Ethics setback for Ramaphosa

22 Jul 19

South Africa’s leader has been accused by a watchdog of violating ethics rules in a setback to his anti-corruption drive.

The Public Protector said President Cyril Ramaphosa – who was elected in May – misled parliament over a 500,000 rand ($35,955) campaign donation. 

The move by the office empowered by the constitution to probe the conduct of public officials is a major embarrassment to the president, whose election campaign pledged to reduce corruption associated with his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

The Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a report that Ramaphosa had “deliberately misled” parliament about a donation of 500,000 rand ($35,955) that he received for his campaign to become leader of the African National Congress in 2017, reported Reuters

Mkhwebane said Ramaphosa had violated ethics rules and referred the issue to the parliamentary speaker.

She has also instructed South Africa’s chief prosecutor to investigate whether Ramaphosa’s campaign had laundered money when handling donations. 

Her report will damage the president – who was elected amid signs that the ANC has been badly dented by corruption scandals – and will fuel divisions within the party between factions backing Ramaphosa and Zuma.

Ramaphosa was vice president in February 2018 when Zuma resigned amid escalating corruption scandals, and made tackling graft a centrepiece of his platform.

Zuma stood down amid a whirlwind of corruption allegations and a loss of confidence in his leadership in South Africa’s parliament and within the ANC.

Responding to Mkhwebane’s charges, Ramaphosa’s office said it was unfortunate that she seemed to have not taken into account his response to her preliminary findings, which he described as “deficient both factually and in law”. 

Supporters of the president claim the Public Protector is not impartial and have accused her of representing Zuma’s faction, which she has denied. 

Last week Zuma won concessions whereby he will provide only written statements to a corruption inquiry investigating whether he allowed supporters to steal state resources and influence senior appointments, which he denies.

Observers have suggested that by being uncooperative and bogging down the inquiry in legal technicalities, Zuma can undermine its integrity in a bid to embarrass his successor. 

A failure to link the former president to serious wrongdoing would badly damage Ramaphosa’s credibility.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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