7 December 2022 in Dossier Laboratory South Africa, Geopolitics


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is one step closer to proceedings that will lead to his resignation. As in the case of his predecessor (and, perhaps, successor), Jacob Zuma, an independent commission of enquiry has been able to demonstrate serious examples of corruption – a commission manoeuvred by intelligence officers who, in the confusion of a nation in disarray, it is no longer clear what powers they work for and whether they are still controllable[1].

May 2024 is a long way away, when, barring constitutional earthquakes that change the rules[2], South Africans will renew the South African National Assembly and elect a new president[3]. Due to ongoing scandals and an objective inability to govern, South Africa has been shaken by an unprecedented wave of violence and crime since 2021[4]. After Cyril Ramaphosa was appointed president in 2020, following the impeachment of Jacob Zuma, the ANC (African National Congress), the party led for years by Nelson Mandela, lost about half of its support – but found no alternative among other parties: Today the battle is between individual factions of ANC leaders[5], grown up without rules and without respect for the law, who, first and foremost, vie for the palm of the richest man in the country, rather than that of a statesman capable of tackling and solving problems: Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma and Tokyo Sexwale[6].

The voting date is a long way off, and it is hard to imagine that it will get there without riots. The country is divided between powerful and bloodthirsty criminal gangs[7], violence and despair reign supreme, the police force is inadequate and corrupt, the courts are unable to handle the amount of litigation that grips the lives of South Africans, the multinational mining companies, which in the past had managed (ignoring civil rights and environmental needs) to stabilise the country, now face the threat of generalised violence, increased by the crisis of the entire legislative system[8].

The Farmgate case

Phala-Phala: The farmhouse with swimming pool that hosts tourists and friends of President Ramaphosa[9]

President Ramaphosa is the richest politician in South Africa, with an estimated wealth of 450 million dollars[10]. Right behind him comes another ANC leader, Tokyo Sexwale, who declares a fortune of USD 200 million[11]. Naturally inaccurate figures, given that the most powerful of the politicians, former president Jacob Zuma, forced to resign in 2019 after years of scandals, declares just $20 million, despite experts estimating that the real figure exceeds $1 billion[12].

Ramaphosa’s wealth has been built through board mandates in many multinational companies that, thanks to him, have obtained mining, banking or trading concessions, and also significant tax deductions[13]. What he has earned he has invested in his passion: buffalo breeding, in which field he is now a great entrepreneur[14]. It is precisely his buffaloes that are at the heart of the scandal that threatens to engulf him and which the South Africans therefore call ‘Farmgate’. In its investigations, the commission of enquiry started from the statement of Arthur Fraser, former head of the South African secret service, who was called to answer a central question: why did President Ramaphosa allow the illegal release of his main opponent, Jacob Zuma, after he had been convicted?

Fraser explained to the magistrates: Zuma is blackmailing Ramaphosa because he is aware of a robbery at the president’s home, dating back to 9 February 2020, probably carried out by bandits linked to the Gcaba Brothers (according to security camera images[15]). The thieves stole $4 million in cash that had been hidden in the upholstery of the large sofa in the living room – a fact of which the bandits must have been aware, since they did not touch anything else[16]. The sofa is located in the Phala Phala villa, 4500 hectares of forest and savannah in the Limpopo region – South Africa’s Umbria. A villa that Ramaphosa has never declared to the tax authorities, adjacent to a national park[17], in whose grounds the president, the owner of the park, apparently allows his guests to go hunting for endangered animals[18].

It is money that the president is unable to justify: before the committee he admitted that it was ‘only’ $580,000 and that it was the proceeds of the sale of some cattle[19]. Considering that a buffalo sells for around $3,000 per head, Ramaphosa claims to have sold 200 of his beloved animals – a quantity that would make up one third of his buffaloes, and which no trader would be able to pay in cash, and in foreign currency to boot[20]. In any case, even if he were telling the truth, it would be a clear case of tax evasion.

The connections to power in Namibia

A wedding party of one of the members of the bloodthirsty Gcaba Brothers criminal gang: the largest and most powerful in South Africa, one of the most powerful in the world[21]

This is why a magistrate, Mrs Busisiwe Mukhebane, has opened several criminal prosecutions, due to Arthur Fraser’s statements and a barrage of statements from the leaders of the opposition parties[22], so that everything suggests that Ramaphosa’s fate is now sealed. There is another very worrying news: Kgalema Motlanthe, a symbol of Madiba’s spirit, has repeatedly held provisional posts due to the forced resignation of politicians in key positions, but he has already said that this time a red line of state credibility has been crossed, so that he does not want to get involved and suggests tout-court the dissolution of the ANC[23].

At the same time, because of Fraser’s statements, Namibia’s judiciary has also opened a criminal investigation against its president, Hage Geingob, who is alleged to have been complicit in illegal currency transfers by Ramaphosa[24]. The latter, in a public statement, countered: he knew Ramaphosa, as is only fair between neighbours, and he called him to inform him of the fact that the secret service had identified some of the members of the gang that burgled Phala Phala as known Namibian gangsters – which is why Geingob had them arrested and handed over to the special forces in Pretoria at the border[25].

Not a word about the fact that all this would have taken place completely outside the law: in the case of the Phala Phala robbery there was no report of theft, no police investigation, no rogatory request to arrest foreign nationals abroad: everything would have been decided in the context of a ‘normal chat between friends’[26]. All of which forces us to reflect: we have described the links between South African criminal gangs (especially those from KwaZulu-Natal) and those from Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique, who export raw materials stolen from mines, copper stripped from infrastructure, or petrol stolen from rail or truck transport, and import consumer goods into South Africa, especially after the Pretoria government, by declaring prohibition on alcohol and tobacco, created an extraordinary market for illegality[27].

Hage Geingob is no pansy: ever since the declaration of independence, he has been the most powerful man in the country[28], and has for years been suspected of being at the centre of corruption[29] and nepotism[30]. From 2019 onwards, the year in which he was re-elected with more than 56% of the votes, rumours of corruption and his links to smuggling have gained momentum[31], culminating in the opening of a criminal investigation against him over a fishing licence scandal[32]. As for his links with Ramaphosa, these have been known for some time[33], but in recent months have taken on a new dimension due to the renewal of offshore oil concessions on the north-west coast on the Namibian-South African border, as part of what is known as ‘Operation Phakisa’ (which in the local Bantu dialect called sesotho means ‘hurry up’)[34].

This is a plan by the South African government to finance and coordinate the exploitation of offshore oil and diamond fields under the NDP (National Development Plan) launched in 2014 by Jacob Zuma[35] and then remained a dead letter for years, as the concessions are located on the border of an area of environmental interest that[36], according to international authorities, cannot be touched without strongly negative reactions from the IMF and the World Bank – i.e. those on whom the South African economy is increasingly dependent. After Ramaphosa’s appointment as president, however, the initiative picked up speed, and the first applications for mining concessions arrived.

The original plan of Operation Phakisa, launched by Jacob Zuma in 2014[37]

When the project was frozen, the only negotiation that existed was between a state mining company, Alexkor, and the Richtersveld tribal communities[38], which owns the rights to the land and ocean area where the tribe fishes[39]. After the reopening of the tenders, it was discovered that the old contract had expired, and that the South African DMRE (Department for Mineral Resources), in agreement with the state agency SAMSA (South African Maritime Saftey Authority) had awarded mining concessions without any legal control[40], in the name of the need to hurry[41], extending the project to tenders for offshore drilling in Angola and Namibia[42].

The first concessions went to the multinational diamond company DeBeers[43] and the consortium Belton Park Trading 127, which unites the South African state oil company PetroSA[44] and several tribal communities in the Richtersveld coastal area[45]. But when other companies went to submit their bids, they found out that SAMSA, for unknown reasons, had awarded all the old Alexkor concessions, which are located in the Lamberts Bay fishing area, to two unknown South African companies, with no employees and a laughable share capital: Buchuberg Resources (Pty) Ltd. Bellville and Cape Zircon (Pty) Ltd. Vredendal, which are allocated a vast area, bordering Namibia, and ecologically untouchable[46].

A cursory search is enough to discover that the two companies have the same shareholder: the Trans-Hex group of Ramaphosa and Zuma’s political opponent, Tokyo Sexwale[47] , represented by his trusted lawyer, Vincent Sebatly Madlela and his manager Lambertus Martinius Cilliers[48]. The two companies were able to bureaucratically justify the contract because one of the directors of these two front companies, Jacobus Kotze Van Niekerk, had in the past been the Alexkor official who had signed the original concessions[49].

It turns out that already during the Zuma presidency there had been illicit links between DeBeers, Trans-Hex and other diamond operators: they tried by all means to exclude the Richtersveld community from the contracts, and to achieve this they created a series of fictitious business operations, the purpose of which was to generate fictitious losses and justify a failure of the joint venture with the tribes[50]. At the same time, the DMRE and SAMSA establish Alexkor’s successors in the Phakisa contract with a tender – which is won by Scarlet Sky Investments 60 Ltd., meanwhile renamed to Alexander Bay Diamond Company Ltd. Johannesburg[51]: a tender won thanks to bribes paid by the owners of Alexander Bay: the Gupta Clan, one of Jacob Zuma’s most powerful allies[52].

What happens now

The beautiful Olifants River National Park area which, according to Operation Phakisa, is to be turned into a huge chemo-oil industrial area[53]

While the media and the judiciary discuss the probable resignation of President Ramaphosa, a power struggle has been going on behind his back for over a year now with well-defined contours: the ANC continues to lose support, because in 30 years of government it has shown itself to be divided into family factions, corrupt and incapable of governing. But there are no alternative political forces capable of taking over its legacy, because they (like the EFF) themselves are either expressions of internal splits within the ANC or, like the DA Democratic Alliance, are the party of the white minority, which will never get the votes of the country’s black majority.

All the important decisions taken by the government in the last decade have turned out to be detrimental, from the introduction of prohibition (an experience that ended after six months in which smuggling completely replaced the country’s commercial distribution system) to the Black Empowerment Act, which obliges large foreign companies to give up part of their shares to local companies – a law that has enriched the most powerful tribal clans and has not brought a single penny into the pockets of the poor people.

The population, in despair, turned to the Zulu monarchy, which was itself corrupt and only dedicated to amassing wealth and cultivating intrigues among courtiers. Behind all this disaster are criminal organisations, first and foremost the Gupta family, which seemed to have been defeated with the resignation of President Zuma (who was their puppet) and the arrest of two members of the Indian clan. But no. The Gupta clan, like the Sicilian mafia after the arrest of the boss of bosses, Totò Riina, did not lose power, but made new alliances: the one with Tokyo Sexwale, who in turn is the head of another organisation involved in dozens of financial and industrial scandals and excellent murders. The fact that Ramaphosa, who was hoped to be the last stand against disaster, is himself part of the criminal system, is feral news.

All this is a sign that, despite the desperate struggle of many intellectuals and the independent judiciary, South Africa is slipping into a drift in which democracy will remain only a coloured curtain behind which real power will be wielded without rules, without limits, without interest for individual citizens, by two or three bloodthirsty and unassailable clans. A miserable ending, after only 30 years since the end of apartheid, which unfortunately proves right the chauvinists who justified the inhuman Botha regime by asserting the inability of the Bantu and Zulu to peacefully coexist and run a modern democratic state.


[1] Ramaphosa choc, a un passo dalle dimissioni | il manifesto

[2] https://www.gov.za/speeches/ministerial-advisory-committee-electoral-system-hosts-first-consultative-meeting-24-mar ; https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2021-06-13-advisory-committee-divided-on-which-electoral-system-to-adopt/

[3] https://blog.oxfordeconomics.com/content/south-africa-what-the-july-unrest-tells-us-about-the-2024-elections

[4] https://blog.oxfordeconomics.com/content/south-africa-what-the-july-unrest-tells-us-about-the-2024-elections

[5] https://mg.co.za/opinion/2022-11-10-danger-ahead-as-anc-declines-with-no-democratic-alternative/ ; https://www.news24.com/news24/politics/political-parties/anc-in-decline-but-no-other-party-attracting-voters-rivonia-circle-poll-finds-20221109

[6] https://rnn.ng/richest-politicians-in-south-africa/

[7] https://www.ubetoo.com/news/everything-you-should-know-about-the-gcaba-brothers/

[8] Richards Bay Minerals wants court to stop unlawful payments to chiefs – The Mail & Guardian (mg.co.za)

[9] https://www.wheretostay.co.za/impala-lodge-self-catering-mabalingwe-bela-bela

[10] https://rnn.ng/richest-politicians-in-south-africa/

[11] https://rnn.ng/richest-politicians-in-south-africa/

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/01/jacob-zuma-sought-to-hand-state-assets-to-business-allies-finds-corruption-report

[13] https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/2012-09-16-rich-still-in-pound-seats/ ; https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2012/12/22/return-of-a-prodigal-son ; https://www.westerncape.gov.za/text/2004/5/beecomreport.pdf

[14] https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/cyril-ramaphosas-ankole-bull-sells-r640-000/ ; https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/animals/cattle/ankole-longhorn-cyril-ramaphosas-passion-pride/

[15] https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/6/9/what-is-south-africas-phala-phala-scandal-all-about

[16] Ramaphosa choc, a un passo dalle dimissioni | il manifesto

[17] https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-12-01-ramaphosas-farmgate-scandal-a-timeline-of-what-we-know-and-dont-know-so-far/

[18] https://studgamebreeders.co.za/breeders/phala-phala/

[19] https://www.news24.com/news24/investigations/phala-phala-ramaphosa-tells-ex-chief-justice-game-farm-operates-at-a-loss-denies-unlawful-activity-20221130

[20] https://farmingbase.com/how-much-does-a-buffalo-cost/

[21] https://www.ubetoo.com/news/everything-you-should-know-about-the-gcaba-brothers/

[22] https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/6/9/what-is-south-africas-phala-phala-scandal-all-about

[23] Ramaphosa choc, a un passo dalle dimissioni | il manifesto

[24] https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/6/9/what-is-south-africas-phala-phala-scandal-all-about

[25] https://www.sabcnews.com/sabcnews/namibian-president-geingob-breaks-silence-on-phala-phala-scandal/

[26] https://www.sabcnews.com/sabcnews/namibian-president-geingob-breaks-silence-on-phala-phala-scandal/


[28] https://web.archive.org/web/20150214164806/http://www.az.com.na/lokales/hage-geingob-ist-70-geworden.131898.php ; https://allafrica.com/stories/201002040108.html ; https://web.archive.org/web/20131119062801/http://www.az.com.na/politik/geingob-wieder-premier.160243.php

[29] https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20180410-namibias-geingob-strongly-denies-involvement-corruption

[30] https://www.namibian.com.na/37499/archive-read/Hage-named-heir-apparent

[31] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/12/01/world/politics-diplomacy-world/namibian-president-hage-geingob-wins-election/

[32] https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/fishing-with-dynamite-the-secret-scheme-that-helped-namibias-president-stay-in-power ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/4/2/namibian-president-caught-in-new-fishing-corruption-allegations

[33] https://www.iol.co.za/news/ramaphosa-hands-over-sadc-chairmanship-to-namibias-geingob-16618503

[34] https://www.operationphakisa.gov.za/Pages/Home.aspx

[35] https://www.dffe.gov.za/sites/default/files/docs/publications/operationphakisa_businessreportadvert.pdf ; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19480881.2018.1475857?journalCode=rior20

[36] https://www.operationphakisa.gov.za/operations/Biodiversity/Pages/default.aspx

[37] https://www.gcis.gov.za/insight-newsletter-issue-24

[38] https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-13-guptaleaks-a-tale-of-two-captures-alexkor-gupta-inc-and-wmc/

[39] https://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/alexkor-focus-only-in-sa-for-now-says-acting-ceo-2012-09-07 ; https://www.miningmx.com/news/diamonds/24838-gigaba-pours-cold-water-on-alexkor-aspirations/

[40] https://www.giwacaf.net/en/our/activities/ims-300-training-and-3rd-joint-industry-government-exercise/report

[41] https://nationalgovernment.co.za/department_annual/400/2021-department-of-mineral-resources-and-energy-(dmre)-annual-report.pdf, page 61

[42] https://www.samsa.org.za/Tender%20Documents/BCC%20IMOrg%20procurement%20%20Annex%20A_IMS%20Training%20%20Exercise.pdf

[43] https://cdn.slrconsulting.com/uploads/2021-06/DB07_DBAR_Main%20Report.pdf

[44] https://www.petrosa.co.za/Pages/Home.aspx

[45] https://sahris.sahra.org.za/sites/default/files/additionaldocs/IMD05B_DEIR_ExecSumm.pdf

[46] https://www.protectthewestcoast.org/cape-zircon-mining-threat ; https://www.protectthewestcoast.org/buchuberg-mining-threat ; https://www.masifundise.org/lamberts-bay-says-no-to-mining/ ; https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/fishing-communities-oppose-west-coast-mining-plans-b863287a-241e-4b96-b82f-63b5a13bf2cd ; https://naturaljustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Cape-Zircon-and-Buchuberg-Comments_West-Coast-Mining.pdf

[47] https://www.miningmx.com/news/diamonds/15443-trans-hex-aims-for-angola-turnaround/ ; https://www.miningweekly.com/article/trans-hex-dips-toe-in-diamond-beneficiation-waters-2007-11-23 ; https://www.zammagazine.com/arts/551-the-many-truths-of-tokyo-sexwale

[48] https://www.transhex.co.za/team/bertus-cilliers-49/

[49] https://africawild-forum.com/viewtopic.php?t=11005

[50] https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-13-guptaleaks-a-tale-of-two-captures-alexkor-gupta-inc-and-wmc/

[51] https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2022-08-12-gordhan-welcomes-siu-probe-into-allegations-of-corruption-at-alexkor/ ; https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-13-guptaleaks-a-tale-of-two-captures-alexkor-gupta-inc-and-wmc/


[53] https://africawild-forum.com/viewtopic.php?t=11005

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