JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s president could lose his job and his anti-corruption reputation as he may face impeachment over claims he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars stashed in a bank on his farm.
The allegations from a political rival have led to a damning parliamentary report and pressure from the political opposition and some in the governing party for President Cyril Ramaphosa to resign. Police have not announced any criminal charges.
Africa’s most developed country waits for the president to speak publicly about the latest developments as the ruling ANC party’s top decision-making body discusses next steps. Lawmakers will debate the parliamentary report on Tuesday.
This is what is known about the scandal:
Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser filed a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa in June alleging the 2020 theft of what Fraser said was more than $4 million in cash hidden at the president’s ranch. Fraser, an ally of the president’s political rival and predecessor Jacob Zuma, alleged that Ramaphosa and others were guilty of money laundering and violating the country’s foreign exchange control laws, and that Ramaphosa concealed the incident from the police and tax authorities.
This week, a report from a parliamentary panel found that the president may have violated anti-corruption laws. It raised questions about the source of the money and why it had not been disclosed to financial authorities, citing a possible conflict between the president’s business and official interests.
Opposition parties and Ramaphosa’s critics in the African National Congress called for him to resign. Ramaphosa, 70, had planned to seek re-election as party leader at an ANC conference this month, which would allow him to run for South Africa’s presidency again in 2024.
WHAT DOES THE PRESIDENT SAY?
Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing, saying the money stolen was the proceeds of selling animals on his farm and that he was “not involved in any criminal conduct”. But the parliamentary report questioned his statement, asking why the animals remained on the farm more than two years later.
The report also said a central bank investigation suggested there was no record of dollars coming into the country. It said Ramaphosa had put himself in a conflict of interest situation and that evidence “shows that the president may have been guilty of a serious violation of certain parts of the constitution”.
As speculation soared on Thursday about a possible resignation announcement, Ramaphosa’s spokesman told reporters the president was still processing the report. “We are in an unprecedented and extraordinary moment as a constitutional democracy as a result of the report, which is why every decision the president makes must be informed by the best interests of the country. That decision cannot be rushed,” said the spokesman, Vincent Magwenya.
Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman, was Nelson Mandela’s favorite successor as president. When he took office in 2018 following the resignation of scandal-ridden Zuma, many South Africans took courage from Ramaphosa’s focus on fighting corruption within the ANC, which was a far cry from the widely revered era under Mandela.
HOW DOES A DIVIDED PARTY PLAY A ROLE?
The drama surrounding Zuma and the allegations of corruption have deeply divided the ANC. The man who brought the allegations against Ramaphosa, Fraser, is a known Zuma loyalist and a faction of the ANC that wants Ramaphosa out.
The ANC plays a strong role in the president’s fate. Presidents in South Africa are not directly elected by the people, but vote for a political party. Legislators then elect the president. The leading opposition party in parliament, the Democratic Alliance, is pushing for immediate elections rather than in 2024.
Ramaphosa has no chance of a second term in office without the support of the ruling party. The national executive committee has the power to force the president to resign, and it did so with Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki after both fell from grace.
Ramaphosa still has support from some members of the party’s national executive committee. ANC president Gwede Mantashe told a local broadcaster on Friday that the president is not considering resigning. Whether Ramaphosa has enough support to survive impeachment in parliament remains to be seen. Removing a president from office requires the votes of at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.