The phrase “eyes wide shut” refers to a situation in which a person refuses to see something that is in plain sight. It is a shortened version of the proverb “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The country has its fair share of “eyes wide shut” moments when it comes to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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By Professor Sipho P. Seepe

Early into his presidency, Ramaphosa was variously portrayed as a constitutionalist committed to the precepts of transparency, openness, and accountability. He was incorruptible. But this portraiture had no basis in reality.

Fortunately, the portraiture of Ramaphosa is unravelling. Very fast. Under the Ramaphosa administration, corruption has become entrenched. According to the anti-corruption movement Transparency International (TI), South Africa has dropped below the global average after scoring 41 out of 100 on the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

Transparency International’s perception of South Africa vindicates the Afrobarometer survey findings of 2021. According to the survey, a significant number of South Africans believe that corruption has worsened under the Ramaphosa administration. 64% were of the view that it would increase in 2020. More damning is that 53% of those surveyed think his office is also implicated. Ramaphosa’s attempts to hide behind state capture and coronavirus do not cut it.

The above development coincides with the decision by the International Monetary Fund to downgrade its economic growth forecasts for South Africa to a meagre 1%. Nothing seems to be working. Worth restating is that business confidence under Ramaphosa has plummeted to levels last seen in the 1980s. Investor conferences have proved to be nothing more than meaningless and fruitless public relations exercises. Unemployment has rocketed to unsustainable levels.

The pristine image of Ramaphosa by some in the mainstream was conceived to deceive. It was part of a broader strategy to weaken the ANC. The ANC had become impenetrable from the outside. It could only be defeated by deepening its unresolved internal ideological contradictions. Unbeknownst to many, Ramaphosa was always a Trojan horse, waiting patiently in the wings.

The CR-17 funding was part of the long strategy. As the former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng correctly pointed out, “There is no free lunch, and never for the millions. You may get a free lunch for one thousand rand once I begin to give you a million, three million, five, fifty, or 100 million. Whether I set you up in business or government, There will be payback time. Why should I make you a multimillionaire? Why? Why should I prefer you over others? It is an investment.”.

When quizzed about the funders of his 2017 presidential campaign, Ramaphosa claimed feigned ignorance. He repeatedly stated that the CR17 process was structured in such a way that it would shield him. “[CR17 campaign managers] said, President, we are not going to get you involved in the process of the trust and the funding, and we are going to keep you completely outside of it, and so that is precisely the case.”

This was a blatant lie. The majority judgement of the Constitutional Court came to the same conclusion but still sought to exonerate him. Referring to the exchange of a flurry of emails between himself and the managers of the CR17 campaign, the Constitutional Court argued that “e-mails on which the public protector relied simply showed that the president was more involved in the affairs of the campaign. This is not the same as receiving personal benefits.”

What the Constitutional Court cannot explain is why an innocent man, who is supposedly committed to transparency, would rush, like a bat out of hell, to enlist the services of the court to ensure that the information regarding his CR17 campaign is permanently sealed.

For his part, the former Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, cut through the verbiage. He argued that President Ramaphosa “had the duty to know, if he did not already know, who was funding his campaign and to disclose that personal benefit compositely as a benefit from the CR17 campaign as an entity or more appropriately from each donor with a specified amount. Why? So that Parliament and the public could know who was helping or had helped him to perform better than his competitors and enabled him to become ANC president and, a few months later, President of the Republic.”

What cannot be denied is that the CR17 funding campaign was for President Ramaphosa’s benefit. Mogoeng Mogoeng is spot on. “It was not for the benefit of the party or official party structure, party-political campaign, or any other person, but for his upward mobility—his benefit. The CR17 campaign was all about him. Donors knew who they were helping, and if the unethical ones, assuming there are any among them, were ever to desire help or favours from the state, they would know who to go to—the deputy president and soon-to-be president.”

Indeed, everyone knows this. This includes the usual suspects in the mainstream media and civil society whose preoccupation is to protect Ramaphosa from scrutiny by any means necessary.

Like a leopard that does not change its spots, President Ramaphosa cannot change his innate character. The Phala Phala scandal has put paid to the notion that Ramaphosa is guided by the constitutional precepts of openness, transparency, and accountability. The findings by the 3-person Independent Parliamentary Panel, comprising two senior judges, a former Chief Justice, a retired judge, and a senior counsel, are unequivocal.

The panel concluded that “there was a deliberate intention not to investigate the commission of the crimes committed at Phala Phala openly [and that] the misconduct based on violations of the provisions of Section 96(2)(b) and the violation of Section 34(1) of PRECCA was committed to keeping the investigation a secret.” The panel went further to state that the “President abused his position as Head of State to have the matter investigated and sought the assistance of the Namibian President to apprehend a suspect.”

As if to drive the point home, the panel was satisfied that President Ramaphosa may have committed (1) a serious violation of sections 96(2)(a), (2) a serious violation of section 34(1) of PRECCA, (3) serious misconduct in that the President violated section 96(2)(b) by acting in a way that is inconsistent with his office, and (4) serious misconduct in that the President violated section 96(2)(b) by exposing himself to a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business.

Reacting to the developments regarding the Phala Phala scandal, (The Financial Times10 December 2022) ran with a headline. “Cyril Ramaphosa: the South African president clinging to power. A descent into [the] legal scandal is not the arc envisaged for a leader who won early glory battling  apartheid.” In real democracies, leaders resign for far less egregious acts.

The suggestion that corruption has worsened under Ramaphosa should not come as a surprise. If truth be told, Ramaphosa’s presidency was based on a series of falsehoods. He was the best bet to destroy the ANC from within. And he is doing a sterling job.

In his scathing article, The Non-existent President (City Press, February 13, 2022), Mondli Makhanya reminds us how Ramaphosa was allowed to amass what would ordinarily be considered ill-gotten wealth. All Ramaphosa had to do was “lend his name and credibility to companies, conclude deals he didn’t negotiate for, and attend board meetings in which he did not speak much. What he did do very well, though, was invoice timeously and diligently for every little stitch of work he had supposedly done.

Just like during his years in business, he didn’t do much in the deputy presidency” (City Press, February 13, 2022). Beyond engaging in public relations exercises, Ramaphosa’s administration has nothing to show. Given that he also has a case to answer, he is in no position to relieve members of his cabinet who are implicated in acts of corruption.

Professor Sipho P. Seepe is a higher education and strategy consultant

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