The Farmgate scandal is the latest battleground between those who want the president to go and loyalists defending him.
Smelling blood in the water, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s rivals in the ANC are campaigning for an urgent national general council that would allow ordinary branch members to hold him accountable for the Phala Phala theft scandal and call for his resignation.
Fraser, a confidant of former president Jacob Zuma – and previously an ally of Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki – laid charges of corruption, money laundering and kidnapping against Ramaphosa and the head of his presidential protection unit, Major General Wally Rhoode.
Those aligned to Ramaphosa are rallying around him, maintaining that the controversy has been staged to force a crisis that will compel the president to vacate his ANC position before the party’s national elective conference in December.
City Press understands that there has been talk among Ramaphosa’s opponents proposing that he not be permitted to complete his ANC term and be replaced by Deputy President David Mabuza in an acting capacity. Although he is the party’s number two, Mabuza does not enjoy wide support from the two main factions for elevation to the top job, and would thus be seen by the RET faction as a harmless caretaker while they prepare their own candidate.
A Ramaphosa ally said:They realise that he [Ramaphosa] can’t be challenged for a second term, so they want him out of the contest well ahead.
Ramaphosa’s detractors believe the NEC is not in a position to hold him accountable, as many of its members are ministers or deputy ministers in his administration.
Coming under attack are the remaining members of the ANC’s top six officials, who are accused of dealing with the matter in a casual fashion, including failure to prepare a report with their inputs for deliberation at the national working committee (NWC) meeting on Monday.
It is believed that RET-aligned party veteran Tony Yengeni had to force the matter on to the NWC agenda.
City Press has also learnt that, during the NWC meeting, Ramaphosa was challenged to step aside and allow an acting president to take charge of the country. This proposal was dismissed by Ramaphosa’s allies as “absurd”.
MOBILISE BRANCHES FOR AN EMERGENCY NGC
During the RET core meeting, the proposal to encourage ANC branches to agitate for an emergency NGC gained support, apparently led by activists from KwaZulu-Natal, said a key participant.
One party leader said:Ramaphosa has a strong public relations machinery that includes government, civil society, journalists and commentators, and they’re all trying desperately to bury the criminal allegations to save his skin. It’s up to ordinary ANC members to hold him accountable.
The ANC is set to hold its NGC and policy conference late next month or in early August. Anything earlier than that would add to the logistical and financial burdens already being experienced in planning the event.
Although the ANC said this week that Ramaphosa had volunteered to appear before the party’s ethics body, the integrity commission, the RET group was doubtful that the committee’s final decision would not be influenced by factional considerations.
“At best, the committee will sanitise the allegations and give him ammunition to go out to the public and claim that he’s accounted for his actions,” said a source.
The ANC said on Monday that the party’s top six “undertook to process the matter expeditiously and to report to the next NWC. The NWC will deliberate on the matter further once it has received a report from the national officials.”
Another prominent ANC leader who is part of the RET faction said: “[If we don’t act against] Cyril, then all of us who have cattle must hide money in our houses under the pretext that we buy and sell cattle. [We’d be saying] that the whole country must engage in money laundering. How many farmers are in the country? If the money isn’t going to be registered and taxed, then we’ll collapse the South African economy because farming is a big industry in this country.”
The leader continued: It would be difficult to arrest anyone in the future if Ramaphosa were allowed to get away with storing money in mattresses and couches.
The individual added that Ramaphosa should have followed the example of former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who left government when allegations of corruption were levelled against him related to a Covid-19 communications tender.
“If Ramaphosa doesn’t step down, then ANC members will make sure he doesn’t speak anywhere in public meetings. He’ll only speak behind [closed doors] and in coordinated meetings, but he’ll never go and address ordinary people,” said the person.
With the anticipation that opposition parties will seek to haul Ramaphosa before the ethics committee in Parliament, the ANC is expected to take the initiative and refer him to the committee to upstage such a move.
MAGASHULE IN ON THE ACT
Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said the party was deeply factional “and those who’re factional know that they’re benefiting – and that even if they’ve done something wrong, they aren’t going to be dealt with”.
He said ANC regions and provinces were starting to challenge the party’s step-aside policy because it had been designed to target political opponents.
He continued:The media’s punting the story that there’s only one man who’s credible standing for the presidency of the ANC – and that’s not going to happen.
Magashule added that members of the ANC top six were afraid to talk openly and would rather take the safe position that “these things must be left to law enforcement”.
He said:When it involves other people, there’s a lot of noise for people to step aside. Here they’re keeping quiet because it’s about their stomachs. There are NEC members whose eyes are now open and I think they’ll start talking the way the branches, regions and provinces are starting to talk.
Regarding the integrity commission, he said: “People run to the ethics body when there’s trouble because they know that they’re capturing people there.
“It’s now up to ANC members. They now know what’s happening in the country and they know that the real state capture is taking place now. It’s up to ANC members and their consciences and all of us not to be afraid.”
Another RET-aligned ANC figure, Carl Niehaus, said the party’s response so far had been deeply disappointing, as the NEC should have immediately called an urgent emergency meeting and demanded accountability from the president. He said that simply referring Ramaphosa to the integrity commission seemed like “a ploy to give him cover, rather than holding him accountable”.
‘THEY KNOW THERE’S NO STOPPING A SECOND TERM’
However, senior NEC members aligned with Ramaphosa believe the issue is a well-devised move to destabilise the party.
One NEC member said:These people are relying on the money laundering charge, which they can’t prove. It’s not a crime for somebody not to open a case [of theft], but people are politicising the incident just to cause chaos.
The member said that those who were pushing for Ramaphosa to step aside knew they did not stand a chance if they contested him in the ANC election.
“Wait until we open the succession debate and you’ll see that many are scared to challenge him,” he said.
Another Ramaphosa supporter believes that, in the event that Ramaphosa is forced to step aside, it will be every man for himself in the party.
“Right now, the party’s stable and we all know that there’s nothing stopping the president from getting a second term. What the Phala Phala case has done is cast doubt on his leadership, when we know that he’s a very capable person who’s been running a clean government and strongly fighting corruption.
“People are speculating about the [amount] stolen [from his farm], but no one knows exactly how much it was except the president,” said the supporter.