President Cyril Ramaphosa lays down the law for fighting corruption in the ANC and says although there’s a ‘choreographed campaign’ against him, he’s thick-skinned.
The ANC’s national leadership has drawn up clear guidelines for how to deal with members accused of corruption, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a two-hour Zoom press briefing following a special national executive committee meeting over the weekend.
Ramaphosa was also clear that the country’s law enforcement agencies needed to be strong to tackle corruption, but said he would not interfere with them.
The 85 other members of the NEC also appeared to be unanimously behind Ramaphosa’s leadership — their statement, read by Ramaphosa, said the NEC endorsed the contents of his letter to ANC members in August “as a clear articulation of the policies and positions of the organisation” and agreed to the implementation of the action points in it. In the letter, Ramaphosa said the ANC stood as “accused number one” when it came to graft.
The statement also said the NEC “emerged with a clear direction and unity of purpose”. It added: “This was one of the better meetings that the NEC has held.”
This was despite calls before the meeting for Ramaphosa to step down, and despite a scathing letter by former president Jacob Zuma questioning Ramaphosa’s integrity and authenticity as an ANC leader. Ramaphosa said he had not yet responded to that letter as he received many as ANC leader — but he said he was “not easily insulted” because those at the top get the most criticism.
The NEC did acknowledge that there “seems to be a choreographed campaign” against Ramaphosa, but said this would not distract the movement from “undertaking an intensified programme against corruption and state capture”, together with civil society and the “broader population”.
ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe said Zuma’s letter appeared to be part of the choreographed attack on Ramaphosa.
“The reason that makes this letter suspicious is that it followed a letter by (disgraced former Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral committee member) Andile Lungisa and it followed another letter by another group and another thing,” Mantashe said, possibly with reference to NEC member Tony Yengeni’s reported request for Ramaphosa to step down and a call by Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama for charges to be laid against Ramaphosa over his campaign funds.
“So it looks like a choreographed attack on the president, and we have a responsibility to actually kill a choreographed attack on the president because he is the leader of the organisation,” said Mantashe.
The calls for Ramaphosa to step down were based on allegations that the funding of his presidential campaign in 2017 to the tune of millions was something party traditions would not allow, and could possibly lead to corruption. The NEC, however, said guidelines for lobbying and campaigning in internal leadership contests would be developed. The current rules were inadequate.
Unusually, the entire top six was present at the briefing, and unusually, journalists were allowed a number of questions to which all six responded in turn. This was crafted by party spin doctors to create an image of unity, but could also have been done for clarity’s sake as party Secretary-General Ace Magashule is usually responsible for addressing briefings, but has in the past miscommunicated issues of policy.
Magashule was, however, allowed to conclude the press conference and have the last say, during which he reminded the media that they should use the word “alleged” when they talk about untested corruption charges against officials to prevent them from being tarnished unnecessarily. He also bemoaned the fact that the positive aspects of the government’s spending of money to fight Covid-19 were not reported in the media.
The NEC’s final guidelines to corruption-accused cadres were as follows:
- Cadres of the ANC who are formally charged for corruption or other serious crimes must immediately step aside from all leadership positions in the ANC, legislatures or other government structures pending the finalisation of their cases. The officials, as mandated, will develop guidelines and procedures on implementation, and the next NWC meeting will review progress. In cases where this has not happened, such individuals will be instructed to step aside.
- Cadres of the ANC who are reported to be involved in corrupt and other serious criminal practices must go to the Integrity Commission to explain themselves. Those who do not give an acceptable explanation may be suspended.
- Cadres of the ANC who are convicted of corruption or other serious crimes must resign from leadership positions and face disciplinary action in line with the ANC Constitution.
The NEC is to have another meeting to discuss ways of strengthening the integrity commission and to ensure that it has resources. In response to a question, Ramaphosa said the decisions of the commission should be binding. It was previously unclear whether this commission could only make recommendations to the NEC or whether it could make a final pronouncement over the fate of members.
Ramaphosa confirmed that he was available to appear before the integrity commission to answer questions about his campaign funds, but said although he was ready to do so months earlier, he wanted the process that was started by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to take its course first.
The NEC also outlined further steps to fight corruption, including putting in place “a system for leaders to make regular declarations of financial interests to the organisation” that draws on existing practices in Parliament and government, ensuring “a proper balance between privacy and accountability”.
There will also be guidelines on ANC leaders and families doing business with government and public entities.
“The guidelines will give due regard to the right of every person to engage in legitimate business activity while removing the potential for any ANC leader or member of their family to derive undue benefit from political access,” Ramaphosa said.
In response to a question about the National Prosecuting Authority, Ramaphosa said the agency had previously been “targeted” and weakened, but it was in the process of being strengthened and getting powers of an investigative and prosecutorial nature.
“It is only through independent institutions, strong and capable, that we are able to deal with corruption quickly,” he said.
Ramaphosa emphasised that he could not interfere in the work of law enforcement agencies, except for taking steps to strengthen them “and allow them to do their work”. He added he was “firm on this view”.
The NPA’s Hermione Cronje said it was ready to charge the first high-fliers in September. DM