South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is standing his ground in a deepening campaign funding scandal that threatens to scar his reputation and undermine his drive to tackle rampant graft, insisting that he has done nothing wrong.
Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the nation’s anti-graft ombudsman, said Ramaphosa misled lawmakers about a donation to his 2017 campaign to win control of the ruling party and instructed parliament to censure him for violating the constitution and the executive ethics code. While Ramaphosa said he was kept at arm’s length from his campaign fund-raising, Cape Town-based website News24 reported that it obtained verified copies of leaked emails from his camp disproving his assertion.
“This is smoke and mirrors,” Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, said in an interview with Johannesburg-based broadcaster eNCA on Monday. “The president hasn’t committed any crime. None of those donations are coming from anybody whom, from the best of our knowledge, would have obtained that money illegally.”
Mkhwebane initiated an investigation into the president at the request of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which questioned whether a 500,000 rand ($33,500) payment his campaign received from Gavin Watson, the chief executive officer of services company Bosasa, was above board. Testimony given to a judicial panel has implicated the company in paying bribes to senior government officials to win contracts.
Ramaphosa said he inadvertently failed to disclose the payment to lawmakers and rectified his mistake as soon as possible. He’s challenging Mkhwebane’s findings that he intentionally misled parliament and filed an urgent interdict to postpone any censure until the case is heard. A date for both hearings has yet to be set.
More than 120 people donated money to Ramaphosa’s campaign on the understanding that they should expect nothing in return, according to Diko.
“We stand by our statements that the president was not privy to the day-to-day running of the campaign,” and didn’t know about Watson’s donation, she said. “Yes, there were times where guidance may have been sought from him.”