South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party was due to convene emergency talks on Thursday as pressure mounts for President Cyril Ramaphosa to quit or face impeachment over a burglary that he is accused of concealing at his farm.
An independent panel set up by parliament concluded on Wednesday that Ramaphosa “may have committed… serious violations” of the constitution and anti-corruption laws.
There was enough evidence to warrant a parliamentary debate on whether the president should be removed from office, dealing a serious blow to Ramaphosa’s bid in two weeks’ time to be re-elected head of the ANC.
Ramaphosa took office at the helm of Africa’s biggest economy in 2018 on a promise to root out corruption.
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He now risks becoming the third ANC leader forced out since the party came to power after the end of apartheid in 1994.
South African lawmakers are to examine the findings of the panel, which they appointed, on December 6 and adopt a resolution, through a simple majority vote, on whether to impeach Ramaphosa or not.
This could lead to a vote to remove the president. To be successful, any such vote would require the approval by two-thirds of assembly members.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee – the party’s decision-making body – is due to hold urgent talks at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) to discuss the findings of the farm theft scandal, an ANC official told AFP.
Ramaphosa separately cancelled a scheduled appearance before parliament in which he was supposed to answer questions on Thursday.
His office informed parliament that: “Implications for the stability of the country required that the president take the time to carefully consider the contents of the report and the next course of action”.
Ramaphosa has been deluged with calls to step down from within the ANC and the political opposition.
“The President has to step aside now and answer to the case,” cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who ran unsuccessfully against Ramaphosa as ANC leader in 2017, tweeted late Wednesday.
“His best course of action remains immediate resignation,” said the leftist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, called for an early election, saying the country faces a “seismic shift”.
The scandal erupted in June after South Africa’s former national spy boss alleged to police that Ramaphosa had hidden a burglary at his Phala Phala farm in northeastern South Africa from the authorities.
Instead, he allegedly organised for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.
The president flatly denies this and laid out his position to the panel.
Cash stuffed in sofa
Ramaphosa said $580,000 in cash was stolen from beneath sofa cushions at his ranch.
The sum was a payment made by a Sudanese citizen who had bought buffaloes.
Staff at the farm initially locked the money in an office safe, Ramaphosa said.
But the lodge manager then decided that the “safest place” to store it would be under the cushions of a sofa inside Ramaphosa’s residence at the farm, he said.
Ramaphosa told the inquiry that the accusations against him were “without any merit” and asked it not to take the matter “any further”.
But his request was rebuffed.
The panel concluded that Ramaphosa did not report the theft directly to police, acting in a way inconsistent with holding office and exposing himself to a clash between his official responsibilities and his private business.
Ramaphosa swept to power after the corruption-stained era of his former boss, Jacob Zuma. His predecessor Zuma survived four impeachment votes until his own party forced him to resign over graft in 2018.
The ANC also forced Thabo Mbeki out of office in 2008 in the middle of a power struggle.