OPINION: Clear and Present Danger – Ramaphosa, Bosasa and the Mkhwebane quandary

As we watch ANC reserve bank policy battles between Ramaphosa and his secretary general Ace Magashule unfold on Twitter – over the same SARB mandate extension issue – the mist seems to be vanishing before the sun, writes Kyle Cowan.

"The President was trapped – and with nearly every president, it had come about from his own words. Presidential promises and statements… The people had this annoying way of remembering them. And even if they didn't, there were journalists and political rivals never passed on chance to make the necessary reminders". Tom Clancy, Clear and Present Danger. 

It is now just a matter of days before Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane releases her final report on President Cyril Ramaphosa's fateful words in the National Assembly over his son Andile's business ties with Bosasa.

Taking into consideration her recent findings against one of Ramaphosa's key men, Pravin Gordhan, over issues she had questionable jurisdiction over, Mkhwebane represents arguably the biggest threat to Ramaphosa's presidency when this is coupled with rumours she has issued Ramaphosa with a notice indicating an adverse finding against him.

We cannot be too quick to forget that former president Jacob Zuma's fate was, predominantly, sealed by the previous Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. We also cannot forget Mkhwebane's infamous dip in the pool of economics, when she recommended a change to the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) on her report on the ABSA/Bankorp issue, seemingly plucked from thin air.

Now, as we watch ANC reserve bank policy battles between Ramaphosa and his secretary general Ace Magashule unfold on Twitter – over the same SARB mandate extension issue – the mist seems to be vanishing before the sun.

Then there are Mkhwebane's questionable links to the State Security Agency (SSA), the spooks who were according to the Mufamadi panel report, repurposed by Zuma to fight factional political battles. The battle lines are becoming increasingly clear, even if the motivations are not pinned down with certainty.

Mkhwebane's report into the ABSA issue was struck down by High Court Judge Cynthia Pretorius.

"In the matter before us it transpired that the public protector does not fully understand her constitutional duty to be impartial and to perform her functions without fear, favour or prejudice," Pretorius' judgment reads.

As News24's editor for in-depth news and political scribe Pieter du Toit wrote shortly after, Mkhwebane's conduct is "at best incompetent and negligent, and at worst calculating and devious".

Against this backdrop, enter the Ramaphosa/Bosasa debacle. Here's the lowdown.

In November 2018 during a question and answer session in the National Assembly, DA leader Mmusi Maimane confronted Ramaphosa with a signed affidavit by Peet Venter, a former auditor of now well-known and corruption-accused facilities management company, Bosasa.

Venter alleges in the affidavit he paid R500 000 to the "Andile Ramaphosa Foundation" on instruction of Bosasa CEO, Gavin Watson in October 2017.

He even provides the proof of payment.

Ramaphosa responded that he was made aware of this issue, and had questioned his son Andile "at close range" over the contract he had with Bosasa.

That same afternoon, Andile Ramaphosa told News24 he has never seen a cent of the R500 000, revealing crucially, that his father had responded incorrectly to the National Assembly. 

Turns out, Ramaphosa had the wrong end of the stick. Days later, after News24 discovered the true owner of the bank account on the proof of payment (Sandton law firm, Edelstein Farber Grobler) and sending questions to the law firm in question, Ramaphosa sent a letter to the speaker of Parliament, correcting his oral reply.

He explained, he got it wrong. The R500 000 in question was never for his son, but a donation towards his CR17 ANC presidential campaign. The EFG account was used to house his campaign donations, and he had only become aware of this when his campaign managers pointed this out to him.  

This entire saga sparked a complaint by the DA to the Public Protector, who was asked to probe whether Ramaphosa wilfully misled Parliament.

Later, News24 discovered, largely, the truth about Andile Ramphosa's dealings with Bosasa, during which he earned R2m in consultation fees for unlocking projects for Bosasa in West Africa.

If his son was found to be involved in any corrupt deal, Ramaphosa famously told the National Assembly, he would march Andile down to the police station, or jail, himself.

The words spoken by Ramaphosa that day may yet prove fateful.

It is highly conceivable, and in fact probable, that Mkhwebane will find against Ramaphosa, particularly if she managed to obtain unseen evidence about the relationship between Ramaphosa Jr and Bosasa and what the president knew when he responded to Maimane.

It is particularly hard, I am told, to prove knowledge and intent on the part of Ramaphosa. Did he know the truth about the affidavit brandished by Maimane that day?

Only the president knows for sure. What we can safely say now, is an adverse finding against Ramaphosa will give the Magashules and the Zumas of the ANC a big stick to beat the 'new dawn' faction into a corner.

Will Magashule's skeletons, that are tumbling from the closet, cause his tenure as secretary general to be short lived, or will he outwit Ramaphosa with a little help from Mkhwebane?

Nothing is certain but this – there will be blood on the floor before it is all over. 

- Cowan is an investigative journalist at News24.

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