Bosasa cash revelation turns up heat on Cyril Ramaphosa
Opposition bays for blood as he changes Bosasa funds story
President Cyril Ramaphosa's ambitious drive to rescue the ANC and the country from the state-capture debacle is facing its sternest test yet. Today, the president has been forced onto the back foot after he admitted this week that his election campaign received a R500,000 donation from the politically connected Watson family.
Ramaphosa's backers are meeting tomorrow to plot their next move to save a presidency that began with high promise after his election at the ANC's conference in December last year.
This week, Ramaphosa came out with the shock admission that an amount of R500,000 disclosed in parliament by DA leader Mmusi Maimane was in fact to help fund his campaign, and was not for work that his son Andile had done for the Bosasa logistics group, now known as African Global Operations, which has been named as a benefactor to several other high-profile ANC figures.
Ramaphosa's backers say they only became aware this week that the R500,000 was a campaign donation.
As a first step, Ramaphosa's backers say they intend to give back the money. They also committed to an audit of all donations made to the campaign bank account.
But whether that will be enough to appease Ramaphosa's critics remains to be seen. Many of them are still smarting from evidence led at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. They are eager to discredit Ramaphosa's cleanup presidency by drawing parallels with former president Jacob Zuma's relationship with the Gupta family.
An indication of how seriously Ramaphosa views the scandal as a threat to his presidency became apparent in parliament when he said he would be the first to send his son to prison if wrongdoing related to Bosasa was proved.
The donation scandal comes after a series of setbacks that have damaged his presidency, among them the shock resignation of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene after he was exposed as having lied about his visits to the Gupta compound, the resignation of Malusi Gigaba after the public protector found that he lied in court under oath, and the admission by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan that he met the Gupta family.
All of this comes amid a slew of bad economic news that will embolden critics who say Ramaphosa's remedy for fixing SA and its economy is not working.
Ramaphosa's campaign manager, Bejani Chauke, who now serves as an adviser to the president, said the first citizen was not aware of the money donated to the campaign by Bosasa and was only informed about it after he was asked in parliament by Maimane.
Ramaphosa was responding to a follow-up question from Maimane in the National Assembly when he revealed that his son did business with Bosasa.
Chauke said when Ramaphosa answered the question, he assumed that Maimane was referring to monies paid to Andile's consultancy firm, as he had not been informed of the donation.
"President Ramaphosa was not aware of the payment, either at the time it was made or when he was answering question in the National Assembly. His response was an honest reflection of the information available to him at the time," Chauke told the Sunday Times.
Records show that the R500,000 payment, made in October 2017, was to an Absa account named "Efg2", believed to be an attorney's trust account.
Chauke said: "The fundraising team has confirmed to us (the campaign management team) that the funds referred to in a parliamentary question on 6 November 2018 were paid into a trust account that was one of the avenues used by the CR17 campaign to temporarily house the funds raised for the campaign."
Maimane said he was not convinced by Ramaphosa's explanation. He said the explanation sounded similar to that offered by Zuma in parliament when it came to upgrades to his Nkandla home.
But Chauke said the president made an honest error.
"He thought they were talking about the contract between Andile and Bosasa. There is that contract. But the [donation] … I didn't even know myself as the campaign manager. More than 200 people donated to that account. The fundraising committee was managing it," he told the Sunday Times yesterday.
He said the campaign had decided not to disclose to Ramaphosa who donated to it.
"The campaign funds received were used to pay for venue hires, transport, accommodation, communications, and other campaign-related activities. At no point were any funds transferred to the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, his relations or to President Ramaphosa himself," he said.
Maimane said he would write to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the matter.
"If they pay back the money it doesn't change anything. It's the same as VBS. You can't loot and when you are caught you pay it back. It's like resigning when you are found to have done wrong," he said.
Maimane said he would push to know what Bosasa got in return. "We are of the view that he would have known about the donation. We are not convinced that he was being forthright," he said.
Maimane said this was no different to how the Guptas captured individuals in the government.
EFF leader Julius Malema said on Friday that Ramaphosa "must take full responsibility and admit that he lied to parliament, and he knows what happens to people who lie to parliament".