South Africa’s post-Zuma political debate is increasingly so reductionist that it resembles the Bush Doctrine (“either you’re with us, or you’re against us”), with no room for nuance.
In reality, it is possible for both of these statements to be true at the same time:
– The President did something wrong and has serious questions to answer
– The Public Protector is incompetent and unfit for office
It is a reflection on the state of our country that so many people of every political persuasion want to believe so desperately that Cyril Ramaphosa can do no wrong, or that he should be “protected”, even to the point of ignoring alleged criminality.
These well-meaning South Africans believe that the Public Protector’s obvious blunders mean that Ramaphosa has no case to answer.
Or they accept that he probably does have a case to answer, but they’re prepared to overlook it entirely because, well, he’s Ramaphosa and the alternatives are worse. Neither of these positions is logically sustainable.
President Ramaphosa confirmed in Parliament that his son had received payments from Bosasa. Then he said one particular R500 000 payment was actually a donation to his own ANC Presidential campaign.
So there were at least two payments. One to his campaign, another to his son.
Even after the Public Protector’s report, we do not know why Mr Andile Ramaphosa received this payment from Bosasa, what other payments he has received, and what services he could possibly have rendered in return.
Mmusi Maimane has submitted Access to Information requests for all of these documents, all of which have been rebuffed by Ramaphosa senior and junior, and by Bosasa.
Since that day in Parliament, a great deal more detail has emerged about Bosasa and Gavin Watson’s bribery and corruption. We also know that it was a long-established modus operandi of the Guptas and other corruptors to work through the conduit of close family members, like Edward, Khulubuse and Duduzane Zuma.
Given what we now know, it is reasonable to presume that these payments to Andile Ramaphosa were for nothing more than access to his father. And it is perfectly legitimate to ask for a full and frank explanation from the President.
Even the President’s explanation of his campaign costs raises more questions. What could possibly cost nearly R400 million in a campaign in which there were only roughly 4500 voters? There is no reasonable explanation for this, and even the costs Ramaphosa lists in his reply to the Public Protector could not possibly total this massive sum. Where did all the money go?
These are legitimate questions and Maimane was absolutely right to ask the Office of the Public Protector to investigate these questions. This is the only recourse available under the Executive Ethics Act, which Ramaphosa seemingly contravened. One does not stop pursuing accountability simply because the responsible institutions are themselves compromised.
As an analogy, recall the tenure of two deeply compromised National Directors of Public Prosecutions, Menzi Simelane and Mxolisi Nxasana. The DA was involved in litigation to remove both of those NDPPs from office.
At the same time, we continued to lay criminal charges against President Zuma and other corrupt politicians in the expectation that they would be prosecuted without fear or favour.
Maimane is absolutely correct to pursue answers to these questions from President Ramaphosa, even through the legitimate avenue of the sadly compromised Public Protector. That is how we build a culture of real accountability, not just for the holders of elected office, but also for the institutions of our democracy themselves.
Geordin Hill-Lewis MP is DA Shadow Minister of Finance.