Scandal-hit South African President seeks to hang on to power

Gersende Rambourg, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 04 2022 12:49 AM

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa, embroiled in scandal and under threat of impeachment, has no intention of resigning and will fight both politically and judicially, people close to him said Saturday.

Pressure mounted this week for Ramaphosa to quit or be forced from office over the burglary of more than half a million dollars in cash from his farm, which he allegedly covered up.

The African National Congress (ANC) initially said on Saturday morning it would hold a "special session of its National Executive Committee" on Sunday. It then said the meeting had been postponed to Monday morning.

The party leadership met briefly in Johannesburg on Friday before telling journalists it would look more closely at the facts of the case against the president.

Ramaphosa supporters were rallying to his cause.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola was in no doubt that Ramaphosa would remain in office.

"He will definitely continue," Lamola told public broadcaster SABC.

Ramaphosa spokesman Vincent Magwenya said the president was "seriously considering" challenging in court a report submitted to parliament this week over the burglary.

On Wednesday, a three-member parliamentary panel, including a former chief justice of the country's highest court, said that Mr Ramaphosa "may have committed" acts contrary to the law and the constitution, paving the way for impeachment proceedings.

Magwenya told AFP: "It may be in the long-term interest... of our constitutional democracy, well beyond the Ramaphosa presidency, that such a clearly flawed report is challenged, especially when it's being used as point of reference to remove a sitting head of state." 

Even the head of the South African Anglican Church warned that, if Ramaphosa resigns, the country would be in danger of falling "into anarchy".

- Buffaloes -

Ramaphosa has been under fire since June, when a former spy boss filed a complaint with the police alleging that the president had hidden a February 2020 burglary at his farm in northeastern South Africa from the authorities.

He allegedly organised for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.

Ramaphosa said the vast sum of cash stashed at the farm was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman.

But the incriminating report questioned why the identity of Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim, said to have bought the cattle, could not be verified, and why the buffaloes remained on Ramaphosa's Phala Phala estate, a two-hour drive from Pretoria.

"There are serious doubts as to whether the stolen foreign currency actually came from their sale," the report concluded.

The scandal has cast a shadow over Ramaphosa's bid to portray himself as graft-free after the corruption-stained era of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.

The report concluded Ramaphosa "may have committed" serious violations and misconduct.

It will be examined by parliament on Tuesday.

That debate could open the way to a vote on impeaching Ramaphosa -- a term that in South Africa means removal from office.

- No charges yet -

Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing.

The president has not been charged with anything at this point, and the police inquiry is ongoing.

But the scandal, complete with details of the more than half a million dollars in cash being hidden under sofa cushions, has come at the worst possible moment for him.

The South African press remained confident on Saturday that Ramaphosa would remain in office. The president is popular with the public -- more so than the ANC.

But the party of national hero Nelson Mandela, in power for 28 years since the end of the apartheid-era, is experiencing dwindling support.

On December 16, Ramaphosa contests elections for the ANC presidency -- a position that also holds the key to staying on as national president.

He took office at the helm of Africa's most industrialised economy in 2018, vowing to root out corruption from state institutions.