President Ramaphosa’s Phala-Phala controversy: A deceitful manoeuvring of South Africa’s judicial processes

President Cyril Ramaphosa and the South African Parliament have faced accusations of manipulating the judicial system to evade accountability. The controversy revolves around the Phala-Phala Section 89 court case, which investigated allegations of corruption and a farm theft cover-up involving the President. After an independent panel presented preliminary findings, the President took the report to the Constitutional Court, claiming innocence and seeking vindication. Meanwhile, Parliament voted against pursuing the investigation, citing the case’s escalation to the Constitutional Court. However, the President ultimately withdrew the case, leading to suspicions of a calculated strategy to end the investigations. This incident raises concerns about the abuse of judicial processes and the evasion of accountability by political figures in South Africa.

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Phala Phala: President Ramaphosa and Parliament pulled a fast one on us

By Makone Maja

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Parliament pulled a fast one on us; twice, if you consider the investigation into alleged corruption at Eskom.

While the rest of the country was focusing on a wide range of pressing, and in some instances fatal, issues, the President seized the commotion as opportune for acting swiftly on the Phala-Phala Section 89 court case. He revoked the court application altogether and brought a legitimate yet fraudulent and deceitful close to the review – in a clear instance of weaponising the judiciary: former President Zuma par excellence.

Read more: ANC closes ranks, Ramaphosa impeachment inquiry motion defeated

To review, an independent panel was commissioned through S89 of the Constitution to investigate whether the President’s conduct with respect to an alleged Phala-Phala farm theft cover-up was an impeachable offence. The allegations, according to Arthur Fraser’s damning affidavit, were of corruption, fraud, and money laundering of $1.4 million, allegedly hidden in furniture on the President’s Phala-Phala property, and subsequently stolen without the theft being reported to the authorities. This process was triggered by a motion of no confidence against the President, filed by the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and supported by additional evidence from the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

On 30 November 2022, retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo presented the findings of the Section 89 report in Parliament to the Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and Secretary to Parliament, Xolile George. The findings would be preliminary, serving to neither indict nor vindicate Ramaphosa, but rather to establish whether he has a case to answer with respect to the allegations.

The Presidency released a statement afterwards affirming the “unprecedented and extraordinary moment” the S89 report was for “South Africa’s constitutional democracy”. It further provided that careful consideration of the report was in the “interest of the stability of government and that of the country.”

Read more: McKenzie: Opposition parties, incl PA, may be giving ANC a “free pass” of 5 more years

Under review

The President then acted. Purporting to vindicate himself on these allegations, he took the report under review to the highest legal authority in the land – the Constitutional Court (ConCourt). He claimed innocence and said he was being falsely accused when pursuing the contents of the S89 report in court. By initiating the case at the ConCourt level, even bypassing the High Court as the court of first instance, the President was claiming more than innocence; he was inviting scrutiny by the most competent and authoritative judicial institution in the country. Clearing his name at this level would be final. It would rescue his declining public image and restore the damage the allegations had brought upon him.

Parliament then had to vote over the adoption of the report – primarily whether to pursue the investigation or set it aside. There were 241 MPs who voted against the adoption. Only four members from the ANC voted in favour, and two abstained. The infamous video of an MP accounting for her vote by claiming “party line” and the subsequent ostracising of high-ranking ANC officials who voted in favour of investigating followed.

Members exercising the ‘anti-party’ line conduct were pilloried by the ANC. However, the official message from then ANC Treasurer General Paul Mashatile was that voting against the adoption of the investigation in Parliament was inconsequential as the case was being escalated to the ConCourt, as the topmost, final authority. This was disingenuous and fraudulent, as the President withdrew the case, despite it being cited by the ANC as the reason for quashing parliamentary investigations.

Read more: ANC adopts Nkandla posture 2.0 in shielding Ramaphosa

This brought a close to the investigations – both in Parliament and in the High Court  ̶  to which the case was relegated by the ConCourt. It makes one wonder whether this was the strategy from the beginning. The manipulation of judiciary processes for the purposes of laundering ailing reputations of political figures would not be a first for the ANC. Jacob Zuma’s many attempts at derailing judiciary processes leveled against him (from the private prosecution of Ramaphosa to avoiding jail for failure to appear at the State Capture Commission), may have even pioneered this motive.

Evading accountability mechanisms that secure and legitimise our democracy is what is at stake. Only members of the political class enjoy access to these mechanisms. This too was an abuse of the courts and an assault on justice by the country’s number 1 citizen.

*Makone Maja is a political analyst at the Centre for Risk Analysis.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and republished with permission

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