Ramaphosa increasingly isolated – a month after his inauguration

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address on June 20, 2019, in Cape Town. (Jeffrey Abrahams/GALLO)
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address on June 20, 2019, in Cape Town. (Jeffrey Abrahams/GALLO)

If the Public Protector's suspicions of criminality turn out to be true, Ramaphosa should be recalled and charged. If she wrongly accused the president of money-laundering, she should be out of a job, writes Adriaan Basson.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has had a bad week and seems increasingly isolated in the ANC, barely a month after his inauguration as state president.

His State of the Nation Address (SONA) was widely condemned as vague and dreamy; some of his biggest enemies and Jacob Zuma loyalists made a spectacular return as parliamentary chairs; his plans to restructure and downsize Eskom have seemingly been rejected by Cabinet, and the Public Protector thinks he is a crook.

Ramaphosa is entering a very dark hour and his defenders are few and far between.

Public Protector Busisiswe Mkhwebane has thrown down the gauntlet with her office's latest leak to the media about alleged questionable money flows between three Ramaphosa-linked bank accounts.

As part of her investigation into the R500 000 campaign donation received by the CR17 campaign from Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson, Mkhwebane has requested further sets of bank statements that, according to the lead story in the Sunday Times, has led her to investigate money-laundering against the president.

Without detailing its sourcing, the newspaper reported authoritatively that Mkhwebane is questioning transactions of more than R400m flowing between the CR17 account, the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and a business linked to the president.

Ramaphosa has until Friday to respond to Mkhwebane's preliminary report. Late on Sunday evening, his campaign managers rubbished the money-laundering report as "bizarre".

One thing is clear: either Ramaphosa or Mkhwebane will not survive this open war. If the Public Protector's suspicions of criminality turn out to be true, Ramaphosa should be recalled and charged. If she wrongly accused the head of state of money-laundering, Mkhwebane will have to beg the State Security Agency to take her back as an analyst.

There are so many questions about Mkhwebane's spurt of exuberance about the Ramaphosa matter. The entire exercise of drawing years of bank statement reeks of a fishing expedition. Is she even legally entitled to investigate private transactions that don't involve government money? Why didn't she apply the same level of scrutiny in the Estina matter? And will she now also investigate the campaign funding of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, including donations from self-confessed cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti?

None of these questions about Mkhwebane's conduct should detract from the possibility that criminality took place in the CR17 campaign and Mkhwebane's preliminary report should be enough to trigger a probe by the Hawks or the NPA's new investigative directorate. A thorough investigation is the only way for Ramaphosa to clear his name.

Politically, Ramaphosa stands exposed. There was no ANC statement on Sunday defending his integrity in the face of a barrage of accusations against him. The party has been very vocal when claims were made against its secretary-general Ace Magashule and other leaders.

But on Sunday Luthuli House was shtum. Which makes one wonder whether Ramaphosa's support in his party has diminished to a point where nobody is willing to publicly back him on these claims?

City Press reported that Magashule used the allegations against Ramaphosa and his supporters, most probably ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe who received security upgrades from Bosasa, to defend his appointment of rogues like Faith Muthambi, Bongani Bongo and Mosebenzi Zwane as parliamentary committee chairs.

Mkhwebane's moves are manna from heaven for Magashule, who is looking for any mud against Ramaphosa and his allies to undermine the president's moral appeal.

Rapport had a detailed lead story about how Ramaphosa is losing the battle in Cabinet to split Eskom into three stand-alone businesses with fewer staff. No wonder the president was super vague during the SONA about his February announcement on this.

The fightback came from the unions, that insist that no jobs are lost in restructuring Eskom. Cosatu was a major Ramaphosa backer going into the Nasrec conference, which may explain the president's reluctance to follow through on his original plan.

Instead of a smart city, Ramaphosa is in need of smart advisors, smart lawyers and smart supporters to survive the next few weeks.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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