Pres Cyril Ramabosasa’s written statement to the Speaker that he was not aware of a R500 000 donation by a company with large contracts with government to finance his acrimonious campaign for the leadership of the ANC, confirms he is a person with not the faintest interest in detail and quite satisfied to accept that it is “twelve o’clock and all’s well…”
It is the third time in a year that he denied any knowledge of wrongdoing at the time of the events and for a very long time afterwards. In baseball, it would have been the dreaded Strike Three and out.
But this is South African politics. And with a parliamentary system where the ANC as majority party has accepted as norm the precedent of a president that answers with a “I don’t know” and thereby dodging the crux of parliamentary questions, it will not be “Strike Three” for Ramabosasa.
The two prominent issues about which Ramaphosa also had denied any knowledge of wrong-doing, deal with:
- the massive corruption of State Capture, and
- the dreadful financial situation of Eskom.
Strike 1: Ramaphosa’s “loose nuts”
In May 2018 Ramaphosa told the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) he only became aware of the full extent of state capture ( https://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2018/05/28/state-capture-what-cyril-ramaphosa-knew-and-when-he-knew-it_a_23445148/ ) after the first published reports in May 2017 based on leaked Gupta emails. All that had happened before were minor cases of “a loose wheel nut”.
If it only dawned on him that there was a systemic failure of governance in May 2017, the “loose wheel nuts” that he should have noted when serving as deputy president of the country as well as the ANC, included:
- August 2014: Nathi Nhleko, Minister of Police, finds no wrongdoing on the part of Zuma in his investigation into Nkandla aimed at countering the findings of Public Protector Madonsela, and magically transformed a swimming pool and chicken coop and kraal into security features.
- September 2014: Anwa Dramat is suspended as head of the Hawks and Berning Ntlemeza appointed as acting head. Tom Moyane is appointed as SARS commissioner.
- October 2014: The SARS “rogue unit” reports surface.
- November 2014: A parliamentary ad hoc committee finds Zuma does not have to pay back the money.
- December 2014: Deputy President Ramaphosa assigned to head of a task team (also known as the War Room) to ensure the turnaround of Eskom, Transnet and the SA Post Office. Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown appoints a new Eskom board and a new CEO, Tshediso Matona.
- February 2015: The State Security Agency jam cellphone signals during the opening of Parliament. This executive raping of Parliament was later blamed on officials and Ramaphosa did his deal to exonerate the administration.
- March 2015: CEO Matona is removed and Brian Molefe is brought in from Transnet. It is uncertain whether this was decided by Zuma, by the Eskom Board or the Minister of Public Enterprises in accordance with or by trampling the fiduciary duties of the Directors and the constitutional accountability of the relevant minister. Corporate governance principles were however adhered to with the same integrity as keeping an egg intact when making scrambling eggs. The role of Ramaphosa as head of the War Room in all these developments remain a mystery and clouded in obscurity.
- June 2015: Zuma visits Russia in pursuit of (also) a nuclear deal.
- July 2015: Eskom begins to assist the Guptas to obtain Optimum coal mine.
- September 2015: Mosebenzi Zwane is plucked from obscurity as Minister of Economic Affairs in the Free State to become Minister of Mineral Resources.
- November 2015: Zwane travels to Switzerland to arm-wrestle Glencore into selling Optimum to the Gutpas.
- December 2015: Nhlanhla Nene fired as Minister of Finance and replaced by Des van Rooyen who immediately pitched with Gupta advisers at Treasury. A plunging rand and strong interference by the financial institutions resulted in Van Rooyen being replaced by Gordhan.
- January 2016: Denel and the Guptas’ company VR Laser form a joint venture Denel Asia.
- March 2016: The Constitutional Court finds Zuma broke his oath of office and that Parliament did not fullfill its task to keep the executive to account.
- March 2016: Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas and Themba Maseko (former Cabinet spokesperson) make claims about the Guptas’ involvement in Cabinet appointments and government contracts.
- April 2016: Eskom authorises a payment of more than R600-million to the Gutpas’ Tegeta to finance the purchase of Optimum mine.
- May 2016: Gordhan appeals through an extra-ordinary statement the public to protect National Treasury and its staff against an undermining onslaught. Gwede Mantashe, Secretary general of the ANC, announces there was no evidence on state capture in their investigation: eight people made allegations but only one committed that in writing.
- October 2016: NDPP Shaun Abrahams announces his intention to prosecute Gordhan. Gordhan goes to the High Court to force the Guptas not to pressurise him or Treasury. Pres Zuma dodges Madonsela’s attempts to get answers to question in order to finalise her State Capture report. Not knowing whether there were damning findings about them, Ministers Van Rooyen and Zwane approached the Court to issue an interdict preventing the Public Protector’s report to be published.
- November 2016: Madonsela’s State Capture Report is released. The ANC welcomes the report as a basis for further scrutiny. Derek Hanekom tables a motion of No Confidence in Zuma at a National Executive Committee meeting of the ANC.
- March 2017: Zuma fires Gordhan and Mcebisi and replaces them with Malusi Gigaba and Sfiso Buthelezi at Treasury.
Ramaphosa must have viewed all these preceding events to be “just that“: loose wheel nuts. Therefore a case of twelve o’clock and all’s well… but then in May 2017 the reports appeared about the Gupta emails.
Strike 2: When a penny drops… the strange case of a delayed wave length
Ramaphosa, assigned to oversee the turnaround of Eskom and appointed to the War Room, acknowledged this year in Davos (he was still deputy president) just after a new CEO andBoard of Directors were appointed for Eskom, that he had pressured Zuma into acceding to the new CEO and board. He said that when at a preparation meeting for Davos he learnt of the extent of the financial crisis Eskom was facing, the penny dropped…
Just to add, as an afterthought: “the penny had dropped some while ago, but that’s (when preparing for Davos and hearing about the cash flow crisis Eskom was facing) when we heard it”. https://www.biznews.com/wef/davos-2018/2018/01/25/ramaphosa-off-piste-davos-straight-talk
This statement should be evaluated against the following: Zuma appointed Ramaphosa to lead the turnaround at Eskom in December 2014 against the following background:
- The Mbeki Government had ignored warnings at the turn of the century that Eskom would run into generation constraints due to a booming demand fueled by a return to the international world (sanctions gone) and a mining boom (China’s then insatiable demand);
- poor maintenance of both power stations and the grid resulting in maintenance related outages (see 2014 picture of the Lethabo power station);
- major delays, stoppages and cost overruns at Medupi and Kusile placing further burdens on Eskom’s cash flow and balance sheet;
- Rio Tinto walking away from establishing a smelter in Port Elizabeth due to electricity constraints;
- power black-outs hampering mining and manufacturing output thus impacting negatively on SA export earnings during the commodity boom;
- high electricity tariff increases;
- load shedding placing further leg-irons on economic growth and job creation.
The Eskom War Room underthe auspices of Ramaphosa (most probably flouting corporate governance rules with no certainty about the powers of the Board of Directors, the CEO, theMinister of Public Works, the President himself and the Deputy President in charge of the turnaround team):
- got rid of Matona by March 2015;
- brought in Molefe from Transnet to act as Eskom’s CEO.
- Must have been aware of the sudden sale of the Optimum Mine by Glencore tothe Guptas’ Tegeta resources with a renewed coal supply contract with this mineat a much higher coal price than what was the case when the mine was stillGlencore’s;
- should have been aware of the upfront payment of R586 million forundelivered coal to Tegeta in March 2016…
- been aware of Eskom’s declining profitability and increasing debt burden.
Only in August 2016 Zuma re-asserted control over Eskom sidelining Ramaphosa by assuming the chairmanship of a coordinating committee to oversee all State-owned enterprises (SOEs). That came after Gordhan who was appointed at Treasury afterVan Rooyen’s weekend outing to the Treasury, called for drastic restructuring of SOEs and the need for better management and oversight.
Either Ramaphosa was aware of these developments and as head of the War Room comfortable with that, or he wasa very absent War Room manager. On his claim that the Eskom financial crisis only dawned in all its ugliness in January 2018 when preparing for Davos, one can only wonder why ordinary South Africans were aware of reports like Eskom’s 2017 report that stated: “There is no doubt that the financial challenges faced by Eskom require ongoing close attention from the shareholder and in terms of legislative oversight. These challenges are complex. There are no easy fixes.“
Also, Stephen Labson of University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development, reckoned in 2016 already that Eskom’s declining profitability and escalating debt burden, coupled with systemic non-recovery (municipalities and illegal connections), potential doubling of payments to independent power producers and lower returns on Kusile and Medupi due to massive cost overruns, placed both Eskom and South Africa’s public finance position at risk. At that stage Government had a financial exposure of R368.5 billion on Eskom whilst the utility itself had debt of R317 billion.
Granted, it is difficult tohear when a penny drops into a long-drop pit latrine like Eskom. But if his hearing was impaired, could he not smell any stench?
Or maybe the lure of becoming president worked as a signal-blocking device that prevented him from hearing, seeing or smelling any wrong-doings.
The difficulty with these time lines
If Ramaphosa is to be believed that he really did not know of or note anything wrong in these three instances until:
- the wheels fell off with the publishing of the Gupta-leaks,
- he heard the sound of a penny that had dropped a long time before; and
- he realised a year after the fact who were financing hiscampaign,
he must be ranked as the most absent-minded disinterested and unobservant deputy-president the country has ever had.
It unfortunately also raises the question whether such an unobservant and absent-minded hand on the governmental ship’s wheel offers the kind of leadership for the turnaround South Africa has been waiting for.
Or did the penny drop with the firing of Nene?
In December 2017 after his election as ANC President, Ferial Haffajee and Pieter du Toit reported: “The dramatic firing of Nhlanhla Nene as minister of finance on December 9, 2015, a little more than two years ago, was the moment when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa realised that he could no longer support the status quo.” https://www.huffingtonpost.co.za/2017/12/18/how-he-won-nenegate-convinced-cr17-to-mobilise_a_23310334/n
Based on information from key figures of the CR17 campaign, they mention the need for him to avoid a dismissal as deputy president. This was indeed a strange strategy, since Zuma’s campaign for ANC leadership was fueled by playing the victim role after being asked to step down by Mbeki. Withthe growing anti-Zuma sentiment in the ANC gradually catching up with the gatvol-ness of ordinary South Africans, being dismissed by a controversial and tainted president would have secured a sympathy tsunami…
And it could have stopped the looting and corruption much earlier…
The extraordinary lack of awareness requires some explanations. That could also provide an answer whether the change in national leadership involves more than Duduzane’s father being replaced by Andile’s father…
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