President Cyril Ramaphosa is fighting for political survival after a panel found that he may have violated South Africa’s constitution following the theft of at least $580,000 at a farm he owns.
The group led by a retired top judge concluded there may be a case for impeachment after they questioned Ramaphosa’s testimony about the source of the foreign currency and his explanation for the failure to properly report the crime. Ramaphosa has denied breaking the law, saying he followed due process.
It all comes at an unfortunate time for the 70-year-old head of state. Ramaphosa was favored to secure a second five-year term as leader of the ruling African National Congress in the coming weeks.
The unfolding political crisis now threatens to derail his administration’s promise of clean governance after scandal and graft marred predecessor Jacob Zuma’s rule.
Here are key excerpts from the panel’s report:
Cash Goes, Buffalo Stay
Ramaphosa testified that he earned the money through the sale of 20 buffalo to a Sudanese national on Christmas Day 2019. The panel, headed by retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, said it was left “in substantial doubt” over whether the sale took place for the following reasons:
- There were no particulars of the Sudanese buyer other than his name, such as a physical address or passport number.
- An investigation by the South African Reserve Bank “suggests strongly” that it had no records of the money entering the country.
- Having bought 20 buffalo, the purchaser hasn’t collected the animals.
- The money was hidden in a sofa by a farm manager for more than a month between the transaction and the theft in February 2020.
- Ramaphosa is actively involved in the running of the farm. It was unlikely that the manager decided on his own to store the cash in the sofa without Ramaphosa’s knowledge. He was “too junior to make such a decision,” the panel said.
The Thieves Go Free
Ramaphosa said he reported the crime to a police general who headed his presidential protection service, Wally Rhoode. In his testimony, Rhoode explained that he immediately reported a security breach to one of his superiors and launched a preliminary investigation into any threat to the president.
- That inquiry included a request for assistance from Namibian authorities to help handle the matter “with discretion.”
- The investigation identified a group of suspects and their mastermind, who confessed to the crime and stealing an amount of about $800,000.
- “The investigation was carried out without a case being registered and without opening a docket,” the panel said in its report. Even though the alleged mastermind confessed to the crime after being detained and interviewed, “no one was convicted,” it said.
Key Areas of Concern
The panel said Ramaphosa may be guilty of serious misconduct and recommended that parliament investigate the matter further. Conduct breaches include:
- Ramaphosa could be contravening a constitutional requirement that cabinet members relinquish outside paid work during their term.
- South African legislation stipulates that the theft of foreign currency in excess of 100,000 rand ($5,688) has to be reported to the police. Failure to do so carries a prison term.
- Ramaphosa put himself in a situation that risked a conflict between his private interests and official responsibilities, while acting in a manner inconsistent with his office.