If South Africa’s President Ramaphosa resigns over this robbery case, ANC will be in trouble


If South Africa’s President Ramaphosa resigns  over this robbery case, ANC will be in trouble

By Stephen Grootes, political analyst and an award-winning journalist. 

With more information becoming public about how a large quantity of cash (US$) was stolen in early February 2020 from South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s game farm in Limpopo – and his failure to report this to the public – it is realistically possible that this could weaken him in a critical way and, in the process, significantly alter the course of our democracy.

It is the worst public image crisis since Ramaphosa returned to formal politics as deputy leader of the ANC in 2012.

Unless this is handled correctly, it can potentially derail his stated ANC renewal agenda, with serious repercussions for the ruling party’s prospects of retaining power after the 2024 national elections.

It should also not be forgotten that the first public source of these claims, the former head of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser is, to put it bluntly, not a man who can be trusted.

Fraser faces serious allegations and there is zero doubt he is stoking this fire solely for his political agenda of helping the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction return to full control of the ANC and thus, South Africa, especially its security cluster.

Any claim that Fraser is doing this for the good of the country can be safely ignored. But Fraser is not the only source of these claims.

A report by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism strongly suggests Ramaphosa may have a serious case to answer, and that it could damage both him and the ANC.

Last week, the presidency confirmed Fraser’s claim that foreign currency had been stolen from the president’s farm.

Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya denied that the amount was US$4 million, saying it was an exaggeration.

Fraser appears to state that US dollars were kept in a couch, that it was stolen by four Namibian nationals – one of whom was in a relationship with a domestic worker on the farm – and a single South African citizen.

Fraser claims that people assigned to fix the problem, some of them crime intelligence members controlled by Ramaphosa’s head of security detail, major general Wally Rhoode, eventually found the people who stole the money, and interrogated them, presumably illegally.

He further claims Ramaphosa even enlisted the help of Namibian president Hage Geingob after a suspect fled there.

Strangely, Fraser also claims Ramaphosa paid money to the thieves and the domestic worker, presumably to ensure that the entire affair was kept secret.

As is well known, evidence was presented to the Zondo Commission that Fraser committed criminal acts while running the State Security Agency (SSA).

The Zondo report on the SSA is likely to be published soon.

Fraser’s claims have not yet been interrogated in any public way.

However, amaBhungane’s set of facts published in Daily Maverick on Saturday, appears to bolster much of what Fraser has claimed.

They spoke to a separate source at Ramaphosa’s farm who appeared to confirm that a woman was kept in a room for two days, against her will, while being questioned by people who appeared to be police officers.

And that Namibian authorities actually became aware of this robbery first, and that journalists in that country were aware of someone with a large amount of cash from this theft from as early as June 2020.

They also report that Namibian authorities tried to pursue a request for assistance to discover what happened, but that South African authorities did not cooperate in any meaningful way.

In some ways, the most damaging aspect for Ramaphosa may be in some of these details. Is it true that US dollars were stashed in a couch, and why? Why was cash being kept on the farm in the first place? Was this revenue reported to SARS?

Another damaging detail is that Ramaphosa is not actually sure how much money was taken. It looks almost like a mafia movie, where cash is kept in furniture, where there is so much of it that it can be wasted, tossed away as if of no importance.

And, of course, there is the other issue, common to so many other political scandals – what did the president know, and when did he know it?

Politically, perhaps the real power of this issue lies in the fact that, up until now, an important aspect of Ramaphosa’s political power lay in the fact that he was the most popular politician in the country.

This popularity appeared to rest on perhaps two main elements; that he was not corrupt (or at least, not as corrupt as “the others”), and that there was “no one else” who could lead the country at this moment.

The perception that he was not corrupt was in a way his superpower: It gave him the moral authority to introduce changes to the ANC.

Perhaps even more importantly, it was this perception of Ramaphosa being “clean”, and his popularity, which meant his leadership was vital to the ANC as the ruling party is shedding support alarmingly fast.

The fact that the Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Limpopo provinces of the ANC have all stated their support for his second term as ANC leader strongly takes this into consideration.

In short, perhaps the major reason people in the ANC support Ramaphosa is because they need him to win elections.

Now that this superpower may have been penetrated, the kryptonite of these claims may well have a permanent effect.

Of course, Ramaphosa is aware of this. Presidential spokesperson Magwenya has started the response by asking why, if Fraser was part of the security cluster in 2020, did he not raise this with Ramaphosa then, but is only doing so now?

Of course, this points to the political motive. This may work against Fraser. But it won’t work against the amaBhungane report.

This entire issue also casts a light on the role of people in our intelligence services in politics. When Ramaphosa took over the presidency in 2018, he appointed Fraser as correctional services commissioner despite strong evidence in the public domain that he was corrupt.

In the Sunday Times, Makhudu Sefara has written an important piece about how presidents are often forced to “manage” spy bosses, and suggests this may also explain why David Mahlobo was retained as a deputy minister, despite his damaging role as state security minister during the Zuma era.

It is now guaranteed that Ramaphosa’s critics and opponents will line up to use this scandal-in-the-making against him.

The RET faction will claim he is not fit to be in the presidency, that he must “step aside”. There will be whispering campaigns and, possibly, a massive, energised and deliberate social media strategy to say he must go.

This will attack not just him, but his supporters and journalists perceived to be not critical enough of Ramaphosa; they will say anyone who criticised Zuma should now also demand Ramaphosa’s removal.

His supporters will argue that there is no other credible ANC leader, and that a big difference between Zuma and Ramaphosa is the people appointed to head institutions. That there can be no comparison between someone like Shamila Batohi and someone like Menzi Simelane at the NPA, or even between judge Raymond Zondo as chief justice and judge Mogoeng Mogoeng.

In the middle of all of this, truth has become a major casualty. It may become almost impossible to know what happened, and when. It will also weaken efforts to ensure our criminal justice system is actually independent.

However, while our criminal justice system and Ramaphosa may be important casualties in all of this, it may well turn out that the biggest loser will be the ANC.

Its claims to be in a process of “renewal”, or change, or reform, or “self-correction” are surely going to be dealt a massive blow.

If the ANC loses Ramaphosa, or if his image is seriously tarnished, it may well find it has no remaining leaders to be seen as credible by voters, come 2024.


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