Campaigning to be president of the ANC is something the ruling party has always frowned upon. The rigid values of the party from its exile days made it bad taste for leaders to openly campaign for positions.
They preferred people be chosen by the broader movement through consensus, not self-promotion. Senior leaders within the party anointed their successors. Like Nelson Mandela handpicked Thabo Mbeki.
Cyril Ramaphosa dared to stand against Alfred Nzo and Jacob Zuma in the 1991 elective conference of the ANC for the position of secretary-general – and he won. A new culture had been introduced into the organisation: positions could now be contested.
The transition from liberation movement to political party was not completed and much of the secrecy that surrounded the party’s way of handling its finances was never reformed. This meant that only the unscrupulous individuals within the ruling party openly used their finances to influence who got which position and who didn’t.
Today, this secrecy is being used to punish Ramaphosa in his bid to clean up government. The release of the bank statements of his CR17 presidential campaign funding through leaks is not meant to prove any financial impropriety on the president’s past, it is simply meant to bring into question his moral uprightness.
His crusade against the corruption and looting that went on in the past decade has led to a vicious fightback campaign that is more determined than ever to expose Ramaphosa as not just corrupt (Bosasa link), but also have questionable morals in having raised what are seen as obscene amounts of money simply to ensure he became president.
Cyril didn’t introduce money or campaigning into the ANC presidential races. In fact, he wasn’t there when money became a factor. He was out amassing his billions of rands and making wealthy business friends who would later come to his rescue in the race to become president. They donated and did so generously.
Is it wrong? It would only be wrong if Ramaphosa had been the only candidate to solicit funds for his campaign. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also got funds for her campaign. Her funds may not have been as substantial as Cyril’s – we have no way of knowing – but she got funded, too.
Part of the president’s problem is that he has had the unfortunate condition of displaying bad, or poor, taste in the past. Who can forget his bid to purchase an R18 million buffalo, or sitting calmly at an auction while selling off more than $1 million worth of game?
Being a pro-poor leader doesn’t allow space for such displays of wealth. Still, though, bad or poor taste is not illegal.
In a country where political party funding is shrouded in legislated secrecy, the mere mention of a name of a funder becomes high level gossip fodder. And depending on how much the said funder donated, the accusation that they were buying influence or favour cannot be far off.
So far, the leaked bank statements show hundreds of millions of rands went through the CR17 bank accounts. They show people were paid to enable the president to win the presidential race within his own party.
There’s nothing illegal in that. Maybe it’s in poor taste to use money to influence people, but that’s a culture that the organisation has allowed to take root – and that’s how ANC presidential campaigns are won and lost.