Ramaphosa has a Mabuza problem and he needs to deal with it fast

The top 6 leadership of the ANC celebrate their election at Nasrec in December 2017.
The top 6 leadership of the ANC celebrate their election at Nasrec in December 2017.

President Cyril Ramaphosa cannot win the fight against corruption and state capture with an alleged criminal as his deputy, writes Adriaan Basson.

Imagine the following: it is 2021 and Deputy President David Mabuza is appearing on charges of corruption and conspiracy to murder in the Mpumalanga High Court in Mbombela.

Outside court, a sea of supporters is singing songs in his defence, holding up placards that claim he is the victim of a conspiracy to prevent him from becoming ANC president in 2022, denouncing the National Prosecuting Authority and Advocate Shamila Batohi for playing politics.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

President Cyril Ramaphosa has a Mabuza problem and he knows it. He cannot ignore it in the hope that the problem will go away. And he cannot afford to let Mabuza manage the problem.

To recap: Mabuza was a staunch supporter of former president Jacob Zuma during his term as Mpumalanga premier. He ruled the province with an iron fist and became part of a powerful grouping in the ANC called the "premier league" who wanted to take charge of the post-Zuma era.

The "premier league" was made up chiefly of Mabuza, then North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and Ace Magashule, then Free State premier – all dyed-in-the-wool Zuma supporters. The group was later loosely joined by Paul Mashatile, the former Gauteng premier with major ambitions of becoming a future president.

The "premier league" supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign to succeed Zuma at Nasrec in December 2017, but Mabuza set himself up as kingmaker by endorsing a candidate called "unity" until the conference. At the last minute, he cut a deal with Ramaphosa's lobbyists and "betrayed" the Zuma faction.

Mabuza was elected as Ramaphosa's deputy and became deputy president of the country in February 2018.

Last week, Mabuza snubbed Ramaphosa and refused to be sworn in as a member of Parliament unless his name is cleared by the ANC's integrity committee. This threw a spanner in the works of Ramaphosa's announcement of his new Cabinet, which he apparently wanted to do after his inauguration.

The integrity committee is a key part of Ramaphosa's attempts to clean the ANC of the rot that set in on Zuma's watch. The committee has identified over 20 ANC members who are deemed unfit to hold public office.

Their names have never been published formally, but media reports have identified Mabuza, alongside Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane, Bathabile Dlamini and Gwede Mantashe as some of the high-profile ANC leaders "blacklisted" by the integrity committee.

Some media reports indicated that Mabuza made representations to the committee on Friday night and was "cleared" by them. If this is indeed the case, the integrity committee's report is not worth the paper it was written on.

There is absolutely no way that Mabuza could have "cleared" his name through one presentation.

It is unclear what criteria the committee used to identify tainted ANC leaders, but if they were identifying ANC members publicly implicated in allegations of crime or wrongdoing, they were absolutely correct to highlight Mabuza.

As MEC and premier in Mpumalanga, Mabuza was implicated in a litany of crimes, including conspiracy to murder, corruption, money-laundering and fraud linked to tenders in the education and agriculture departments and for the building of the 2010 Soccer World Cup stadium in Mbombela.

This is all in the public record and Ramaphosa knew about this before making a deal and appointing him as his deputy.

Yes, Mabuza has never been criminally charged for any of these offences, but that doesn't mean the allegations don't exist and it certainly doesn't mean the ANC's integrity committee can "clear" him.

During his inauguration speech, Ramaphosa again emphasised that he is committed to fighting corruption and state capture during his five-year tenure as president. He cannot be seen to cushion his deputy if he wants to succeed.

Neither Ramaphosa nor the ANC can "clear" Mabuza's name. The best they can hope for is that the NPA's new Investigative Directorate will probe the claims against Mabuza and establish whether he has an answerable case or not.

The only other option available to Ramaphosa is to emulate Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and subject himself and his Cabinet to lifestyle audits before they assume office.

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