Johannesburg, South Africa
Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to root out corruption. Now, he could be forced to quit over claims that he covered up the theft of a huge amount of cash from his lucrative game farm, which – by his own admission – had been stuffed in a leather sofa.
South Africa’s President is being probed in an ongoing scandal linked to the theft of more than $500,000 in cash from his private game farm in 2020. The cash was stuffed inside a leather sofa according to the panel investigation.
The panel, led by a former chief justice, found that the crime was not reported to the police and that there was a “deliberate decision to keep the investigation secret.”
Former South African spy chief Arthur Fraser alleged the theft occurred with the collusion of a domestic worker and claimed that the theft was concealed from police and the revenue service. Fraser, whose allegations were detailed in a report into the investigation, said Ramaphosa paid the culprits for their silence.
Ramaphosa has maintained that the cash was from the sale of buffalo at his Phala Phala farm to a Sudanese businessman and that the theft was reported to the head of presidential security.
The president also disputes claims by Fraser that the amount hidden at his farm was more than $4 million.
“Some are casting aspersions about me and money. I want to assure you that all this was money from proceeds from selling animals. I have never stolen money from anywhere. Be it from our taxpayers, be it from anyone. I have never done so. And will never do so,” he said while addressing members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in June this year.
He is a well-known owner and trader of rare buffalo, cattle, and other wildlife, and has become a multi-millionaire through his private buffalo farm.
The panel found that Ramaphosa’s submitted explanations were not yet sufficient and that he could have violated the constitution and his oath of office by having a second income as president.
The ANC’s top leaders are set to meet later Thursday to discuss the report and while the party does have a “step-aside” rule for misconduct, the ANC’s national spokesman Pule Mabe told local television that it only applied to those that are “criminally charged .”
Ramaphosa was recently feted at Buckingham Palace at the first state visit hosted by King Charles, but closer to home, the scandal threatens to end his political career, with speculation swirling around political circles in the country that he could step down.
The ANC’s elective conference to choose its leadership is due to take place in mid-December, but is likely to be dominated by the President’s troubles.
South Africa’s official opposition leader was quick to call for impeachment proceedings and early elections.
“The report is clear and unambiguous. President Ramaphosa most likely did breach a number of Constitutional provisions and has a case to answer. Impeachment proceedings into his conduct must go ahead, and he will have to offer far better, more comprehensive explanations than we have been given so far,” said by John Steenhuisen, the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
The panel was appointed by the speaker of parliament after a motion from a smaller opposition party.
The National Assembly will consider the report and may institute impeachment proceedings – though the ANC does hold a majority of seats.
Ramaphosa took office after his predecessor Jacob Zuma was forced to resign because of multiple allegations of corruption.
A former trade union head and multi-millionaire from his business career, Ramaphosa has repeatedly said that fighting corruption is a priority for his presidency.
But the ANC has, by all accounts, been fractured by factional politics during his tenure. Some allies of former president Zuma are now openly asking for Ramaphosa to step down.
Soon after the report’s findings were released, Ramaphosa’s office reiterated his statement to the panel, “I have endeavored, throughout my tenure as President, not only to abide by my oath but to set an example of respect for the Constitution, for its institutions, for due process and the law. I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny that I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me.”
The office of the presidency said that Ramaphosa will study the report and make an announcement “in due course.”