Tuesday 6 December 2022

Was Ramaphosa Set Up?

 The report by the Section 89 Independent Panel headed by retired judge Sandile Ngcobo raises more questions than it answers. 

The difference between the Arthur Fraser version and the Cyril Ramaphosa version is intriguing and hints at many possibilities. I explore one here: what if Ramaphosa was set up? Was it a dirty trick by the Zuma camp to entrap him? If so: should we feel sorry for him?


The Zuma camp certainly has motive. Ramaphosa is going after them, if a lot slower than some would like. SARS has had some of its capacity restored. Prosecutions out of the Zondo commission are starting, if at the speed of the Snail Olympics. And we must not forget the promise (or was it a threat?) from Zuma to dish out the dirt on others if he goes down.


How about means? The Zuma camp is deeply embedded in state security; while they undermined SARS, capturing intelligence services and SAPS were really their strength. They certainly could infiltrate the presidential household.


The question then arises as to how Fraser knew about the whole thing and why the details he furnished differed substantially from the Ramaphosa version, specifically the amount of money involved and how it got there. In the Fraser version, it was $4-million and was moved in a couch from Hyde Park by Bejani Chauke, a presidential advisor. In the Ramaphosa version, it was $580,000 lodged at his farm by a mysterious Sudanese visitor, Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim, on 25 December 2019, in payment for 20 buffalo that were apparently never delivered. The following day, Ramaphosa was informed and decided to keep the money on the farm since the general manager, a Mr Von Wielligh, was away. The person dealing with the transaction, Sylvester Ndlovu, was uncomfortable with leaving so much money in a safe accessible to others while he was on leave and therefore hid it in the couch.


On the face of it, both versions are improbable.


Why would someone choose to move $4-million in a couch? That amount of money in $100-bills would weigh about 40kg, which would add substantially to the weight of a couch. This amount of money takes up about 45 litres, so it would fit into a normal suitcase, though it would make the couch a unusually heavy to pick up. Given that the president travels with a blue-light security detail, all he would have to do to organize taking such funds to his farm would be to pack them in a couple of suitcases. Who is going to search the president’s luggage? A couch, on the other hand, that was suspiciously heavy, you would think would attract the attention of the presidential security team.


The Ramaphosa version is attacked by the report as lacking critical details to make it plausible. $580,000 – again, in $100 bills to make it wieldy – is a more plausible amount of money for one person to handle as it weighs less than 6kg and would fit into a shopping bag. It is however odd, as the Ngcobo report points out, that someone would go shopping for something so expensive on a public holiday when most people are on leave. And pay for a purchase and not ensure it was delivered.


This is now where proper investigative skills and evidence-gathering need to be applied. I am not the police or SIU, so I can only offer a possible explanation. I emphasize that this is only speculation and I have no evidence of my own.


If the plan was to set Ramaphosa up, it makes perfect sense that someone would show up at his farm when major decision-makers were on leave with a large sum of foreign currency to set up a scandal. A possibly fake Sudanese identity would fit this scenario and is a whole lot more plausible than shifting a large sum of money all the way from Hyde Park in a couch. This is where things start to get murky. Why would Fraser allege that the amount was $4-million when it was actually $580,000? Why would Ramaphosa admit to the smaller amount only, when the larger amount would possibly turn up later? The most plausible explanation is that Fraser set up the whole thing with $4-million and some minion stole the balance, leaving a much smaller but still potentially embarrassing amount at Phala Phala.


I will not speculate on further details: this merely sets the scene for a more detailed investigation. However, if Rapamaphosa was indeed set up, should we feel sorry for him? On his own version, he knew about a potentially dodgy amount of $580,000 on 26 December 2019, yet he took no steps as far as we know to investigate who Hazim was, or how the money came to arrive at his farm. The subsequent alleged theft only builds on these inexplicable details. If a large sum of money crosses any high official or political leader’s path without a clear explanation, the best option is to dump it immediately on law enforcement and keep out of the way. Why did Ramaphosa not do that?


In the end, this could turn out for Ramaphosa to be something akin to a painful ingrown toenail, something that hurts him but no one else. Compared with the metastatic cancer of state capture that hurts everyone but the corrupt beneficiaries, it is a relatively minor lapse. But it does point to a sloppy attitude to personal finance at best, and willingness to accept funds from dodgy sources at worst.


If South Africa is to truly escape the costs of criminalization of government we need to hold everyone in public office to high standards.


Ramaphosa has serious questions to answer. But so does the Zuma camp. South Africa as a nation deserves better. We are not going to get there by taking sides. We need answers from everyone involved and a thorough investigation that considers all possible explanations. I have raised one possibility but the correct explanation is the one that is supported by the evidence. That is what we should all be demanding.

Thursday 18 February 2021

Facebook out

You may be wondering why when you try to use the Share on Facebook button, you get a message like “Your message couldn't be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.”

I’ve been wondering too.

Either Facebook’s AI is broken or malicious actors have reported the site.

I’ve been getting this since March 2020 and Facebook does not respond to requests for review nor do they undo past decisions about this.

If you find this ludicrous, help me to tell Facebook. On Twitter (add to this conversation to give it a higher profile), because that platform isn’t blocking me.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Trump’s New Clothes?

That was remarkable. Trump’s lawyers managed to increase the number of Republicn Senators voting against him. Who knows if they could’ve pulled off the impossible and got him convicted if they kept going.

The Republicans now have a huge problem. The Trump carbuncle is not lanced. No, I don’t mean this Lance Carbuncle.

But what I wonder the effect is on his base, particularly the hundreds facing criminal charges, of his legal team forcefully disavowing them and saying they were not “acting on orders” and were just a bunch of violent criminals. If any were expecting him to pay their legal costs, remember he promised that before and that didn’t happen.

But then again, his legal team also said Trump should be arrested and charged before a criminal court. So maybe they will all meet up sooner than they expect.

Something I have been wondering for a long time. When will his base have their Emperor’s New Clothes moment? If this isn’t it, it’s never going to happen.

Big trouble for the Republicans – he is not barred from office and has a big enough war chest to primary anyone he hates. But probably not big enough to pay legal costs for any of his minions who mistakenly (apparently – wait for him to walk that back) believed they were “acting on orders”.

Absent a sudden implementation of an Australian-style instant runoff voting system (which they have explored in several variants), even a modest split in the Republican vote will hand victory to the Democrats. If Trump doesn’t choke on his junk food habit before then, 2024 will be… interesting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sunday 1 November 2020

A novel experience

A few days back, I published a new novel, The Superpower, on Amazon.

Why do I self-publish? Partly because this is a hobby: it would be grand if one of my books turned out to be popular, but I do this because I like doing it, not to get rich. I want to do things like mix US and UK spelling (partly out of personal preference, partly because I have characters of both origins and also to give readers cause to wonder why I did that). I also like to launch a book to my own timing.

It’s also fun figuring out how to do a cool cover design.

The Superpower started out from an idea for a movie. Since I have no connections to sell a movie script or track record in that field, that was always a long shot.

Having completed the script, I sat on it for a long time – not only because I had no idea how to market a movie script. That is potentially a solvable problem if I really wanted to do that. My bigger concern was that life has a way of imitating art and there was always the possibility of a real US president mimicking some of the more crazy ideas in the book.

As the 2020 US elections loomed and the Covid-19 crisis showed no signs of abating, it was clear that the Trump administration didn’t need to learn anything about craziness from me. So I decided to turn the script into a novel and this is it.

The book is in a slightly unusual niche: SciFi political satire. Some top authors like George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut Jr have played in this space; I make no claim at being in that league but the novelty of the niche may appeal to their readers.

I’ve priced the book as low as I could while still allowing it to be sold outside the Amazon ecosystem; I also priced the Kindle edition low and ran a 5-day promotion when it was free of charge; I will do that again when allowed. That’s another benefit about cutting out the publisher: I don’t have to worry about their cut in deciding the pricing.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it; in the crazy times we are in, a little wry comedy goes a long way.

If you spot any typos, please feel free to pass them on to me using this form. I will acknowledge any corrections in an update (here is how you get updates delivered – Kindle edition only, unfortunately).

If you want to follow me on Amazon, here’s where to find my Amazon author page.


3 November – I put in a round of corrections that I hope covers most typos and wording that needed clarification. It takes a while for changes to reach all platforms; if you have the Kindle version, you should be able to update.