Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency under threat after panel finds he ‘abused position’

Cyril Ramaphosa was under mounting pressure to resign as South Africa’s president after a parliamentary report concluded that he abused his office in the fallout from the theft of more than $500,000 in cash that was stuffed inside a sofa on his private game farm.

Ramaphosa would not be “rushed” into a decision and was keeping all options open, his spokesperson said on Thursday evening, as delays to a planned address to the nation and a series of consultations within the ruling African National Congress indicated his presidency was on the line.

“We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy,” his spokesperson added.

Ramaphosa’s authority has been left hanging by a thread after a panel headed by a former South African chief justice found he may have broken an anti-corruption law over the farm robbery scandal and should be probed for possible impeachment.

Ramaphosa canceled a planned appearance before the upper house of South Africa’s parliament on Thursday, adding to the sense of crisis. The rand tumbled against the US dollar and South African government bonds sold off sharply.

“President Ramaphosa must now resign or face impeachment without further delay,” said Herman Mashaba, leader of ActionSA, South Africa’s third-largest opposition party. Both he and the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition, called for elections to be brought forward from 2024.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the panel findings were a “seismic shift in South African politics. . . Ramaphosa is not a helpless victim in all this. The collapse of his presidency is entirely his own doing.”

Senior ANC leaders are due to meet on Friday to discuss Ramaphosa’s fate and the deepening sense of crisis over the investigation, which stated that he failed to properly report the 2020 heist to the police and wrongly sought his Namibian counterpart’s help in the matter.

“The vultures are circling,” said Judith February, executive officer of Freedom Under Law, a legal watchdog. “If the facts are not on your side, you tend to evade, and we are drawn to the inevitable conclusion that the president has something to hide.”

The report’s findings are a huge body blow to Ramaphosa’s image just weeks before he stands for re-election as leader of the ANC on a platform of combating graft.

Ramaphosa, one of South Africa’s richest men, won a clear lead in party nominations for leader last month, close to five years after the trade unionist-turned-businessman replaced the corruption-tarnished Jacob Zuma and pledged to clean up the state.

He has always denied wrongdoing over the robbery at his Phala Phala farm, which was revealed only this year when a former head of South Africa’s spy agency under Zuma accused the presidency of a cover-up.

Yet the panel found “there was a deliberate decision to keep the investigation secret” after the robbery. “The president abused his position as head of state to have the matter investigated and seeking the assistance of the Namibian president to apprehend a suspect” in the neighboring country, the panel said.

Namibia’s president Hage Geingob has denied giving Ramaphosa any inappropriate assistance in the Phala Phala case. Neither government has denied that a request for assistance was made.

Ramaphosa told the panel that the money was legitimate proceeds from selling buffalo to a Sudanese businessman for $580,000, and that he had reported the theft to his head of presidential security.

But the panel said the law required him to have reported to the police directly. Ramaphosa may have committed serious misconduct “by exposing himself to a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business”, it said.

The panel added there were “a number of important questions relating to this transaction that remain unanswered”, such as why the buffalo that were sold remained on Ramaphosa’s farm more than two years later and why the money was hidden inside a sofa.

More money also appears to have been stolen from the sofa than the sum received for the buffalo sale, the panel said.

“The cumulative effect of all of this is that there is a substantial doubt about the legitimacy of the source of the currency that was stolen. This is a very serious matter.”

South Africa’s central bank has been carrying out its own investigation into whether the money was properly reported as foreign currency under South African exchange regulations. It has yet to report back.

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