President Cyril Ramaphosa appearing before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and Corruption .Photo Elmond Jiyane (GCIS)
President Cyril Ramaphosa appearing before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and Corruption .Photo Elmond Jiyane (GCIS)

“Ramaphosa’s bout of amnesia is of a special kind” as he wraps up Zondo Commission testimony

By Sipho Seepe Time of article published Aug 15, 2021

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Reactions to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s testimony have given credence to Abraham Lincoln’s famous assertion that “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Only those that can be “fooled all the time” will fall for Ramaphosa’s attempts to distance himself from the scene of the crime of State Capture. The best that the most ardent sycophants could muster regarding Ramaphosa’s performance is that he showed up.

To Ramaphosa’s credit, he has at least shifted from having been shocked. This is a welcome departure from what some have caricatured as “I heard nothing, I saw nothing, and I said nothing” tendency.

However, Ramaphosa’s attempts to exonerate himself from culpability has invited harsh criticism. In this regard there is no greater rebuke than that expressed by Advocate Vuyani Ngalwana SC’s comment that the “man has no shame”.

Ramaphosa’s legal advisors should have reminded him that in terms of section 92 of the Constitution “members of the Cabinet are accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.”

Ramaphosa has no basis in law to absolve himself from all decisions of the cabinet he was part of. This is what accountability is all about.

But Ramaphosa’s bout of amnesia is of a special kind. It seems to manifest sharply when he finds himself cornered with no possibility of escape. For instance, Ramaphosa’s memory served him well when the DA inquired whether he was part of cabinet that took the decision that supported the impugned Nuclear Programme. Ramaphosa was quick to remind the DA that “all members of Cabinet, regardless of their personal views, are bound by decisions taken by Cabinet and are collectively responsible for implementing those decisions”.

Instead of assuming responsibility, Ramaphosa has sought to give us an impression that the country should be grateful that he remained in a cabinet for a supposedly corrupt and corrupting cabinet.

“Had I and like-minded individuals resigned from the executive, we would have had no ability to resist some of the excesses that were taking place — and there was a clear danger that without some measure of resistance, there would have been even fewer impediments to the unfettered expansion of the state capture project.” Well, one would think that things have gotten better since he assumed office. His self-serving theory of passive resistance as a former member of Cabinet is at odds with Section 92 of the Constitution and is patently false.

In instances where Ramaphosa was forced to concede, he used the opportunity to throw others also under the bus, as if doing so lessens the gravity of his obvious failure.

Ramaphosa was quick to point out that the unlawful firing of Matshela Koko “was not a one-person decision. It was a decision that was taken by a group of us — the president, myself and the ministers. We discussed this matter. And there were stories going around about management people being implicated in wrongdoing and so action had to be taken.

Ordinarily a minister or deputy president should not get involved in decisions like that, but it was exceptional, because Eskom was said to be the biggest risk the country was facing.”

We should be worried when such a drastic action and interference can be taken on the basis of “stories going around about management.” In other words, rumour and beer-hall gossip can get you fired.

It is this kind of ineptitude, unlawfulness and besieged mentality that associates social unrest with an insurrection. Soon those that call for Ramaphosa’s removal will be branded insurrectionists.

Ramaphosa’s testimony adds little value other than presenting itself as another public relations exercise meant to distract the country from Ramaphosa’s failure to turn the economic fortunes around.

As Mcebisi Jonas warned during his second appearance at the Zondo Commission; “the danger, I would still argue, with the process of state capture — can I use the term to ‘over-Zumanise’ it? To think that it was about Zuma, that would be the biggest mistake. It is bigger. It is structural. It is systemic. You will miss the point if you do that.”

Failure to heed Jonas’ ominous warning has cost us dearly. People’s reputations tarnished, careers destroyed on the basis of flimsy and untested allegations. The economy has been rattled. Institutions of democracy, such as the judiciary, including the Constitutional Court and the judiciary have been found wanting. Not only has its ineptitude been exposed, it has resurrected the ghosts of apartheid where detention without trial was the norm.

Hundreds of lives were unnecessarily lost. The Chair of the Commission, Justice Raymond Zondo, and the Constitutional Court should ask themselves whether they don’t have blood on their hands. Arguably, each created an explosive Molotov cocktail that led to the worst social unrest of our time.

The Zondo Commission was doomed from the start. Far from achieving this objective, it was reduced to a platform which served former comrades to mount accusations and recriminations against each other. The media lapped on this spectacle, describing the testimonies presented by those with a political axe to grind as bombshells. The impugned testimonies of the star witnesses of the likes of Vytjie Mentor, Pravin Gordhan, Themba Maseko, and Mcebisi Jonas are memorable. Each collapsed under close and cross examinations. But the worst evidence of rank dishonesty by Ramaphosa consists of the fact that he watched Brian Molefe being vilified and crucified publicly for allegedly being appointed to Eskom position by the Guptas while Ramaphosa knew the truth and silently sat on it. We now know that it was Ramaphosa who recommended and supported Molefe’s appointment and not the Guptas!

And finally, Ramaphosa's effusive praise of Zondo and prediction that he would like to implement some of the recommendations the Commission is yet to make may prove to be the Zondo Commission's Achilles heel. Under our constitution, Ramaphosa cannot pre-empt the Commission’s findings or recommendations.

He must receive the report, peruse it and apply his mind to it. The fact that he expressed effusive praise for the report before he even sees it may lead a court to set aside the very report and render the almost billion-rand expenditure to be fruitless and wasteful. For now, we should be relieved that the sideshow has ended.

* Professor Sipho P Seepe is deputy vice-chancellor, Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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