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.

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