JOHANNESBURG (AP) —
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has claimed there was “nothing sinister” about the funding for his 2017 political campaign to become president of the ruling party, the African National Congress.
Ramaphosa was testifying Thursday, his second day before the judicial inquiry investigating allegations of corruption in government and state-owned companies during the tenure of his predecessor, former president Jacob Zuma. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is chairman of the commission.
Ramaphosa was Zuma’s deputy president from 2014 to 2018, when Zuma was forced to step down as a result of wide-ranging allegations of graft.
It is charged that while president, Zuma allowed his associates in the Gupta family to influence his appointments of Cabinet ministers and the directors of state-owned corporations in order to win lucrative state contracts.
Describing how his campaign funds were raised, Ramaphosa said his managers did not tell him who donated money to reduce the possibility they would influence his decisions.
“The campaign managers had taken a conscious decision that they would not involve me at all in the fundraising process,” said Ramaphosa. “They would also not want me to even know who would give money to the campaign because they wanted to create a wall, that those people who gave the money to not really think there would be anything they will get in return.”
It is the first time Ramaphosa has been publicly questioned about the funding for his campaign, which was reported to have raised close to 1 billion rand (approximately $69 million) from wealthy individuals and businesses.
Ramaphosa disputed allegations that the money was used to buy votes.
“There is a legend that goes that the money was used to buy votes … I told my comrades that I would never want to be a part of a campaign that will descend into all these kinds of deviant behaviors that we talk about in the ANC, about vote-buying,” said Ramaphosa.
“I even said I would rather lose the race rather than have votes bought,” said Ramaphosa.
The funding for his campaign is currently the subject of a court case in which some opposition parties and the country’s public watchdog are seeking to have the bank statement related to the campaign made public.
Ramaphosa was questioned about why the ANC received funding from African Global Operations, a company formerly known as Bosasa which has been implicated in wide-ranging allegations of corruption at the inquiry.
“We should have been more alert, especially to reports which had come out much earlier. We would not knowingly and intentionally accept donations from companies or donors who had been involved in criminal activity, so that should be regarded as a major lapse,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa will appear again before the inquiry in May, where he is expected to testify about what he knew about specific allegations of corruption in government departments and state-owned companies.