Cyril Ramaphosa: Half a million dollars under the sofa: the scandal that could cost the South African president his job | International

The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, finds himself on the brink of a political abyss after the publication, last Wednesday, of a parliamentary report that ensures that he could have committed at least four violations of the anti-corruption law. The events investigated occurred in February 2020, when thieves entered a private farm belonging to the president and stole $580,000 (about 555,000 euros) in cash that was hidden under the cushions of a sofa. The scandal has prompted leaders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to call for Ramaphosa’s resignation. Meanwhile, the opposition demands early elections and, otherwise, proposes opening a impeachment or removal proceedings. The CNA meet this Friday to discuss the possible resignation of the president.

Events have precipitated in the last two days. Ramaphosa continues to deny the accusations, but this Friday the main leaders of the ANC meet in Johannesburg to discuss whether to maintain their support for the president or decide to sacrifice him. The party is divided, as is South African society. Members of the bosses and the leader of the Anglican Church have come out in defense of Ramaphosa. “No one should be above the law, but making a final judgment of a person based on a preliminary investigation commission, which has not made a final determination of the facts, could lead to anarchy,” said Bishop Thabo Makgoba, successor by Desmond Tutu. Other social groups and citizens demand his departure.

The scandal has jumped at the worst moment. The ANC was scheduled to meet in two weeks to choose its candidate for the 2024 general elections and Ramaphosa was first in all the pools. These elections will be a true litmus test for Mandela’s historic party, which has been in power for 28 years, since the end of the apartheid in 1994. For the first time, the opposition has options to win, as was evident in the local elections held in 2021, in which the CNA obtained the worst result in its history: 46% of the votes, below the symbolic ribbon of 50%.

The story is bizarre and has all the ingredients of a political serial. Ramaphosa owns the Phala Phala farm, a kind of wildlife hunting and breeding reserve, with buffalo, impala, wildebeest and antelope, among other species. As the president explained to the panel of experts that prepared the report, it all started on December 26, 2019. That day, an unknown Sudanese businessman, Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim, paid $580,000 in cash for a group of buffaloes.

As the farm manager was not on site at the time, Ramaphosa says he asked the manager of the accommodation area to hold the money until it was deposited in the bank. The clerk thought the safest place was Ramaphosa’s own private residence, deep inside the farm, and specifically under the cushions of a sofa in a rarely used guest room. A month later, on February 9, 2020, the thieves entered said property and took the wads of bills. Then the president, who was in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, reported the theft to his security chief, General Wally Rhoode.

The facts remained secret until in June the former head of South African intelligence, Arthur Fraser, filed a complaint with the police station accusing Ramaphosa of money laundering and of having concealed the theft, not of $580,000, but of four million, because he could not justify the origin of the aforementioned amount. In an affidavit, Fraser claimed that General Rhoode hired the services of a private investigator to identify and locate the perpetrators of the theft, who were allegedly kidnapped and tortured until they returned the stolen money. Ramaphosa denies it. “There has been no evidence, let alone sufficient evidence, to show that I committed a violation, let alone a serious violation, of the Constitution or the law,” he told experts.

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loss of supports

Fraser’s complaint led to the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry that commissioned the preparation of the report published this Wednesday, and which has caused a real political earthquake, since it ensures that the president could have committed various crimes. Not only has the opposition demanded the holding of early elections, but the Parliament plans next Tuesday to debate the possible opening of a process of impeachment or impeachment. Ramaphosa would be safe because of parliamentary mathematics, since the ANC controls the institution, but several senior officials from the party in power have asked for his head and the loss of internal support is more than notorious.

Ramaphosa, 70, a lawyer by training, was a leading activist against apartheid and an early member of the ANC, although, after losing the battle for Nelson Mandela’s succession to Thabo Mbeki, he turned away from politics and became an enormously successful businessman. His comeback in style came in 2012, when he was elected vice president of the party and, two years later, vice president of the country under the leadership of Jacob Zuma. His resignation in 2018, also harassed by various cases of corruption, made Ramaphosa president, re-elected in 2019 in his first presidential elections. Precisely, the fight against the illicit enrichment of the political class was the banner of his electoral campaign.

The lack of basic services in many parts of the country, such as electricity or water; rampant unemployment, around 35%; high crime rates; inflation; the brutal inequality between rich and poor; and the numerous corruption scandals in which the country’s leaders have been involved have generated a general disenchantment with politics that was expressed in the 2021 local elections, when participation was less than 50% and young people barely attended the elections. urns. Despite continuing to be a great industrial and economic power, a country that is part of the emerging club, South Africa is going through an energy crisis and confidence in its institutions that has it against the ropes.

Ramaphosa has cultivated an image of a businessman also concerned with social causes. Known by the nickname of The Buffalo Because of his fondness for keeping wild animals, he had earned some international recognition for his fight for equal access to vaccines during covid-19, which coincided with his presidency of the African Union. However, internal discontent already had his party and his management as president on the ropes. Now, he is facing the worst crisis of his political career, precisely because of a bunch of buffalo.

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