South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for a second term as the ruling party’s leader has been undermined by the launch of a parliamentary investigation into a scandal linked to a robbery at a farm he owns.
Ramaphosa’s re-election at a conference next month of the ruling African National Congress has recently been supported by some of the former liberation movement’s key provincial structures. However, if the inquiry finds him guilty of misconduct or breaking the law, it could recommend he face an impeachment vote before the conference takes place from December 16th to 20th.
The scandal emerged in June when the former director-general of South Africa’s State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, accused Ramaphosa and his security team of covering up the theft of $4 million in cash from his Phala Phala farm in February 2020.
In an affidavit to the police, Fraser claimed Ramaphosa’s decision to ask his presidential protection unit to investigate the robbery rather than report it to the police was an attempt to conceal the crime.
He has also accused the president of money laundering and has alleged the stolen cash had not been declared to the South African Revenue Service or the Reserve Bank. Fraser served under former president Jacob Zuma, who is charged with corruption and fraud but is fighting state prosecutors’ efforts to bring him to trial.
Last Sunday Zuma told party supporters in Ethekwini, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, that his successor in the ruling party and presidency must be held accountable for mishandling the robbery. Zuma has also recently indicated he would accept a role in the ANC’s top six positions if nominated by the party’s branches.
For this to be allowed, the ANC’s “step aside” rule would have to be dropped at the December elective conference. Adopted by the ANC last year at Ramaphosa’s behest, the rule states senior officials who are criminally charged, or who bring the ANC into disrepute, must stand down from their roles until legal proceedings against them are finalised.
Since the accusations were made, Ramaphosa has confirmed the robbery occurred, but he maintains he has done nothing wrong. But he has refused to go into detail about the incident in public other than to say he reported the theft to his security team, and the sum of money involved is much less than $4 million.
South Africa’s police and public sector corruption watchdog, the Public Protector, is investigating the matter to see if Ramaphosa’s handling of the theft constitutes a criminal offence. In mid-October parliament also launched its own 30-day preliminary assessment of whether Ramaphosa should face an impeachment inquiry over his alleged misconduct.
The inquiry is scheduled to release its findings later this month. For an impeachment vote to take place two-thirds of the National Assembly’s 400 MPs must agree to it. The ANC holds a slim majority in parliament, and the party is officially standing behind its leader. But some of Ramaphosa’s enemies in the ANC could decline to vote along party lines to further their own leadership agendas.
Mcebisi Ndletyana, professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg, said if the parliamentary investigation found Ramaphosa guilty of even the lesser offence of misconduct, then his re-election as the ANC’s leader “immediately comes into doubt”.
“As it stands Ramaphosa is the clear favourite to win a second term, but were he found guilty of misconduct, well, that’s a whole new ball game,” he said. “The opposition parties will push for his impeachment, and he also falls foul of the step-aside rule he was instrumental in getting the ANC to adopt”.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki warned last month that were Ramaphosa sidelined from the ANC’s leadership race, the party would be thrown into turmoil, which would seriously undermine its chances at the 2024 general election.
Most political analysts believe that unless Ramaphosa leads the ANC into the next national election it is unlikely to retain power, as numerous senior leaders seeking election to the movement’s top six position have been tainted by corruption allegations.
Ramaphosa’s main rival for the ANC’s top job is his former ally Zweli Mkhize, who has received significant support from the party’s provincial structure in KZN. He previously served as South Africa’s health minister, but was forced to stand down last year over allegations he was involved in Covid-19-related tender fraud involving a communications company called Digital Vibes.
Mkhize has not yet been criminally charged in relation to the matter and he maintains his innocence.
Also in the running to lead the ANC for the next five years is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Ramaphosa’s main rival in the ANC’s 2017 leadership contest. However, she is seen as too close to the tainted Zuma, who is her ex-husband, to be considered a genuine contender.