President Cyril Ramaphosa’s request that the public should not be favoured with information is considered puzzling for a person promoting integrity and openness, says the writer. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - Emails seem to have assumed pride of place in our body politic.

Not long ago the infamous “Gupta emails” made front-page news in the mainstream media. They purportedly showed how the Gupta family had the “ear of former president Jacob Zuma and enriched his son Duduzane”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa gave weight to the emails by referring to them whenever it was politically expedient to do so. He enthused that the emails exposed the fact that “we were dealing with a much bigger problem than we ever imagined Before that (the leaked emails) it looked like isolated incidents at Eskom and elsewhere, but when the Gupta emails came out, it was clear that the wheels were coming off completely”.

No one bothered to ask whether the emails were obtained illegally. If anything, the question was met with irritation. The argument was that the “truth” was all that mattered.

Ramaphosa could not have imagined that he would, a year later, be at the centre of a similar saga.

Arguments are being advanced that the Ramaphosa leaks also signal prepaid state capture with a prepaid president at the helm.

With the shoe being on the other foot, the question of illegality has taken centre stage. To hell with the truth or authenticity of the emails.

If doggedly pursued, the Ramaphosa leaks might prove to be his political undoing. Headlines point to the unravelling of the “New Dawn”.

But leaked emails are no stranger to Ramaphosa. They seem to haunt his presidency.

Emails assumed prominence during the Farlam Commission investigating the killing of miners in Marikana. Fortunately for Ramaphosa, the commission exonerated him of wrongdoing.

The next Ramaphosa emails to hit the front page were those that involved his supposedly “dangerous liaisons”. To deflate their impact, Ramaphosa approached the courts to stop their publication. The court granted his wish. That put an end to the emails.

The Gupta emails continue to be hauled out whenever the political occasion demands.

The mainstream weekend papers have, by and large, found the Ramaphosa leaks not worthy of front-page material. Be that as it may, there is no doubt the emails raise concerns worthy of public ventilation.

For its part, the ANC has thrown its weight behind the president.

Ramaphosa’s recourse to the courts is unlikely to dispel concerns.

First, the resort to the courts seems to contradict the centrality of the narrative of the New Dawn which centres on transparency and a clean government immune to capture.

Ramaphosa’s request that the public should not be favoured with information is considered puzzling for a person promoting good governance, integrity and openness.

This recourse to the courts sends a disturbing message which suggests that the public or voters cannot be entrusted with sensitive information.

Second, the move to seek judicial protection relates to the need to protect Ramaphosa’s donors’ identities. Arguably they made monies available to support his presidential ambitions. But in politics, we are told, there is no free lunch. The case against Zuma is based on the same logic.

It is alleged that payment was to be made to Zuma in return for possible favours upon his ascendancy to the presidency. Parallels are invariably drawn.

Some argue that if Zuma is on trial for soliciting funds, why shouldn’t the same apply to Ramaphosa? Is it because Ramaphosa’s donors are honourable and therefore beyond reproach?

Those who are not wont to jump to conclusions would reasonably accept the Presidency’s assertion that “neither the president nor the campaign has done anything wrong, ethically or legally”. They might even be willing to accept the argument that “it was agreed that the campaign would raise funds from private individuals who supported the effort to restore the integrity and cohesion of the ANC and to put South Africa back on a path of growth and transformation, with an explicit understanding that their contribution would earn them no special favours or undue advantage”.

But then folks would reasonably ask that if the above is true, why elevate the matter to this level of secrecy?

Ramaphosa has led the way in establishing commissions of inquiry to get to the root of socio-political concerns. It would seem that nothing short of a commission, preferably led by a judge, would be credible to dispel the lingering concerns.

The president must know that concerns will linger unless they are proved to be unfounded. For now, a dark cloud hangs over his New Dawn.

* Seepe is an author and political analyst.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.