Ramaphosa 'misled' SA parliament about donation: Watchdog

Report by public protector on president comes as predecessor abandons testimony to commission probing graft allegations.

    Ramaphosa (pictured) last year replaced Jacob Zuma as president vowing to clean up the government [File: Rodger Bosch/Reuters]
    Ramaphosa (pictured) last year replaced Jacob Zuma as president vowing to clean up the government [File: Rodger Bosch/Reuters]

    South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog has said President Cyril Ramaphosa "misled" parliament about a 500,000 rand ($35,900) donation he received for his campaign to lead the African National Congress (ANC).

    Ramaphosa, who replaced former President Jacob Zuma last year and then went on to win a presidential election by pledging to tackle corruption, had denied knowledge of the donation when he was asked about it in parliament in November.

    Ramaphosa initially told lawmakers that the payment was to his son, Andile, for consultancy work for Bosasa, now known as African Global Operations. He later admitted that it was a donation towards his campaign to become ANC leader.

    Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who investigates allegations of wrongdoing by state officials, told reporters on Friday that Ramaphosa had violated the constitution and breached the executive code of ethics in his parliamentary reply.

    In a report released on Friday, Mkhwebane said: "Although President Ramaphosa may have justified to correct the earlier statement on erroneous or incomplete information at his disposal, he indeed misled parliament".

    She said the president "should have allowed himself sufficient time to research a well-informed response," before responding to a question from the main opposition Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.

    "I therefore find that President Ramaphosa's conduct ... although ostensibly in good faith, to be inconsistent with his office".

    Al Jazeera's Fahmida Miller, reporting from Pretoria, said Mkhwebane has referred her report to the ethics committee of parliament, which is likely to investigate further.

    "Their findings will determine what happens next, but this also doesn't stop members of parliament applying for a motion of no-confidence to the speaker," she added. "It's not certain that that will happen but it's certainly an option, at this point."

    The public protector also found that the manner in which the donation was channelled through several accounts, including the account of the Ramaphosa campaign, raised suspicions of money laundering.

    Zuma pulls out of commission inquiry 

    Meanwhile, Ramaphosa's predecessor agreed on Friday to continue giving evidence at a corruption inquiry probing wide-ranging allegations of graft in government and state-owned companies during his nine-year tenure.

    Earlier, Zuma had threatened to pull out of the inquiry because he said he was being questioned unfairly.

    Zuma's lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane told the senior judge overseeing the inquiry, Raymond Zondo, that the former president had been subject to a "relentless cross-examination".

    "Our client from the beginning ... has been treated as someone who was accused," he said.

    But Zondo said an agreement had been reached whereby Zuma would provide written statements on areas of interest for the inquiry's legal team and would then return to the inquiry at a later stage.

    "It is contemplated within this agreement that at a certain stage the former president will come back and give evidence," said Zonda, who then adjourned Friday's hearing.

    Zuma, who has faced accusations of overseeing mass looting of state assets, popularly referred to as "state capture", had dismissed all allegations made against him by previous witnesses to the inquiry, calling them part of an international intelligence conspiracy that began more than 25 years ago to assassinate his character.

    He has been questioned about his close relationship with the wealthy Gupta family and allegations that they exerted influence over cabinet appointments and state contracts.

    In 2018, he resigned in the face of growing pressure from his ruling ANC party and was replaced by Ramaphosa, his deputy at the time.

    Miller said that at a time where South Africa's focus on state corruption is especially high, Ramaphosa's implication in fraud takes the ruling ANC party "a step back in terms of fighting corruption".

    "[The ANC] will face a lot of questions from both parliament and the public around what happens next, and how this has opened up yet another president to similar questions and perhaps a fate of being removed from office," she said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies