OPINION | Busisiwe Mkhwebane called to fight in DA corner
The DA has made no secret of its deep suspicion of public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, with its members previously claiming she was a State Security Agency “spy”.
In June 2018 , the party said in a statement that “she is unable to act lawfully, she consistently acts without regard to procedural fairness and... her findings are patently unreasonable”.
But, as the DA continues to battle for Mkhwebane to be axed, it is now relying on her to investigate a matter that could have significant political fallout – whether President Cyril Ramaphosa lied to parliament about a R500,000 donation to his 2017 ANC leadership election campaign from Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson.
Bosasa changed its name to African Global Operation in 2017.
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said Ramaphosa met with Mkhwebane on Tuesday, to answer to a complaint “alleging that the president violated the Executive Ethics Code by deliberately misleading parliament and whether there is an improper relationship between the president and African Global Operations”.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has confirmed that he authored the complaint against Ramaphosa in November 2018, just months before Bosasa’s alleged massive web of corruption became the subject of the commission of inquiry into state capture.
In that complaint, Maimane lists facts that he claims reveal that there was “possibly an improper relationship” between Bosasa and Ramaphosa and his family.
“The reported capture of the state by members of the Gupta family and their associates and connected companies over the past few years have wrought enough damage on the economy of SA,” Maimane said. “We cannot allow another president to be thus captured and the true facts of this matter therefore need to be established with all due haste.”
In November 2018 , Maimane confronted Ramaphosa with documentation showing that an October 2017 payment of R500,000 was made from Watson’s personal account into the account of a Bosasa-linked company, and then into a trust account for Ramaphosa’s son Andile.
Ramaphosa had told parliament that his son ran a consultancy business, and had done work for Bosasa.
“I asked him at close range whether this money was obtained illegally or unlawfully,” Ramaphosa said at the time, adding that his son had then produced a contract between himself and Bosasa.
“He is running a clean business… if it turns out there was any irregularity or corruption I will be the first, I assure you Mr Maimane, I will be the first to make sure he becomes accountable. I will take him to the police station myself.”
Ten days later, Ramaphosa sent a letter to the speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, in which he sought to “correct” the answer he gave in parliament and admitted that the payment was actually a donation toward his ANC presidential campaign.
In further written replies to parliamentary questions, Ramaphosa said the donation was sought and obtained without his knowledge.
He further stressed that the donation had been made by Watson, and not Bosasa.
“I was not aware of the existence of the donation at the time that I answered the question in the National Assembly. Since I did not receive any donation from African Global Operations‚ no declaration was necessary‚” he said.
In his complaint to Mkhwebane, Maimane appears not to accept that Ramaphosa could have made a genuine mistake.
“The nature of the payment, passing through several intermediaries, does not accord with a straightforward donation and raises the suspicion of money laundering,” he states.
Maimane further claims that Bosasa denied ever having a contract with Andile Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa does, very evidently, have some questions to answer about the money given to his campaign by Watson, and why he was so adamant that it had been payment for legitimate business services provided by his son.
In an ideal scenario, these questions will be resolved by a clear and dispassionate investigation, and if Ramaphosa is indeed guilty of deliberately lying to parliament and being “captured” with a R500,000 payment, he will be held to account in a fair and legally sound process.
But South Africa is not a country defined by the ideal.
Instead, a public protector who is fighting a ruling that she abused her office in her discredited investigation into the Reserve Bank and who is facing multiple other legal challenges to the fairness and legality of her reports, including by former DA leader Helen Zille, has been asked by the party to get to the truth of Ramaphosa’s relationship with Bosasa.
The DA has previously branded Mkhwebane as “dancing to the tune” of former president Jacob Zuma, and consistently suggested that she was serving as a puppet for pro-Zuma interests. It has sought a personal costs order against her in its challenge to her report on the Gupta-linked Vrede Dairy Project, which the party slammed as a “whitewash”.
Despite all of this, and while fighting for Mkhwebane’s removal, the DA has tasked her with a potentially far-reaching investigation – one that could very well end up being used as a pivotal piece of ammunition against Ramaphosa.
At best, this is deeply naive. At worst, it manifests the kind of point-scoring political incoherence that may further alienate current and potential DA voters...