Cyril Ramaphosa Unlikely to Face Impeachment in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, is standing by its president, Cyril Ramaphosa, rejecting calls that he face an impeachment hearing over accusations that he kept a large sum of cash in a sofa at his game farm and failed to report a crime when it was stolen.

The decision by the executive committee of the ANC was announced on Monday after an all-day meeting — essentially killing a report that had been prepared by a three-member panel recommending that impeachment hearings go ahead.

“It means the president continues with his duties as president of the ANC and the republic,” Paul Mashatile, the ANC’s treasurer general, said at a news conference after the meeting. “The decision that we take is in the best interest of the country.”

But the president is hardly out of the woods. He still has to answer to several other investigations, including by the ANC’s integrity committee, the national prosecutor’s office and the public protector, a corruption watchdog, as Mr. Mashatile pointed out. And his bid to win a second term as ANC president in elections to be held in less than two weeks is hardly a sure thing.

Mr. Ramaphosa has been under fire since a criminal complaint filed by a political foe in June alleged that millions of dollars in US currency was stolen from a couch in a game farm, Phala Phala Wildlife, owned by the president. The complaint alleged that Mr. Ramaphosa never reported the theft and tried to cover it up to avoid the publicity — and potential legal violations — over having that much foreign currency hidden at his private residence.

A damning report issued last week by two retired judges and a lawyer said that he might have violated the Constitution, and recommended that Parliament begin impeachment hearings. On Monday, Mr. Ramaphosa filed a legal challenge in the nation’s highest court challenging the report.

Parliament was scheduled to convene on Tuesday to vote on whether to adopt the report and hold impeachment hearings, but that meeting was delayed until next week. ANC members hold a majority of the seats in Parliament. While they are not required to do what their executive committee says, analysts say it is highly unlikely that they will break ranks in what is expected to be a public vote.

What to Know About Cyril Ramaphosa and ‘Farmgate’

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Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? Before he was sworn into as South Africa’s president in 2018, Mr. Ramaphosa was a former labor leader who became a wealthy businessman. During his campaign, he pledged to root out the country’s debilitating corruption. Now, he could face impeachment over a cover-up involving a stash of money stolen from one of his properties.

What is “Farmgate?” According to the accusations, burglars stole a fortune in US dollars stashed in furniture at Mr. Ramaphosa’s farm. The president never reported the theft to the police or disclosed it publicly, but apparently started an off-the-books investigation and paid the suspects to keep quiet. Mr. Ramaphosa has denied that he was trying to cover up the situation.

What happens next? After an independent panel’s damning report found that Mr. Ramaphosa may have broken the law, his political future grew increasingly grim. The report suggested that he should face an impeachment inquiry in Parliament. The president said he would not resign and would instead challenge the report.

The executive committee’s decision may be a sign of Mr. Ramaphosa’s strength within the party ahead of elections for the party’s leadership. Still, the president has staunch critics within the ANC who have committed to trying everything possible to deny him a second term in office.

The elections come at a particularly fraught time for the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement. Its support has been waning. Its next leader faces the tall task of helping to boost public confidence in the party as it tries to retain its outright majority in Parliament in the 2024 elections.

Mr Mashatile said the ANC’s 80-member executive committee was mostly united in the view that it was the president’s prerogative to challenge the report in the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest judicial body.

But there was a lengthy debate over the content of the report, he said. Some wanted to reject it, while others thought its findings should be considered. Ultimately, he said, the committee decided the report should not be adopted while it was up for legal review.

Opposition political parties are planning to vigorously push for Parliament to proceed with an impeachment hearing.

Julius Malema, the president of the Economic Freedom Fighters, one of the opposition parties, said that if the ANC voted against the recommendations of the report, “it will be showing the Constitution a middle finger.”

Mr. Ramaphosa has maintained that he has done nothing wrong. He said that the amount stolen from his farm was $580,000 — not millions — and that the money was the proceeds from the sale of buffaloes.

But when the report by the panel appointed by Parliament was released last week, Mr. Ramaphosa considered resigning, advisers said, under heavy pressure from his opponents within the ANC, as well as rival political parties.

Though his political perch seemed tenuous in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release, Mr. Ramaphosa and his allies have since come out swinging.

On social media, his supporters questioned the impartiality of a lawyer on the panel, posting a video of her interacting and laughing with some of the president’s detractors. Rallies in support of Mr. Ramaphosa have been convened, and his allies in the party have suggested that those who wanted him ousted were criminals afraid of his anti-corruption agenda.

They have also called the report deeply flawed.

“It’s a nonsense report,” Zamani Saul, the premier of Northern Cape Province and a Ramaphosa supporter, said in an interview. “It’s inclusive on everything.”

But analysts say the ANC’s rejection of the report could have consequences for a party that has already lost a lot of electoral support, in part because of rampant corruption within its ranks.

Many South Africans are looking at the ANC’s decision to reject the report and wondering if the party “under Ramaphosa may not be as dedicated as it says it is in the fight against corruption,” said Pearl Mncube, a political analyst based in Pretoria, the nation’s executive capital.

The process for impeaching a president was overhauled five years ago when the Constitutional Court ruled that the ANC did not hold its previous president, Jacob Zuma, accountable for misusing public funds to renovate his rural homestead. The requirement for convening a three-member panel to make recommendations on impeachment was meant to inject a nonpartisan voice into the process.

But the Constitution gives the final say on impeachment to lawmakers, said Lawson Naidoo, the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.

“Ultimately, it is a political decision whether the president is impeached or not,” Mr. Naidoo said.

Written by trendingatoz

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