Ramaphosa faces fightback from detractors over 'targeted' SOE execs

Suspended and fired executives of state-owned enterprises and their allies are bracing for warfare with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who they accuse of using state machinery to fight political battles.

The coordinated plan to fight back revolves around those who are linked to powerful current and former leaders of major state entities, Matshela Koko and Brian Molefe of Eskom, Tom Moyane of the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and Siyabonga Gama of Transnet, all of whom have been described by allies as faces of “black excellence” in management.

The plan is to expose the state’s alleged foul play in state capture probes that are part of Ramaphosa’s efforts to claw back billions in public funds allegedly looted when former president Jacob Zuma was in power.

The judicial commission of inquiry into state capture led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo starts tomorrow in Johannesburg. The inquiry seeks to establish how the Gupta family, Zuma’s benefactors, were enabled to loot the state.

Ramaphosa’s detractors have described Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan as the current administration’s “hitman”. An unsigned document that was circulated this week accused the minister of a “selective drive” to oust Gama from Transnet using the state-owned enterprise’s board chair Popo Molefe as a proxy.

“We urge President Ramaphosa to rein in this super prime minister,” wrote the unidentified authors.

Other fronts of the battle involve legal warfare, where each of the “targeted” would exhaust any means of litigation available to push Ramaphosa back, as well as lobby to win the support of sympathetic ANC branches. The part of the plan involving the ANC would culminate in a challenge against Ramaphosa’s authority in the party at its next national general council.

Koko threw the first punch this week in an article published in the Daily Maverick in which he accused the state of sliding into “McCarthyism”, referring to the role of the late US senator Joseph McCarthy, who conducted a witch-hunt for suspected communists.

Koko, who was out of the country, told City Press he had “no doubt that some of us have been targeted”.

“I meant it when I talked about the McCarthyists in our midst. If there is a prima facie case against me, then, by all means, let the law take its course without prejudice,” he said.

“What is happening here is that some of us are put aside in the name of fighting corruption, and nothing else happens after that. In my case, it is about the renewable energy independent power producer programme and the end state of the electricity supply industry. The personalities that are involved know it,” he said.

Gama said “the time for me to comment on these matters has not yet come”, and denied knowledge of the circulated document accusing Gordhan of plotting against him.

City Press has copies of letters Gama wrote to Molefe this month, including one on Thursday that said “selected and untested negative info” was leaked to the media to tarnish his name.

Gama said information came from incomplete Transnet probes into the locomotives tender and the intention was to deliberately subject him to “a court of public opinion to pass judgement”. Indications were also that Gama’s letter was preparing grounds for a tussle in the Labour Court.

Gama, Transnet Engineering chief executive Thamsanqa Jiyane and Transnet executive manager Lindiwe Mdletshe were given until the end of business tomorrow to put their cases to the board on why they should not be placed on suspension pending further probes. Gama wrote that, in one meeting, he was accused by one of the board members of having presided over fraud, corruption and malfeasance at Transnet.

“The statement undoubtedly created the impression that I was an accomplice to and an enabler of corruption,” he said.

Gama warned the board not to take action based on an “incomplete investigation; this will ensure that the Transnet balance sheet is not unduly exposed to damage claims occasioned by a Transnet-commissioned report that misses key issues”.

However, Molefe justified his action against Gama, Jiyane and Mdletshe, citing probes by Werksmans Attorneys, Mncedisi Ndlovu & Sedumedi Attorneys and Fundudzi Forensic Investigators, who uncovered acts of possible misconduct against the three.

“The Transnet board contemplates placing the employees on precautionary suspension until the finalisation of the further investigations and disciplinary enquiries,” Molefe said.

The contents of the letters shared similarities with the circulated document. The document stated that Gordhan’s plan was to oust Gama before Transnet’s results this week so that he and the board could “take the limelight [and] steal the thunder”. Former Sars official Edward Kieswetter was mooted as Gama’s possible replacement.

The authors said that “a Sars clique” was re-establishing itself at Transnet: “The desire for justice, reparation and clean governance is not the sole mission of Gordhan, thus this fellow cannot usurp unto himself the holier-than-thou attitude or a supremacist posture in the anti-corruption fight.”

When called for comment, Moyane said he was “in a meeting”, while Molefe did not respond to calls or messages.

Gordhan told City Press it was time the country took “a firm public stand against corruption”. He said allegations against him were “a clear but desperate campaign by many implicated individuals to cause public confusion, and to discredit a bona fide legal process through which they have to account for their respective roles in corrupting and destroying the capabilities of a number of state institutions”. He said that the state entities affected by corruption were critical for the economy.

“We make no apology for doing what is in the best interests of the country, and we must openly challenge whoever wrote these documents and ‘dossiers’ to come out and put their names to this ‘fightback’ campaign and to disclose in whose interests they act.”

ANC national executive committee member Zizi Kodwa has defended Ramaphosa, saying the fight against corruption, including state capture, was an ANC resolution and not just one made by the president. Corruption was “the enemy of the revolution”, Kodwa said.

He said that all “deployed cadres” of the ANC, including ministers, had a duty to fight corruption in pursuit of this resolution. He said Ramaphosa had “a constitutional obligation to protect the state against any form of maladministration, in impropriety and corruption”.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said it was “the norm that people facing allegations of wrongdoing will look for scapegoats”.

“Anyone who alleges misuse of state machinery by the president or anyone must raise those with our law enforcement agencies as no one is above the law,” Diko said.

A chief lieutenant in the Zuma camp told City Press that the midterm national general council, which is scheduled for the middle of 2020, could be brought forward if two-thirds of the ANC’s branches called for it.

“All we need is the majority of branches in KwaZulu-Natal, and a few here and there in smaller provinces,” said the insider, adding that this was an option available outside of the more tedious approach of getting five ANC provinces to support the lobby.

The person said that Ramaphosa used every opportunity available to speak against corruption, “but not once have you heard him speak against the use of state machinery to fight political battles”.

KwaZulu-Natal is Zuma’s home province and the biggest in the ANC in terms of membership. The new KwaZulu-Natal ANC leadership’s call for the party to review its stance against public support for Zuma in his trial has been seen as confirmation that they are still sympathetic towards him.

In Limpopo, the provincial ANC expected Ramaphosa to back its plans to save embattled VBS Mutual Bank or lose its support, while those in the Eastern Cape have complained that the president was no longer “accessible”.

A Zuma sympathiser said that Ramaphosa could learn something from Zuma in that “he allowed government to run itself and made sure that he did not lose control of the ANC”.

“Gordhan would become to Ramaphosa what the Guptas were to Zuma if he was not careful,” said the person.

But those backing Ramaphosa said that he had done well to consolidate his power in the top six, isolating Zuma allies ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and his deputy, Jessie Duarte.

The leader said that Ramaphosa’s backers had also won two conferences in the space of a month, citing the examples of the composition of Gauteng and Limpopo ANC structures.

A Zuma ally said he was not aware of the retaliation plan.