubious transactions and political machinations, billions were siphoned off state-owned enterprises like Transnet, Eskom and Denel.

No wonder the latter can no longer pay its staff's salaries.

The actors enabling Zuma and the Guptas to have their way – from Brian Molefe to Matshela Koko, Ben Ngubane, Anoj Singh, Malusi Gigaba, Dan Mantsha and Salim Essa – are desperate to divert attention away from their own sins to whatever mud they can throw at Ramaphosa.

They'd much rather have us talking about Gavin Watson's R500 000 donation to the CR17 campaign for many more months than putting the focus back on where it was before Ramaphosa took over (and the EFF still supported the Zuma-must-go movement).

This is where it becomes murky. Because nobody can legitimately argue that Mkhwebane's focus on Watson's donation to Rampahosa's campaign doesn't justify a legitimate investigation by the Public Protector.

It ultimately comes down to a question of priorities. There is a reason that Mkhwebane chose to focus much more of her time and energy on the Gordhan and Ramaphosa investigations, flawed as they may be, than the Estina probe that implicates ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Her role is ultimately to protect the public against rogue state organs, not the accounting of private political candidate campaigns.

Magashule is firmly in the Zuma faction and his role in Free State capture as former premier deserves Bosasa-like scrutiny from Mkhwebane and her office (remember that his sons were employed by the Guptas; he assisted the family in "legitimising" the landing of a private jet at Waterkloof; he approved the Estina project and directed millions of the province's advertising spend to the Guptas' New Age newspaper).

Which brings me to the Sunday Independent, the anti-Ramaphosa faction's favourite leaking ground. After their careers came to a crash with the Sunday Times' mea culpa over multiple wrong stories about what they dubbed the "Sars rogue unit", journalists Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Piet Rampedi have reinvented themselves as frontpage writers of the Iqbal Survé-owned Sunday Independent.

Coincidentally, Survé hired them around the same time as he realised that the Mpati Commission into the Public Investment Corporation was not going to be kind to him or his businesses.

Week-after-week, Wa Afrika and Rampedi are fed bank statements, emails and inside information about Mkhwebane's investigations into the president. Of course, there is nothing wrong about publishing these details if they are in the public interest – I would have done the same (and have published some of the emails on News24).

But context matters and the two gentlemen in question have to this day refused to accept responsibility for their anti-Sars stories that contributed significantly to the breaking-down of the taxman's investigative capacity. Rampedi uses his Twitter account to denigrate other journalists who don't agree with his world views and calls them a "cabal" (I am number 28 on his list).

What remains to be said about the EFF, that has flip-flopped more than a Russian acrobat at the prime of her career? They are firmly driving the anti-Ramaphosa, pro-Mkhwebane narrative on social media and in public for political gain.

It basically comes down to this: for as long as Batohi and her colleagues at the NPA don't make arrests, the fightback will continue unabated and Ramaphosa will increasingly look like a lame duck.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24 and author of the forthcoming book Blessed by Bosasa.

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