South Africa’s president has been re-elected as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s leader despite becoming mired in a corruption scandal that has threatened to derail his bid for a second term.
Cyril Ramaphosa defeated former health minister Zweli Mkhize by 2,476 votes to 1,897 for the ANC’s top job on Monday at its hotly contested leadership race at the Nasrec Centre, south of Johannesburg.
The 70-year-old Ramaphosa had been odds-on to retain his position in the months leading up to the five-yearly poll, but his re-election campaign over the past few weeks has been rocked by a crisis that erupted in June.
Dubbed the “farmgate” scandal, Mr Ramaphosa was accused by former director-general of the state security agency, Arthur Fraser, of money laundering and violating the constitution during his response to the 2020 theft of $580,000 (€547,000) from his Phala Phala game farm.
In late November a parliamentary inquiry released a report on its preliminary investigation into the allegations, and it found Mr Ramaphosa may have violated the constitution and broken anti-corruption laws. This led to opposition parties earlier this month calling on the National Assembly to hold a ballot on whether the inquiry’s findings should set in motion the process to impeach Mr Ramaphosa.
However, the ANC ordered its 230 MPs in the 400-member lower house to reject the motion, which ultimately led to its defeat in the December 12th vote. This victory ensured Mr Ramaphosa could still stand for re-election as the ANC’s president.
Although he initially offered to step down over the Phala Phala report, Mr Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing. In addition, he has taken it on judicial review at the constitutional court to have its findings set aside.
His main rival for the ANC’s top job, Mr Mkhize, is also accused of illegally benefiting directly from tender fraud that occurred under his watch as health minister. He also maintains his innocence.
Mr Ramaphosa’s victory now puts him in poll position to be the ANC’s presidential candidate for South Africa’s 2024 general election. However, there are four other official investigations into the farmgate scandal that could destroy his political ambitions when their findings are released next year. The businessman-turned-politician must now reassert his control over a party that is riven by deep divisions and facing dwindling voter support among the public.
However, Mr Ramaphosa appears to be in a stronger position today than he was five years ago, as his ANC supporters have managed to get four of his allies into the movement’s top seven roles, which tips the balance of power in his favour.
This should significantly strengthen his grip on the party and by extension his ability to tackle corruption in the ANC as well as the country’s many economic problems, which currently include daily power blackouts. The only party officials elected to the ANC’s top seven who were not part of Mr Ramaphosa’s faction are Nomvula Mokonyane and Paul Mashatile. They were voted in as the party’s first deputy secretary-general and deputy president respectively.
Voting to fill the 80 positions that make up the ANC’s top decision-making body, the national executive committee, also took place on Monday. The result of this poll will be released on Tuesday.