Was Ramaphosa's 'file' bigger than Zuma's?

I have a great interest in politics. Most of the time I even like it.

But the one thing I can’t stand is when politicians play games with the public. That goes for the media as well. Last week seems to have been a game playing week of epic proportions.

Two Sundays ago, after a failed late night court bid by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to stop him, editor of the Sunday Independent, Steven Motale published a front page story alleging that Ramaphosa had had a string of affairs.

In the article Motale promised more, lots more, to be revealed in the next few weeks.

Ramaphosa in response made a statement to the media and also gave an interview to the Sunday Times acknowledging that he had one affair, but denied the rest.

Three days later the deputy president, before answering questions in the National Assembly, made a surprise announcement.

He said: "I thought I should do something unprecedented and start off by addressing a matter which has embroiled me‚ matters that affect my personal life. I thought because I work with all you right across party lines‚ in many ways all of you are my colleagues‚ just to say that I will be addressing this matter in a day or two. This one does because I do need to take responsibility and be accountable. I have a sense that because we are all colleagues‚ much as this matter is a personal one‚ I should make this type of statement.”

This was clearly a clever move, to prevent opposition MPs from questioning him about his alleged infidelity during follow-up questions. It worked. There were no questions and Ramaphosa was not even heckled on the matter.

Of course quietly many people wondered why he would feel the need to make another statement if there was nothing new to reveal. And so we waited with bated breaths. Day one passed. Day two passed and then day three and four. But no statement. 

On the same day as Ramaphosa’s question time in Parliament, Motale wrote another piece on iol.co.za under the heading: “Here is the truth”.

In this lengthy piece he stated that he and a team of journalists had for months worked to verify the details around Ramaphosa’s alleged infidelities. 

He mentioned pictures, erotic videos and bank deposit slips. He also claimed that since the stories were published more women had come forward.

He then went on to explain how Ramaphosa tried to stop the story from being published claiming amongst other things that he had called Iqbal Survé (owner of the Sunday Independent) numerous times.

Motale wrote: “Dr Survé did indeed call me – to make it clear that he would never interfere with my editorial independence”, something he claimed Survé conveyed to Ramaphosa.

He ended his piece by saying: “… irrespective of how the deputy president tries to sidestep the truth and avoid responsibility for his actions, irrespective of the scorn heaped on me by our competitors and irrespective of the death threats that I am facing and may face in future, nothing will deter me from revealing the truth.”

And so we waited for the paper to appear on Sunday.

Except, there were no new revelations. Nothing. In fact, the front page had a story under the title: “Ramaphosa unshaken: Dirty tricks won’t halt march to higher office.”

Excuse my French, but WTF???

I don’t believe for a minute that Motale would be running scared of legal action. He knows that it is extremely unlikely that a politician would take the paper to court for defamation on such a story unless they have reason to believe that the paper had malicious intentions.

Motale also assured us that his boss, Survé, did not interfere editorially and that no amount of pressure from Ramaphosa would sway Survé to stop the stories. In any case, Survé was always rumoured to be closer to the Zuma camp, so would presumably be more inclined to respond to a call from the president than from Ramaphosa.

In the meantime Ramaphosa has still not issued a statement, which raises all kinds of questions. For example: Did he decide that it wasn’t necessary anymore? If so, what had changed? And is that perhaps linked to the silence of the Sunday Independent?

Is it possible that Ramaphosa had secured a stalemate for now, by convincing the Zuma side that he also has a “file” and that his was as big, if not bigger, than Zuma’s file on him?

Could that perhaps be why the Independent was convinced not to print more stories? And if so, by whom?

With more skeletons in the ANC than America during Halloween it is totally possible, but my guess is we will never know exactly what happened last week.

What we do know is that President Zuma made his next move in the political chess game by bringing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma into Parliament and presumably Cabinet. By doing so her campaign will undoubtedly get a welcome profile boost as well as an indirect injection of state resources.

The former marriage partners were also hard at work over the weekend in the Western Cape, trying to divide another province aligned to Ramaphosa with speeches about unity.

Ramaphosa might have survived this round, but clearly the Zuma battle plan continues steadily.

One can only wonder what the next move will be. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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