ANC closes ranks, Ramaphosa impeachment inquiry motion defeated

By Michael Appel

The independent panel’s report on Phala Phala has been rejected by the majority of lawmakers and the impeachment process of Cyril Ramaphosa will proceed no further.

Parliament convened on Tuesday at the Cape Town City Hall where the panel’s report was first debated and then voted on. For the motion, brought by the ATM party, to pass required a simple majority of 50% plus one.

In a 400-seat Parliament that’s 201 votes that were required. Despite five ANC MPs going rogue (one claiming she’d voted incorrectly by mistake) and voting in favour of the motion, the threshold was a bridge too far and it failed. In the end, 214 MPs voted to reject the independent panel’s report, while 148 voted in favour of it.

ANC MP and current minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was the first to break ranks and vote in support of the motion. Former North West Premier and ANC MP Supra Mahumapelo was the second high-profile cadre to vote “yes”. He was followed by former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane who also voted in the affirmative. Former minister of state security Bongani Bongo, former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, and current minister of human settlements Lindiwe Sisulu – all ANC MPs – were conspicuous by their absence from the sitting.

Good party leader Patricia de Lille, who serves in Ramaphosa’s cabinet as minister of public works and infrastructure, chose to abstain, along with her party’s secretary general Brett Herron. Those were the only two abstentions.

Prior to the vote, several speakers from various political parties were given a short opportunity to state their view on the report.

The ANC’s chief whip Pemmy Majodina took to the podium first. Her speech was not in English so I wasn’t able to follow. My apologies. But the ANC National Executive Committee had instructed the ANC caucus to quash the report and vote against it.

Next up was John Steenhuisen, leader of the official opposition. Steenhuisen said that: “Not many people in this house, and even fewer people out there think you have been truthful [about the source of the funds stashed in a couch at Phala Phala]. It was the prospect of having to answer questions under oath that convinced you to resign.

“It was only when your ANC comrades reminded you of how it deals with these inconveniences that you decided to cancel your resignation. You then decided to step back into the ring. We’ve been here before [with Zuma and the Nkandla issue]. We’ve watched the ANC majority shield Jacob Zuma. Our Parliament became the laughing stock of the world when it became a mindless defender of the indefensible. Never again we were told in the wake of the Zondo Report. Never again would it [Parliament] be declawed and disempowered. Ramaphosa pledged to do things differently…here we are again. Then it was Nkandla. Now it’s Phala Phala. As long as you have the numbers in Parliament, you can make any scandal go away. If that’s what you [Ramaphosa] expect and demand from your caucus…then you, sir, are no different to your predecessor.”

Members of Parliament debates the President’s State-of-the-Nation Address, 16 February 2021. [Photo:GCIS]

The DA leader reminded MPs that the vote on Tuesday was not about making a finding of innocence or guilt regarding the president. It was about allowing due process to take its course. “It’s about acknowledging that there are big questions that remain unanswered and they can only be answered by an inquiry undertaken by this house,” said Steenhuisen.

EFF leader Julius Malema highlighted that Ramaphosa was one of the architects of the country’s constitution and touted himself as a champion of accountability but “today you avoid scrutiny and questioning like a fugitive. Instead of using it to clear your name you have mobilised your caucus to shield you from answering what happened at the Phala Phala farm. From today you are an enemy of the Constitution of South Africa. From today you’ll be treated like a constitutional delinquent. You [as the ANC] have an opportunity to choose an individual over the constitution of South Africa. History will judge you harshly. It’s the same man who’s peeing on the Constitution of South Africa”.

Julius Malema
EFF Leader Julius Malema.

Leader of the FF Plus, Pieter Groenewald, told Parliament that his party expects the president to come forward and answer to this house to ensure accountability . Groenewald highlighted that, of course, the president is at liberty to take the panel’s report on review to the Constitutional Court, as he subsequently has, but it is a fact that the President confirmed that there was foreign currency at his farm.

“Whether it was $580,000 or a million, he admitted there was foreign currency. It is common sense to then ask if he complied and declared it. Did you pay VAT? Why did you wait so long? Why did you stick it in furniture? Those are all common sense questions. What the people of South Africa want is answers to those common sense questions. By not doing it, he is kicking the people of South Africa in the teeth,” said Groenewald.

ANC MP Richard Dyantyi, however, told fellow MPs that the independent panel’s report fell short of laying the groundwork for a legitimate impeachment. Dyantyi said the legal test to be applied is much higher than prima facie. He told opposition parties that no matter how many times they repeat the accusations that Ramaphosa had done anything wrong, it simply wouldn’t make it so.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The panel was initially established to conduct a preliminary enquiry into circumstances surrounding the theft of an undisclosed amount of foreign currency “stored” or “concealed” in a couch at the president’s Limpopo farm in February 2020. The independent panel consisted of former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, former judge Thokozile Masipa, and Advocate Mahlape Sello.

The panel officially handed over its findings and recommendations to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, on the morning of 30 November. The report can be read in full here.

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