Phala Phala saga: Ramaphosa told ANC integrity commission he was gagged

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President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa
PHOTO: Elizabeth Sejake
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa refused to give any information on his Phala Phala dealings to the ANC integrity commission. 
  • The commission found that the scandal had brought the ANC into disrepute, but they were undecided on a sanction.
  • The ANC's national executive committee is expected to hear a heated debate on the matter in a meeting that starts on Friday. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa refused to divulge any information to the ANC's integrity commission (IC) about his Phala Phala dealings, citing a gag order by acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka.

This emerged in a draft ANC integrity commission report, which contained a finding that the scandal engulfing the president had brought the party into disrepute. However, News24 understands that members of the commission have been deadlocked about the sanction he should face.

The commission is due to update the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) at a meeting that starts on Friday, and the matter is expected to be fiercely debated.

The commission, led by ANC veteran George Mashamba, met on Wednesday and agreed to order Ramaphosa to take the NEC and the public into his confidence about the allegations of impropriety related to dealings at his Phala Phala farm.

Insiders noted that the commission did not reach a consensus on a proposal that the president should be suspended or step aside, given the accusations he faces.

They are expected to present a progress report to the NEC.

"The IC finds that while the Phala Phala incident and events around it have definitely brought the ANC into disrepute, at this stage, it is not possible to determine individuals' responsibilities in bringing the ANC into disrepute. The IC, therefore, recommends that the president takes the NEC into his confidence and the NEC takes the people of South Africa into its confidence, on a matter which has brought the ANC into disrepute," the leaked draft report reads.

READ: ANALYSIS | Phala Phala: Three investigations, very few facts, and a president under pressure

Ramaphosa's refusal to discuss the matter both inside the ANC and publicly is expected to come into sharp focus at the NEC meeting this weekend. 

Party leaders opposed to Ramaphosa have said they will insist that he be made to step aside, given the accusations he faces. "As long as he is not saying anything, we will have to assume that he is guilty," a known Ramaphosa opponent said. 

However, Ramaphosa's allies conceded that his refusal to shed any light on the matter made it difficult for his supporters to defend him in the NEC meeting. 

"It's going to be tough. Those contesting him are going for blood. His posture can't be defended," an NEC member said. 

ANC NEC member Nomvula Mokonyane said on Friday that she expected the meeting to be heated. 

Ramaphosa first appeared before the integrity commission in July after former spy boss Arthur Fraser opened a criminal case against him for allegedly being part of an effort to conceal the theft of millions of US dollars from his Phala Phala farm in February 2020. 

The president is the subject of a Hawks investigation, a probe by the South African Reserve Bank, a Public Protector probe, and an investigation by an independent panel appointed by Parliament on whether there is a case for him to answer to.

"He explained that he had every intention of fully engaging with the IC on this issue but the day before the engagement, the Acting Public Protector (APP) had issued an injunction advising him not to talk to anyone on the issue. He reported that he was therefore in a 'quandary' because he was unable to now discuss the issue. Since no engagement took place, the IC was unable to produce a report," the draft report reads. 

For two months after that, Ramaphosa had no further engagement with the commission. 

The commission noted that it was concerned about the continuing damaging effect that the Phala Phala issue was causing to the image of the ANC.

The draft report states:

The IC met with the president for the second time on 27 September 2022. The IC raised with Comrade President that it is acutely aware that the issue is not in any way resolved and is continuing to escalate. It is being used to damage the organisation, further fuelling the factionalised environment which in the view of the IC is paralysing the leadership and its promise of renewal.

Ramaphosa is said to have told the commission that his hands were tied because the acting Public Protector had told him not to talk about the matter publicly. 

"The IC did not ask any questions about the details of the case since the mandate of the IC is to consider disrepute brought to the organisation and not innocence or guilt of a person," the draft report reads.

Ramaphosa is subject to a probe by the Office of the Public Protector (OPP) on whether he breached the Executive Members' Ethics Act in his dealings around his farm. In terms of the rules pertaining to Public Protector investigations, a person may not divulge the answers given to the office in the course of their investigation. 

However, News24 understands the rules did not bar the president from speaking about Phala Phala at all.

Comment from the Office of the Public Protector will be added once received. 

News24 reported that Ramaphosa told the Public Protector that a businessman named Hazim Mustafa had delivered $580 000 in cash to Phala Phala on 25 December 2019 for buffalo.

Ramaphosa said that he had instructed an employee to remove the cash from a safe inside the main administration building on the farm, and the cash was stashed under a sofa cushion in his private residence on the farm. 

The president has since been accused of money laundering, and the source of the US dollars is subject to several probes.

Publicly, the president has denied any wrongdoing but has not shed light on the matter.

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