South African two-term President Cyril Ramaphos faces calls for removal amidst allegations of theft (Argentina G20, Wikimedia Commons).
A report conducted in late November 2022 by an independent parliamentary panel alleges South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attempted to cover up the theft of millions of dollars. However, despite bipartisan calls for his resignation, Ramaphosa has maintained his innocence.
Who is Cyril Ramaphosa?
Formerly a prominent businessman, Ramaphosa has been an influential leader in South Africa since 1991. After serving for numerous years in high-level government positions, including as his party’s secretary general under former President Nelson Mandela, he left politics in 1996 for more lucrative business endeavors. However, he returned to politics in 2012, serving as deputy president under Jacob Zuma from 2014 to 2018. Following Zuma’s resignation in 2018, Ramaphosa was elected by his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), and the National Assembly (NA) to serve as President of South Africa. He was just reelected to a second term this year.
The Allegations Against Ramaphosa
The report released by the independent panel alleges that Ramaphosa violated anti-corruption laws by stealing large amounts of money at his private Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo, South Africa. The report also raises concerns about the source and reason for the money not being disclosed to authorities. Resultantly, the panel concluded that there was a possible conflict of interest between Ramaphosa’s business handlings and his position as the most powerful elected official in South Africa.
Following the report, South Africa’s former head of intelligence, Arthur Fraser, supported the allegations and accused Ramaphosa of attempting to conceal the stolen money, which appeared to be stuffed into the couches at his farm. In total, Fraser estimates that Ramaphosa stole nearly 68 million South African rands (ZAR) (the equivalent of 4 million USD).
The theft was reportedly discovered on February 9, 2020, when a domestic worker employed at Ramaphosa’s game farm discovered foreign money stuffed into the furniture. Later that evening, burglars broke into the farm and were assisted by the worker in finding the room with the cash. Once Ramaphosa became aware of the burglary, he alerted the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, and the suspects, including the domestic worker, were found and interrogated in Cape Town. Ramaphosa then denied all allegations, claiming that the money came from selling buffaloes to Sudanese businessman Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim Hazim. He also asserted that the hidden money only amounted to 9.8 million ZAR (or 580,000 USD).
However, the parliamentary panel expressed doubts about whether a sale actually took place, considering the buffaloes remained at the farm more than two years after supposedly being sold. The panel's findings and reports were all handed to the South African parliament, which will look into the evidence and decide whether to begin the impeachment process.
Calls for Ramaphosa to Removal
Ramaphosa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is currently calling for his removal. The leader of the party, John Steenhuisen, said that “impeachment proceedings into his conduct must go ahead” for Ramaphosa to answer to the many constitutional breaches he is said to have committed. Some members of his own party (mainly his political rivals) have also called for Ramaphosa to leave office. However, this isn’t the first time a South African president has faced impeachment charges. His predecessor, Jacob Zuma, survived the impeachment vote back in 2017 for using state money to renovate his private residence. However, now Ramaphosa faces a slightly different situation as since then parliament has adopted rules to lead the process to impeach government officials. If voted to be removed from office, Ramaphosa would be the first South African leader to be impeached. As of writing this, Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crimes.
However, allies within his party, the ANC, held an emergency meeting on December 5 and agreed to vote against the panel’s Section 89 recommendations, which allow the president to be removed from office if they have severely violated the constitution. As they currently hold a majority in Parliament, with no defectors, the ANC can vote down Ramaphosa’s impeachment.
However, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment proceedings, the South African people’s trust in the government has deteriorated immensely in the past few weeks. Considering the previous president, while a member of a different political party, was also voted out of office due to allegations of corruption, political analysts believe that Ramaphosa will also face difficulties if he attempts to continue in South African politics.
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