South Africa's Ramaphosa under pressure over 'cash and cushions' scandal

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • It alleged that Ramaphosa had hidden a burglary at his farm at Phala Phala in northeastern South Africa from the authorities.
  • Ramaphosa said $580,000 in cash was stolen from beneath sofa cushions at his ranch. 

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing renewed pressure after a panel probing a burglary scandal at his farm said Wednesday it found enough evidence to warrant a parliamentary debate on whether he should be impeached.

Parliament is set to examine the report and decide whether to push ahead with impeachment proceedings next week, only days before Ramaphosa faces a crucial internal party election. 

The three-person panel set up in September to probe the alleged cover-up of a theft at Ramaphosa's farmhouse wrote in its conclusions that the information it gathered "discloses... that the president may have committed" serious violations and misconduct.

These include not reporting 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.

Reacting to the report, Ramaphosa reiterated his denial of any wrongdoing. 

"The conclusions of the panel require careful reading and appropriate consideration in the interest of the stability of government and that of the country," the presidency said in a statement. 

 Cash for buffaloes 
The affair, which has tarnished the president's reputation and overshadowed his bid for re-election as ruling party leader, erupted in June after South Africa's former national spy boss filed a complaint with the police.

It alleged that Ramaphosa had hidden a burglary at his farm at Phala Phala in northeastern South Africa from the authorities.

Instead, he allegedly organised for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.

The president has denied this, and laid out his position at length in the 138-page submission that was leaked on Wednesday.

"I did not 'hunt' for the perpetrators of the theft, as alleged, nor did I give any instructions for this to take place," he wrote.

Ramaphosa said $580,000 in cash was stolen from beneath sofa cushions at his ranch. 

The sum was 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.

"This is a defining moment for our constitutional democracy and must not be taken lightly," Siviwe Gwarube, the chief whip of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, said in a statement.

"The panel makes some serious findings against the president ... These are grounds for impeachment proceedings."

Vuyolwethu Zungula, leader of the small ATM party, which pushed for the creation of the panel, said "the president must resign". 

Re-election bid 
Ramaphosa came to power in 2018 on a promise to root out graft after the corruption-stained era of his former boss, Jacob Zuma.

He faces elections on December 16 in his bid for a second term as president of the deeply-factionalised African National Congress party.

That position, as head of the dominant party in parliament, is also key to his survival as the country's president.

Ramaphosa is facing a challenge from Zweli Mkhize, 66, an ex-health minister who resigned from government last year amid graft allegations. 

The special panel was set up following opposition uproar.

It was tasked with ascertaining whether there was sufficient evidence to show that the president committed a serious violation of the constitution or the law or serious misconduct.

Lawmakers will examine the report on December 6, and adopt a resolution, "through a simple majority vote, whether a further action by the House is necessary or not", said National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

This could lead to a vote to remove the president, which to be successful would require approval by two-thirds of assembly members.

Mapisa-Nqakula described the handover of the report as "one of the indicative milestones in South Africa's maturing constitutional democracy".