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South Africa’s Ramaphosa dodges cash-in-sofa scandal impeachment process

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a press conference in central London on November 24, 2022. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

South Africa’s scandal-engulfed President Cyril Ramaphosa will not face an impeachment inquiry after easily surviving Tuesday a vote in parliament that could have initiated proceedings to remove him from office.

His ruling African National Congress (ANC) party defeated the motion by 214 votes to 148, with two abstentions through open voting.

Lawmakers voted after debating the findings of an independent panel which said Ramaphosa may be guilty of serious violations and misconduct over allegations he concealed a huge cash theft at his farm.

The vote prevented a procedure that some feared could have politically destabilised Africa’s most industrialised country.

In a terse response, his office said it had noted the National Assembly’s decision. “President Ramaphosa consistently stated his commitment to due process,” his spokesman said in a text message to AFP.

Ramaphosa — championed as a graft-busting saviour after corruption-stained predecessor Jacob Zuma — survived thanks to the support of a majority of ANC MPs.

The 70-year-old president had last week secured the backing of the ANC, which holds 230 of the National Assembly’s 400 seats, after mounting a legal bid to have the damning report annulled. Some MPs were absent.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola trashed the report saying “there is not sufficient evidence to impeach the president”.

  • ‘Constitutional delinquent’ –
    Ramaphosa’s escape comes just days ahead of a crucial ANC meeting to elect the new leadership.

Although the ANC, which has governed since the end of apartheid, has shot down any attempt to force Ramaphosa from office, he is not yet out of the woods.

His “leadership will be tested again at the party’s national conference”, Aleix Montana, analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note. 

He will likely be re-elected as leader because “there is no viable alternative candidate in the ANC,” said Montana.

That will position him for a second term as head of state, if the ANC wins the 2024 national election.

The ANC’s decision to back Ramaphosa upset some in the divided party.

A few ANC lawmakers, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — Ramaphosa’s rival, a cabinet minister and Zuma’s ex-wife — defied the party command.

“As a disciplined member of the ANC, I vote yes,” she said drawing cheers and loud applause from some opposition MPs. 

She walked out of parliament saying that if Ramaphosa wants to fire her, “it’s his democratic right. I won’t hold it against him”.

Ramaphosa’s graft-tainted predecessor Zuma survived several no-confidence motions during his tenure before his own party forced him to resign in 2018.

Opposition parties presented a largely united front on the scandal.

“Today South Africans were left in no doubt that the presidency of… Ramaphosa is no different to the presidency of… Zuma,” said John Steenhuisen, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Alliance, accusing both of weakening parliament “to evade scrutiny and the law”.

Julius Malema, the fiery leader of the second largest opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, expressed “deepest disappointment” in Ramaphosa who was once a “celebrated… architect” of South Africa’s constitution. 

He said Ramaphosa was now “peeing” on that document, calling him a “constitutional delinquent”.

The ANC vote defended “corruption”, said the EFF.

  • Sudanese element –
    Ramaphosa was at his home during the vote, said his spokesman.

The president, who was a wealthy businessman before entering politics, found himself in hot water in June when a controversial ex-spy boss filed a complaint against him to the police.

Arthur Fraser alleged Ramaphosa had concealed the theft of several million dollars from his farm in 2020.

He accused the president of having the burglars kidnapped and bribed into silence instead of reporting the matter to the authorities. 

Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing.

The findings of the three-person special probe, issued last week, revealed details that have left South Africa agog.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the theft of $580,000 in cash that was stashed under sofa cushions at his farm — a safer place, his employees said, than the office safe.

He said the money was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman, who recently confirmed the transaction in interviews with British media.

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© Agence France-Presse

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