Ten days after South African crime intelligence authorities were told that the alleged Phala Phala mastermind had been arrested by Namibian police, President Cyril Ramaphosa's special advisor met with Namibian President Hage Geingob in a secret engagement he says was "unrelated" to the break-in.
Bejani Chauke, who served as Ramaphosa's principal advisor between 2018 and 2023 and was an instrumental figure in his CR17 campaign for leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), told the Public Protector that he could not disclose what he and Geingob had discussed in the one-on-one engagement on 27 June 2020 because it involved "a matter of national security in which Namibia was implicated".
The meeting took place, he said, after "the Presidency furnished me with a letter addressed to president Geingob and instructed me to travel to Namibia as the president's envoy to meet with president Geingob".
A statement submitted by Crime Intelligence officer Mohamed Imraan Hyder to the Public Protector reveals Chauke's meeting with Geingob happened days after Colonel Jorine Edwards, the former SA Police Service (SAPS) liaison officer to Namibia, filed two reports on the arrest of Imanuwela David – identified as a prime suspect in the theft of $580 000 from Phala Phala – within weeks of the February 2020 burglary.
At the time, Edwards had no idea that David was implicated in the Phala Phala break-in, which only became public knowledge after the former Zuma administration spy boss Arthur Fraser laid charges against Ramaphosa over the break-in in June 2022.
Presidential Protection Services (PPS) head Major-General Wally Rhoode confirmed in his evidence to the Public Protector that David had been identified as the "mastermind" behind the theft by David Joseph, when Joseph was questioned in the weeks following the break-in.
Joseph allegedly admitted to telling the burglars about the dollars that his domestic worker sister had found while cleaning a sofa in the Phala Phala farmhouse.
Neither Rhoode nor any of the Phala Phala staff opened a case in relation to the burglary, but the PPS knew that David was a potentially key figure in the theft of cash that Ramaphosa claims was a deposit for 20 "substandard" buffalo.
According to Hyder, Edwards sent three reports about David:
- The first related to his arrest and was dated 17 June 2020;
- The second, which was a follow-up on the first report and which described David as a "person smuggled into Namibia", was dated 22 June 2020; and
- The last report, titled "Request for Information Sharing NAMPOL [Namibian Police Force] – Imanuwela David", was dated 30 June 2020.
"All the above reports indicated the alleged unlawful entry of Mr Imanuwela David into Namibia from South Africa. None of the reports made mention of the subject being a suspect in a robbery at the president's farm. The reports presented a case of an illegal border crossing and a violation of the Namibian Immigration Control Act and contravention of the Covid control measures.
"Colonel Edwards requested that the SAPS profile the arrested subject and provide any relevant criminal information on the suspect. All the reports … were duly forwarded to the Border Integrity Intelligence Centre for their information and attention. A copy of Imanuwela David's passport was included in the documents," Hyder said.
That passport was subsequently identified as fake.
Hyder said he transmitted a final message to Edwards on 2 July 2020, informing her that "due to the travel document being fake, it would not be possible to obtain any electronic crime records for further sharing with the Namibian authorities".
"None of these reports from Colonel Edwards, nor any information transmitted by her, indicated the subject, Imanuwela David, is suspected of a robbery at the president's farm," he stressed.
And that was not surprising. Because no case had been registered in connection with the Phala Phala break-in, David would not, in any event, have been flagged as a suspect in the burglary.
However, Rhoode, who confirmed that he had driven Chauke to Namibia for his "national security" meeting with Geingob, knew exactly who David was.
Rhoode told the Public Protector's investigators that he gave Chauke a "lift" in a BMW X5 to Namibia in June 2020 – at Ramaphosa's request. He was insistent that he did not provide security services to Chauke.
Evidence before the Public Protector revealed that Rhoode and a "warrant officer Ruiter" drove Chauke to Upington on 25 June 2020. The following day, they went to the so-called "no man's land" between South Africa and Namibia, where Namibian police took Chauke and Rhoode to Windhoek by helicopter.
On 27 June 2020, Chauke met Geingob alone in his presidential office.
Public Protector investigator Vusumuzi Dlamini asked Rhoode whether Chauke was entitled to presidential protection services. The major-general responded that he wasn't.
"Mr Chauke wasn't provided ... protection services. He wasn't offered the protection services. The president wanted this envoy to go to Namibia. That's it," said Rhoode.
"It was Covid, [and there was] no travelling in between South Africa and our borders. And I was requested, and I decided, to give Mr Chauke a lift because Mr President needed to get a message, I don't know what type of message, to Namibia."
Public Protector executive manager Ponatshego Mogaladi asked whether this was allowed within PPS prescripts.
"We do it for the president's staff when the president is with them," answered Rhoode.
Dlamini: "So, in this instance, was the president there?"
Rhoode: "No, the president wasn't there."
Dlamini asked who gave him the instruction to give Chauke a "lift" to Namibia.
Rhoode: "The president asked me if I can do it under the circumstances, and I said yes."
Public Protector investigator Khulile Mtiki then asked: "Just for clarity, you were going to go there anyways to Namibia?"
Rhoode insisted he had no idea what Chauke had discussed with Geingob, who has denied any wrongdoing in relation to the Phala Phala saga.
For his part, Chauke told the Public Protector that, before his trip to Namibia, "I was in a country in Sub-Saharan Africa and I had a discussion with the president of that country, and this matter of national security [involving Namibia] was raised with me."
He said he had reported the matter to a State Security Agency (SSA) official "whose responsibilities at that time related to one of the implicated countries in Sub-Saharan Africa".
"The sole purpose of my trip to Namibia was to meet with president Geingob with regards to the above matter and was unrelated to any matter arising from the theft at Phala Phala farm, which had occurred some four-and-a-half months earlier," Chauke said.
While he would normally have travelled to Namibia on a commercial flight, Chauke said, Covid-19 travel restrictions meant there were "no commercial flights between South Africa and Namibia" at that time.
"Due to the extraordinary circumstances, it was necessary for me to travel with the SAPS to assist with exiting and re-entering South Africa in the circumstances. I assume that the use of no-man's land was as a result of the fact that the land borders at that stage were unstaffed due to lockdowns in place.
"I did not arrange any of the logistics for the trip to Namibia and do not have personal knowledge thereof. I was informed by Major-General Rhoode that he would be accompanying me, which seemed appropriate in the circumstances," he added.
While then-acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka cleared Ramaphosa of ethical violations related to the Phala Phala saga, she did find that Rhoode and PPS Sergeant Hlulani Rekhoto had acted improperly in investigating the break-in without a case being opened. She ordered that appropriate action be taken against them.
In response to queries from News24, the Public Protector said it had been informed that the "processes relating to investigations into the allegations levelled against Major-General Rhoode and Sergeant Rekhoto have commenced and are ongoing".