South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa survived a vote in parliament that could have threatened his presidency — but can he survive another to keep his position as head of the ruling party? He finds out this weekend when the African National Congress party meets to elect its new leader.
An independent panel recommended an impeachment inquiry go forward based on the theft of at least $580,000 concealed in a sofa on Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo province in February 2020.
South African police never opened a docket for the theft, and while a Sudanese businessman has corroborated Ramaphosa’s claim that the money was from the sale of 20 buffaloes, a former state security boss accused the president of taking payments from foreign countries.
The ANC used its majority in the house to vote down the report Tuesday, saying there wasn’t enough evidence in it to warrant an impeachment inquiry.
Opposition party requests for a secret ballot were denied, despite reports that at least two MPs received death threats, warning them to vote against adopting the report. In total, 214 MPs voted “no” against the report, versus 148 votes in favor and two abstentions.
Four ANC members voted in favor of the inquiry, including Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma – the woman Ramaphosa narrowly beat to the ANC presidency in 2017. She’s the ex-wife of former president Jacob Zuma.
Several of Ramaphosa’s political rivals were absent for the vote, including the man some insiders are calling the president’s main competition for the party’s top job, former health minister Zweli Mkhize.
Mkhize was seen as a strong leader during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but became embroiled in contract fraud allegations and resigned.
Political analyst Susan Booysen, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, believes it’s likely Ramaphosa will keep his job as the ANC’s president.
“We’ve seen two or three regions in the last two or three days, announcing that they are switching their vote from Ramaphosa to Mkhize but in the overall scheme of things, so far we haven’t seen the evidence that he can successfully challenge Ramaphosa, but the final die has not been cast,” Booysen said.
If he is defeated at the conference, will the 70-year-old Ramaphosa, a trade unionist-turned-multimillionaire, stay on as president of the country?
“If he does not make it, if he is not elected at this conference, in the next couple of days it is very likely that there will be, what they call in the ANC, a recall from power by the National Executive Committee like they did with president Thabo Mbeki and then former president Jacob Zuma, when the fortunes turned against them at the elective conferences,” Booysen said.
The archbishop of the Anglican Church, Thabo Makgoba, said if Ramaphosa does stay on, citizens will still want to hear the outcome of several other state-sponsored investigations into the Phala Phala farm theft.
“While we have to subject ourselves to the democratic processes and accept parliament’s vote, this saga is not yet over,” Makgoba said. “We still have to hear from the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Revenue Services and the Reserve Bank. Whatever happens, President Ramaphosa’s credibility has suffered a blow.”
The ANC’s 55th elective conference starts Friday in Johannesburg and runs until December 20.