On Thursday, News24 reported the Presidency only approved the flight on 10 September, a day after Mapisa-Nqakula and Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu together with ANC officials Ace Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane, Enoch Godongwana, Tony Yengeni and Dakota Lekgoete returned from Harare.
This according to the documentation Ramaphosa instructed to be released about the trip.
Mapisa-Nqakula only sought presidential approval on 7 September, the day before she left.
Included in the documents was a letter from principal state law advisor Geofrey Mphaphuli in which he granted permission for the visit. This letter is dated 10 September.
This led DA MP and spokesperson on defence Kobus Marais to question the legality of Mapisa-Nqakula’s trip.
According to a statement from the Presidency, it “noted media reports and other commentary” on Ramaphosa’s approval of Mapisa-Nqakula’s request.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa received a written request for travel from Minister Mapisa-Nqakula dated 7 September 2020. The minister requested permission to travel to Zimbabwe from 8 to 10 September 2020 to conduct a bilateral meeting with her Zimbabwean counterpart, the Minister of Defence and War Veterans, Ms Oppah Chamu Muchinguri-Kashiri,” read the statement.
“As the president was not in Gauteng at the time the minister submitted her request, he gave verbal approval of the travel on 8 September 2020 and signed the relevant documentation upon his return to Gauteng.
“On 10 September, the Presidency gave the minister written confirmation that the president had approved her travel.
“The written confirmation provided by the Presidency forms part of the minister’s report to the president on the flight to Zimbabwe, which has been published by the Presidency.”
However, the Presidency’s statement is silent on the matter of the Ministerial Handbook, which clearly states a minister must request presidential approval at least two weeks before the departure date.
“Ministers and deputy ministers should approach the president in writing to request approval for the intended visit and in the event of a planned official visit abroad, such request should be at least two weeks prior to departure. Such request, in the case of a minister, should be accompanied by a request for the appointment of an acting minister,” reads the handbook.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s request for presidential approval did not spell out the urgency of the visit, and it did not make mention that ANC comrades would be in her entourage.
She admitted in her second report to Ramaphosa it would have been “prudent” to inform him the ANC officials would also be on the flight.
A week before Mapisa-Nqakula’s request to travel to Zimbabwe, Ramaphosa addressed the media after an ANC NEC meeting, where the ANC’s relationship with Zanu-PF came up.
“The secretary-general [of the ANC, Ace Magashule] will be finalising the delegation that will be going to Zimbabwe in days to meet with the Zimbabwe governing party, Zanu-PF,” Ramaphosa said.
He added both he and Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa (also Zimbabwean president) wanted the meeting to take place “as quickly as possible”.
After considering Mapisa-Nqakula’s reports on the matter, Ramaphosa found she had made an “error in judgement” and docked three months’ salary. This was announced on Saturday.