A scandal that is testing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s grip on power and has roiled the nation’s bond and currency markets still has some way to run.
Ramaphosa, 70, considered resigning last week after an advisory panel issued a scathing assessment of his handling of the theft of cash that had been stuffed into a sofa at his game farm.
The president later backtracked, filed a lawsuit challenging the panel’s findings and is pressing ahead with his campaign to win a second term as leader of the governing African National Congress.
“We can assure South Africans that they have a head of state that is firmly focused on the task at hand,” his spokesman Vincent Magwena said in an interview with broadcaster Newszroom Afrika on Wednesday.
“He committed no crime. At no point in time did the president violate his oath of office or violate the constitution.”
These are the key upcoming developments to watch out for:
ANC integrity committee report
The ANC’s internal integrity committee has conducted its own probe into Ramaphosa’s conduct and the party’s National Executive Committee is due to consider its findings at a December 9 meeting. It’s unclear when the decision-making body will pronounce on them.
The integrity panel can recommend that individuals facing serious allegations should step aside, but those who feel they’ve been treated unfairly can ask for the matter to be referred to the NEC to take a final decision.
The National Assembly is scheduled to debate the findings of the advisory panel led by Sandile Ngcobo, a former chief justice, on December 13 and decide whether to institute impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa.
The president doesn’t enjoy universal backing in the ANC. Some of its legislators may defy an NEC instruction to reject the report and vote with the opposition to set up a parliamentary panel to conduct another inquiry, though an open ballot may serve as a deterrence.
Impeaching the president would require the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers.
The governing party is set to hold its five-yearly elective conference in Johannesburg from December 16-20.
Ramaphosa received the most nominations for the top job from ANC branches, which made him the frontrunner to retain the post.
It’s unclear how badly the scandal has hurt his campaign, but no other contenders have emerged that appear to have a serious chance of ousting him.
A survey of 3,200 registered voters that was carried out by the Social Research Foundation in July and released two days before the panel released its report found that support for the ANC could collapse to between 30% and 40% should he leave the party.
South Africa’s next national election is scheduled to take place in 2024.
The Hawks, a special police investigative unit, is also looking into the farm robbery in 2020. Under ANC rules, Ramaphosa would have to resign if he was criminally charged.
The Hawks have taken 68 statements from witnesses and are continuing with investigations, Godfrey Lebeya, the head of the unit, told reporters last week. He didn’t indicate when the process is likely to be concluded.