Best of 2022: Phala Phala - a scandal that nearly brought down a presidency

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Dec 23, 2022


It was a scandal that nearly brought down a presidency.

Phala Phala rose to the top of the South African lexicon in 2022 after former spy boss Arthur Fraser laid criminal charges against President Cyril Ramaphosa after the theft of millions of dollars from his game farm in 2020 that had gone unreported.

The genesis of the scandal began in February 2020 after a gang of men, some with ties to Namibia, broke into President Ramaphosa’s game farm and made off with around $4 million without using any violence. Ramaphosa has vehemently denied that this was the amount stolen and has consistently said it was a much smaller amount.

It was revealed that a domestic helper inside the home on the farm helped the suspects. She was interrogated, and the men traced to Cape Town. By the time they were found, they had already exchanged the money into rand. Ramaphosa allegedly failed to report the robbery.

The robbery only came to light in June 2022 when Fraser laid charges against the president, claiming that whatever monies left over from the exchange was returned and the suspects, Immanuwela David, Urbanus Shaumbwako, Erkki Shikongo, Petrus Muhekeni and Petrus Afrikaner, were paid for their silence.

It is also alleged that one of the suspects had been interrogated while in Namibia by the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, Major-General Wally Rhoode, following apparent intervention by Namibian President Hage Geingob.The Namibian government has denied any involvement. When Fraser's charges came to light, Ramaphosa denied any wrongdoing. Spokesperson for the Presidency, Vincent Magwenya, also questioned Fraser’s timing on the charges. Ramaphosa, meanwhile, alluded to a political agenda.

As the scandal erupted, Ramaphosa’s detractors from within and outside the ANC circled and made several moves to force him to resign over the saga.

The DA declared its intent to write to the SA Revenue Service for an investigation into whether the $4m had been declared and taxes paid. The party was also going to approach the SA Reserve Bank on the matter.

Staunch Jacob Zuma supporter, Tony Yengeni, tried to force the ANC National Executive Committee to compel Ramaphosa to step down. Yengeni also tried and failed to get Ramaphosa unseated, and the NWC accepted a report from the president. It said it would await an investigation before revealing its decision.

However, a Section 89 Panel report came the closest to ending Ramaphosa’s presidency.

The report came after African Transformation Movement leader Vuyo Zungula tabled an official motion on 14 June 2022 that parliament investigate President Cyril Ramaphosa by forming a Section 89 Committee Inquiry over allegations the latter had violated section 89 of the Constitution.

The panel, headed by retired chief justice Sandile Ngcobo found that Ramaphosa may have violated his office.

A day after the report was released on 1 December 2022, speculation was rife that Ramaphosa was preparing to resign as his office had said he planned to address the nation later that night. At the last minute, the president’s allies had convinced him to stay on and fight the report, which they had called flimsy.

Ramaphosa said: “I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me,” he said.

Despite the scandal hanging over his head, Ramaphosa consolidated his power in the ANC after winning a second term as ANC president during the party’s elective conference that began on December 16 and ended four days later.

He is now expected to lead the party to the 2024 General Elections. Whether or not the Phala Phala scandal comes back to haunt Ramaphosa and the ANC with the electorate remains to be seen.