steenhuisen malema

Photo: TSA Composite

Ramaphosa vs Steenhuisen vs Malema – A look at their controversies

John Steenhuisen, Cyril Ramaphosa and Julius Malema enjoy support from party voters, but none are immune to fierce criticism

steenhuisen malema

Photo: TSA Composite

One thing is certain about South Africa’s top politicians – they never fall short when coming to grabbing news headlines for all the wrong reasons. With just days to go before votes are cast in the local government elections, we saw it fit to zero-in on the leaders of the country’s three biggest political parties: ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa, EFF’s Julius Malema and DA’s John Steenhuisen.

While these men do enjoy the respect and admiration of their respective party supporters, none of them are immune to fierce criticism coming from their detractors and have all had their fair share of controversy over the past few years.


  • The Marikana tragedy is probably the biggest stain on Ramaphosa’s legacy: 34 mineworkers who were protesting for higher wages at Lonmin Platinum mine in Marikana, North West, were shot dead by police in August 2012. On the eve of the shooting, Ramaphosa, who was a  Lonmin shareholder and a non-executive board member, allegedly said in an email discussion between the company’s management management and government officials that events around the strike “are plainly dastardly criminal acts and must be characterised as such”.
  • Role in State Capture: As the country listened to jaw-dropping testimony at the State Capture Commission, particularly on how laws were disregarded and former president Jacob Zuma and his associates milked state coffers, Ramaphosa faces criticism because as the deputy at the time, he failed to act and take decisive action. When it was his turn on the stand at the commission, Ramaphosa admitted that he should have intervened. He said he wanted to resign at some point, but realised that the only way he could make change was from inside the party.
  • CR17: To this day, the mystery surrounding who exactly donated hundreds of millions of rands towards Ramaphosa’s bid for the ANC presidency in 2017. The EFF has recently filed an application for leave to appeal a high court ruling that it had no right to seek the unsealing of Ramaphosa’s CR17 bank statements.


  • VBS Mutual Bank: An investigation by advocate Terry Motau unravelled a web of financial deceit involving the bank. It found that at least 50 people essentially helped themselves to the bank’s coffers. Approximately R2 billion was looted from the bank, which then led to its collapse. Malema, his deputy Floyd Shivambu and the EFF have been linked to benefitting from money received.
  • Malema’s relationship with alleged tobacco smuggler Adriano Mazzotti has also come into questioned. Not only did Mazzotti give the EFF R200 000 for it to register in the 2014 elections, Malema and his family reportedly stay in a plush Hyde Park estate owned by him.
  • Anti-white sentiments: One thing Malema is known for is his bravado and he has never been one to hold back. He has been reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for hate speech after making comments that many deem to be racist towards white people.


  • While Steenhuisen hasn’t been reported to have been involved in any dirty dealings, he has been criticised for his handling of race relations within the DA: He recently found himself in hot water over a cringey debate he had on race with One South Africa Movement member Mudzuli Rakhivhane and media personality Gareth Cliff on CliffCentral.
  • Steenhuisen has also been trolled because he only has a matric qualification, something which came into focus after he replaced Mmusi Maimane as DA leader.
  • DA Phoenix poster saga: Steenhuisen had defended the party’s recent poster scandal, but was left with egg on his face when DA KZN leader Dean McPherson apologised for them, after some backlash.