The ANC’s head of the Presidency Sibongile Besani has moved to clarify remarks made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a leaked audio, saying Ramaphosa was not attempting to shield ANC members who have allegedly used state resources and public funds to advance their internal political campaigns.
This follows outrage on social media over the clip in which Ramaphosa – during a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) – is heard responding to ANC NEC member, Tony Yengeni, over concerns about financial contributions to his 2017 campaign for the ANC presidency, popularly known as the CR17 campaign.
In the recording, Ramaphosa appears to be saying he was “willing to fall on the sword” to protect the ANC, instead of revealing the names of ANC members who had allegedly used public funds for their political campaigns.
This was ahead of the governing party’s 2017 elective conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, where Ramaphosa beat Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma for the ANC presidency.
Ramaphosa said in the audio: “One of the officials said as these people from the state security [agency] testify [at the state capture commission], one of the officials said soon they will be revealing about how money was used for some campaigns, and I said I would rather they say you got money from this business for CR17 than for the public to finally hear that their public money was used to advance certain campaigns.”
Both the ANC and the president’s office failed to respond to questions regarding the leaked audio for two days, before Besani finally broke the silence on Thursday morning.
Besani strongly denied allegations that Ramaphosa was attempting to hide information from the public about state funds being used in the ANC’s internal political campaigns.
He said the clip was taken out of context by a lot of people because the president was apparently trying to point out that, he would rather have the public scrutinise his CR17 campaign and its funding, instead of him deflecting and focusing the attention on the other campaigns that were run by Lindiwe Sisulu, Zweli Mkhize and others at the time.
“What is critical here is that at the heart of that audio clip is that the focus at that stage was CR17 [campaign] funds, which were being ventilated in the courts of law.
“In the process of these matters receiving attention in the courts of law and publicly, there were also a number of concerns and counter-accusations that other campaigns during the Nasrec conference also used state resources.
“So the president was explaining that he prefers that there should be a focus on the CR17 funds, than bringing other issues or other counter-accusations because, if he did so, it would be as if he is diverting the attention of the issue of CR17 funds,” Besani said in an interview with Radio 702.
He said Ramaphosa was not in any way trying to protect corrupt individuals from being held accountable, but wanted to keep the focus on his campaign, which is alleged to have amassed millions of Rand from donors and business people.
“So the issue here is not about the president having an aversion to accountability or the president incriminating himself or the president trying to shield corruption.
“He was saying I rather do everything at all costs to ensure that there is a focus on the CR17 funds than to drag other campaigns in.”
‘Willing to fall on the sword’
Besani explained that Ramapohosa was willing to expose the CR17 campaign to public criticism because he did not want the actions of allegedly corrupt ANC members to taint the party’s image, hence explaining the “willing to fall on the sword” comment he made in the recording.
“He is actually asserting that fact that it is important that ANC is not dragged into activities of individuals and that are un-ANC.
“So, at the heart of what the president was saying is not to divert attention from CR17 funds… that is the crux of the matter. This is a valid but factual explanation and a truthful one,” he asserted.
Pressed further on the matter about public funds being used in internal ANC campaigns, Besani said Ramaphosa only highlighted the issue about taxpayers’ monies because he was concerned about this and wanted the ANC to deal with the issue.
He emphasised that the president remained committed to fighting corruption and being accountable to South Africans, in spite of the remarks in the leaked recording.
“It is unacceptable for public funds to be used for campaigns. That is the essence of it.
“The president was asserting that is unacceptable that the public resources [and] state resources should be used for political campaigns and agendas.”
Despite being pushed on why the President would not, as is required by law, report knowledge of this alleged abuse of state funds to law enforcement, Besani did not provide an answer.