Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Mmusi Maimane. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

The DA wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to pay legal fees out of his own pocket if he decides to take public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s final Bosasa report on review once it is released.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said Ramaphosa had every right to take the report on review, however South Africans could not be expected to pay the legal bills to “defend himself against allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and money laundering”.

“We contend that Ramaphosa would be required by law to pay for such legal action from his own pocket as he would be litigating in his personal capacity.”

Maimane said he had written to Ramaphosa requesting an undertaking that he will not use any public money to fund his legal action. 

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko, however, called the DA’s request “ludicrous” because the complaint lodged with the public protector related to Ramaphosa being in parliament answering questions, and how he answered those was in the course of fulfilling his duties as head of state. “It doesn’t stand that suddenly he is a private citizen,” she said.

Diko said, as is standard practice, an undertaking would be signed for the president to repay the costs of the matter if it is found that he had acted in his personal interest.

Mkhwebane is investigating whether Ramaphosa breached the Executive Members’ Ethics Act by misleading parliament over the R500,000 donation he received from Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson for his campaign to become ANC president in December 2017.

Late last month, Ramaphosa announced that he had responded to Mkhwebane’s findings that he was implicated in her probe.

Maimane lodged a complaint with Mkhwebane late last year after Ramaphosa initially told parliament that the R500,000 payment to an account used to manage his campaign donations was, in fact, a consultancy payment from Bosasa to his son, Andile. Days later he wrote to then speaker Baleka Mbete and admitted he was wrong, and that the money was actually a donation to his election campaign.

On Wednesday, Maimane said it was the DA’s view that the donation was not made to Ramaphosa as then deputy president, but rather as a private citizen in pursuit of elected office in the ANC. Similarly, if the public protector found he did mislead the National Assembly, this would have been in respect of his actions as a private citizen, he added. 

Maimane said the Pretoria High Court had set a precedent in the legal costs matter against former president Jacob Zuma.

He also said Ramaphosa himself was quoted by the court in his support of the judgment, in which he said it is a “fundamental principle that public money should not be used to cover the legal expenses of individuals on strictly personal matters”.

“This provides President Ramaphosa with a perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the people of SA that he is different to his predecessor by undertaking to pay his own legal fees,” Maimane said. “No citizen is above the law, including the president.”