Questions over state funds in Ramaphosa’s private legal matters

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: David Ritchie/Independent Newspapers Archive

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: David Ritchie/Independent Newspapers Archive

Published Jan 18, 2024


Questions have been raised about the Office of the President paying for legal fees in matters where it is believed President Cyril Ramaphosa should have dealt with the cases privately or on behalf of the ANC.

The matter was raised by EFF MP Mzwanele Manyi, who in a parliamentary question asked about the total sum the Presidency has spent in legal fees where the president was either a respondent or an applicant since he was elected head of state on February 15, 2018.

In response to that question, the Presidency said the office of the president had spent a total of R9 million where Ramaphosa was the applicant, and R23m where he was the first respondent.

Manyi said he has no problem with money being used for cases involving the state; however, he took issue when taxpayers’ money was used for private matters.

For example, he cited Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm robbery scandal, where a large sum of money was stolen.

“It was something that happened on his private farm. He decreed that the state should not be concerned with security on his farm, against advice.

The criminals were able to break into his farmhouse and steal money from under the mattress. This was a private matter. Dealing with this through various court processes, state coffers were used,” he said.

Ramaphosa had made an application for direct access to the Constitutional Court – which was dismissed – to overturn the Section 89 panel’s report on the Phala Phala scandal.

In another matter, Manyi said when the DA raised the issue of cadre deployment, he expected the ANC to go to court as the matter was directed at the party.

“Before I knew it the Presidency was going to court in what I thought was an ANC matter and ministers got involved,” Manyi said, questioning why the state fiscus was being used for “shenanigans”.

The African Transformation Movement’s (ATM) chief of staff, Mxolisi Makhubu, said the party was dismayed by the exorbitant legal fees incurred by the president’s office.

He said some cases could have been avoided had Ramaphosa adhered to the solemn oath he took upon assuming office.

“The Phala Phala scandal is a glaring example of a leader straying far from the principles of accountability and ethical governance. The president’s involvement in seeking to set aside the Section 89 independent panel report only reinforces suspicions that he is more interested in evading scrutiny than confronting the consequences of his actions,” Makhubu said.

He said the incessant legal battles against the former public protector, advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, were “disgraceful”.

“Advocate Mkhwebane, in fulfilling her constitutionally-mandated duties, faced relentless opposition from the president, who appears to view any attempt at accountability as a personal attack, even to a point of her premature suspension,” he said.

He said the president’s litigious approach towards ATM president Vuyo Zungula was equally distressing.

“These cases not only drain public resources, but also divert attention and energy away from issues that genuinely matter to the citizens.”

Since 2018, the South African Legal Information Institute has at least 18 legal matters on record where the president has either been an applicant or a respondent.

According to reports last month, Ramaphosa will apply for leave to appeal the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruling, which set aside his recognition of Zulu King Misuzulu, declaring it unlawful and invalid.

The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, ruled that Ramaphosa had failed to follow due process in terms of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act 3 of 2019, also known as the Leadership Act, when he failed to institute an investigating committee when a dispute over the throne arose.

The Presidency had not responded to questions sent this week, by the time of publication.

The Mercury