In an address to the nation on Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he would seek an “urgent judicial review” of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s damning report into a donation his CR17 campaign received in December 2017 from controversial businessperson, Gavin Watson.
The public protector found the president deliberately misled Parliament when he answered a parliamentary question about a donation received by his campaign from Watson’s company, African Global Group, formerly known as Bosasa.
“Given the gravity of this matter and appreciating the effect that these findings have on this standing — it is essential that the courts be given an opportunity to review the report and make a finding accordingly,” Ramaphosa said.
The president reiterated his support for the office of the public protector, admitting that Mkhwebane’s findings “are very serious”.
“They allege conduct that cannot and should not be taken very lightly,” he said.
But he was also critical of the report.
“After careful study I have concluded that the report is fundamentally and irretrievably flawed. This is strongly confirmed by my legal representatives who have equally studied the public protector’s report very thoroughly. The report contains numerous factual inaccuracies of a material nature. The findings we found are wrong in law, are irrational, and in some instances exceed the scope of the powers of the public protector.”
Rampahosa added however that his evaluation of the report should not be seen as a comment on the person, competence or motive of the public protector.
“It is important that the office of public protector enjoys the confidence of South Africans and that it acts impartially and independently.”
Ramaphosa’s move to take the report on judicial review is seen as an attempt to salvage his reputation at the head of the “clean up” campaign against state capture. Mkhwebane used the word ‘capture’ in her media briefing when referring to the large donations and has instructed Ramaphosa to reveal the identity of his donors as part of her remedial action.
The president acknowledged that “quite a bit of money was raised” for his campaign, but insisted this was not out of the ordinary.
“This happens with all campaigns when people campaign for office, inside their own parties and as we campaign to be elected as public representatives. The money is used for a variety of activities,” he said.
The funds raised, Ramaphosa said, were used for expenses incurred by travelling, hiring meeting rooms, and organising rallies.
“Others also raised quite a bit of money. We may never really know. The only one we know of now is the CR17 one.”
Despite the announcement that he will take the report on judicial review, Ramaphosa is still likely to face calls for a parliamentary investigation into whether or not he deliberately misled the House when he denied knowledge of the donation.
In a tweeted reaction, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane said while Ramaphosa had a right to seek judicial review of Mkhwebane’s report, Parliament still had a right to conduct its inquiry into whether or not Ramaphosa lied in the House.
“I note the decision by the president to seek judicial review as it is his right to do so. It’s equally vital for parliament to establish for itself whether the president misled it. This is essential for accountability. The rule of law is applicable to all. (We) will await (the)finding,” Maimane said.
Maimane said he would request an assurance from Ramaphosa that he would not use public money to defend himself in a matter regarding the financing of an internal party campaign.
“He raised enough money for [the] campaign, he can raise the same for [his] legal defence,’’ Maimane said.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said Ramaphosa had acted with accountability and transparency by taking the nation into his confidence and that the party respected his right to take the matter on review.
Mabe said the party remained committed to building a credible and ethical state and would allow the process that Ramaphosa had embarked upon to play itself out.
Listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address below: