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By Sydney Majoko


Phala Phala report: Ramaphosa cleared but questions linger

The truth no longer matters when it comes to Phala Phala. Not finding evidence that the president did wrong is not the same as declaring beyond doubt that he is cleared.

The acting public protector’s finding that President Cyril Ramaphosa did not violate the Executive Members Ethics Act in his handling of the Phala Phala foreign currency theft should be a triumphant moment in the president’s troubled term in office.

But like the many issues he has either bungled or refused to act on before this, the finding is viewed by many as a temporary reprieve for the president.

It’s another short-lived triumph before his detractors reload their guns and come for him, again. And the president has only himself to blame for this.

The truth no longer matters when it comes to Phala Phala, because even the acting public protector acknowledges in her report that she could not find evidence that points to the president being involved in the day-to-day running of the affairs of Ntaba Nyoni or Phala Phala farms.

Not finding evidence that the president did wrong is not the same as declaring beyond doubt that he is cleared.

It leaves it open to the interpretation that the president might indeed be violating his oath of office by running an entity from which he generates an income but, on this particular investigation, the evidence was not found.

This roundabout way of clearing the president of wrongdoing is as convoluted as the process that got an acting public protector and not the suspended incumbent to make the finding and, in his detractors’ books, that makes him guilty.

But the mere fact that the suspended Busisiwe Mkhwebane is even in the picture is because when the president had the chance to suspend her without appearing as vindictive, way back before Phala Phala, he did what has come to define his presidency.

He waited and did nothing.

This was way back when she was fumbling her way about and trying to give credence to the discredited Sars’ “rogue unit” report, or being told by the high court that she was dishonest.

The president waited until she had something on him and then tried to get rid of her, which backfired and has cost the taxpayer unnecessary millions of rands in payments to her legal team.

And now that she is suspended, her replacement, Kholeka Gcaleka, is seen as doing his bidding.

Although cleared of Phala Phala, the way it was done, with his party having had to ward off the possibility of him facing impeachment proceedings in parliament by using its majority to reject a report that recommended that the process be initiated, he is now forced into silence when a major investigative story comes out and says his deputy, Paul Mashatile, is consorting with politically exposed individuals like Edwin Sodi, whose companies have done billions of rands worth of business with the state.

It is not as though Ramaphosa could have come out in defence or condemnation of his deputy.

It has more to do with his lack of moral high ground to say anything because, just like Mashatile, the president has been shielded from being held accountable by the lack of urgency within the ruling party to deal with perceived corruption.

The organisation has lived with Mashatile and others being euphemistically referred to as the Alex Mafia and never saw a need to clear them of the tag before he ascended to the No 2 office in the land.

Ramaphosa knows that the same protection that the ANC has afforded Mashatile over the years is the one that they afforded him when Phala Phala nearly removed him from office.

The acting public protector’s report cannot clear him of that, or give him the moral authority to lead effectively, ever again.

READ: Opposition parties question public protector’s Phala Phala report review