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Ramaphosa’s take on Phala Phala is the elephant in the room at the ANC policy conference

Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele says the president is addressing concerns over the farm robbery by deferring to law enforcement

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams
Image: Jeffrey Abrahams

A culture of silence and half-baked accountability on allegations against President Cyril Ramaphosa in connection with the 2020 robbery at his private game farm has prevailed at the ANC’s national policy conference in Johannesburg this weekend.

Our assessment is that people love this president. He doesn’t want to do stupid things that make people regret. Because as you clear your name, you must also not be arrogant

“Our assessment is that people love this president. He doesn’t want to do stupid things that make people regret. Because as you clear your name, you must also not be arrogant,” said NEC member and minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele.

Ramaphosa has not yet given the ANC’s integrity commission his full response, despite presenting himself to the authority earlier this week. He has yet to proffer evidence to the ANC and law enforcement agencies that the stolen money was, indeed, the product of the sale of cattle stock, as he has asserted. He has insisted the sum stolen at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo in 2020 was far less than the alleged $4m (R65.9m).

The ANC’s treasurer general and acting secretary-general, Paul Mashatile, bought Ramaphosa some time. During a media briefing on Saturday from the conference venue at Nasrec, south of Johannesburg, he said the internal process was incomplete and feedback was pending.

“We agreed the president was going to appear before the integrity commission. He went there voluntarily, they have not completed their discussions. Once they are, we will get a report,” Mashatile said.

“There are things that are worth their waiting. History will be the judge,” said Gungubele.

“I’ve publicly called for the president to step aside on the Phala Phala issue,” said NEC member Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who was previously mineral resources minister.

It was dead silence. No-one has ever said a thing to me about it, including today. You can even hear a pin drop here

Interestingly, the position provoked little response from his peers, including at the policy conference which Ramaphosa promised during an opening address on Friday would be a festival of ideas geared at the ANC’s renewal. 

“It was dead silence. No-one has ever said a thing to me about it, including today. You can even hear a pin drop here. No-one support[s], no-one oppose[s]. It’s all quiet,” Ramatlhodi said at the conference on Saturday.

Gungubele, who is Ramaphosa’s right-hand man in government, told Business Day he had not discussed the scandal with the president. He asserted there was no need, since the leader’s integrity was — in his view — beyond reproach.

“I have not asked the president’s view on the matter [...] I didn’t have to ask him, because he has explained,” he said. According to Gungubele, Ramaphosa “has always been ready to submit to law enforcement agencies.”

Ramatlhodi argued the integrity commission was unduly limited, since ultimate authority lay with the NEC. He thought it should be the ANC’s “stand-alone and final authority” on integrity, but the NEC judged its own members instead. 

“It doesn’t make sense that you have an integrity commission which can’t pronounce on its findings, other than through the NEC,” said Ramatlhodi.

Speaking almost two months since the scandal came to light, Gungubele perceived risks should Ramaphosa too hastily reply to questions on the Phala Phala issue.

“Your boldness can incriminate you if you have not checked what exactly is happening. You can be asked questions, through entrapments, through a cobweb, through a network,” he said.

Two months ago details emerged of the 2020 robbery of a large sum of US dollars from Ramaphosa’s private game farm, Phala Phala, in Limpopo. A gang of thieves allegedly conspired with Ramaphosa’s housekeeper and fled SA for Namibia with the loot.

In June, former spy boss Arthur Fraser opened a criminal case against the president, accusing him of offences including money laundering and an unlawful cover-up. Fraser insisted he was acting in the interests of justice, but sceptics have harboured doubts. 

Fraser, a former director-general of state security, provided police with a statement and evidence including photographs two years after the robbery, and some six months before the ANC’s elective conference.

In certain quarters, including among Ramaphosa’s allies, Fraser is viewed as a deeply factional actor suspected of peddling sensitive intel to the political advantage of former president Jacob Zuma and his associates. 

Ramaphosa told an ANC delegation in Limpopo that he was robbed of far less foreign currency than the $4m to $8m Fraser has claimed. He said at the provincial conference after news of the crime emerged he had not stolen from anyone.

Ramaphosa gave his undertaking to fully co-operate with the authorities. On July 22, he sent a response to 31 questions the public protector posed about the incident.

“The fact that people are concerned is not unusual, especially about the president. Right? So, we’re not unhappy. The reason that the president is submitting with law enforcement is a method he has chosen to deal with those concerns,” said Gungubele.

The Hawks, whom police minister Bheki Cele said were seized with the matter from early June, have given no indications of major progress on the matter. Last month, Fraser issued a statement reporting a meeting with the Hawks on June 15.


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