The political future of South Africa’s president has been left hanging in the balance by the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into his handling of the theft of $580,000 (€552,700) from his game farm.
A report released on Wednesday by an independent panel appointed by the National Assembly to look into how president Cyril Ramaphosa dealt with the burglary at his Phala Phala farm in 2020 has found he may have violated the constitution and broken anti-corruption laws.
Led by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, the panel said its investigation suggests “a deliberate intention not to investigate the commission of the crimes committed at Phala Phala openly”.
Its findings have now opened the door for a process that could lead to Mr Ramaphosa’s impeachment by parliament if he refuses to stand down over the crisis.
The lower house will vote next Tuesday on whether to pass the damning report and launch the process to remove the country’s fifth post-apartheid president from office via a vote by National Assembly MPs.
Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said on Thursday evening that Mr Ramaphosa was studying the report, and that “all options” in terms of how he would respond to it were on the table.
“What is important [for Mr Ramaphosa] is not so much the merits or demerits of a particular option,” he said. “What is important is choosing a path that is in the best interests of the country.”
Several political parties have called on Mr Ramaphosa to stand down since the report’s release.
The country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has also called for the 2024 general election to be brought forward to avoid an escalation of the crisis.
The panel’s findings could not have come at a worse time for Mr Ramaphosa, who was expected to secure a second term as the ANC’s leader later this month at its elective conference.
The trade-unionist-turned-businessman came to power in the ANC in 2017 on a promise to tackle the widespread corruption in the movement and in the government under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
The ANC’s top decision-making body, the national executive committee, will meet on Friday to discuss the inquiry’s findings and decide whether it supports Mr Ramaphosa’s presidency.
In what has become known as the “Farmgate scandal”, last June Mr Ramaphosa was accused by former director general of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, of trying to cover up the theft at his farm.
Mr Fraser filed a complaint with police accusing the president of hiding the theft of $4 million (€3.8 million) in cash, which was hidden in a couch at his Phala Phala farm in Limpopo province.
A close ally of former president Zuma, Mr Fraser claimed the money could be the proceeds of money-laundering and corruption, accused the president of kidnapping and bribing the burglars, and maintained he should have reported the crime to the police.
Mr Ramaphosa has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He has confirmed the crime took place and that he reported it to the head of his presidential protection unit. In addition, he insisted the money stolen was the proceeds of a bona fide business transaction with a Sudanese businessman for 20 buffalo.
However, the panel maintained he was required by law to have reported the crime directly to the police, and that Mr Ramaphosa had failed to address “a number of important questions relating to this transaction” in his submission to the inquiry.
These included why the buffalo he sold were still on the farm over two years after the transaction occurred.