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Cyril Ramaphosa damaged by cash-in-couch scandal, could be indicted

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa’s ruling party said on Friday it was still considering allowing lawmakers to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Cyril Ramaphosa, the last remaining member of Nelson Mandela’s inner circle. still head of government.

A panel of two judges and a lawyer sent shockwaves through the government on Wednesday when they recommended an impeachment committee investigate whether Ramaphosa was wrongful in an incident involving a large sum of cash hidden in a couch that was later stolen.

Ramaphosa replied, “I categorically deny having violated this oath in any way, and I also deny being guilty of any of the allegations made against me.”

It is unclear whether he will face criminal charges. If he were to step down, it would deepen divisions within the already struggling ruling party, the African National Congress.

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Memories of the party’s glory days – when it led the liberation struggle against apartheid – have faded for many voters after decades of scandals and mismanagement. Many commentators predict that Ramaphosa’s troubles could hasten the end of the ANC’s long dominance of national politics. The party has controlled one of Africa’s richest and most influential nations since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Ramaphosa was one of Mandela’s main aides – he held the microphone when Mandela gave his first public speech after his release from prison. He was Mandela’s chief negotiator with the white-led government ahead of the 1994 elections and later chaired the commission that drafted the new constitution.

Despite his notoriety, however, Mandela did not appoint Ramaphosa as his deputy. Instead, the former union organizer became a successful businessman.

His rise to the presidency and the announcement of an anti-corruption campaign sparked widespread relief – dubbed “Ramaphoria” – after the systematic looting of state-owned enterprises and attempts to dismantle the criminal justice system that led his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, to resign. Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at the 2017 party leadership conference quashed Zuma’s plan to succeed his ex-wife, but Zuma continues to command the loyalty of a powerful ANC faction.

Ramaphosa “is seen as a man of integrity in a party marred by years of corruption scandals and mismanagement,” said Pauline Bax, deputy Africa program director at the International Crisis Group think tank. “It will deepen divisions at a time when there is no clear successor.”

Ramaphosa is still more popular than the ANC in opinion polls and was widely seen as the party’s best chance of halting a sharp decline in electoral support, which fell below 50% in the municipal elections in last year for the first time since the country’s premiere. – racial elections, in 1994.

Justice Malala, a prominent political commentator, said the nation was undergoing a second major political transition as voters deserted the ANC. Ramaphosa’s main weakness has been not facing this reality, he said.

“Cyril joined the ANC knowing what he had become,” he said, adding: “He tried to give some dignity to his colleagues and not send them to prison, and they saw this as a weakness.

“This case is about getting rid of him and stopping his reform agenda,” Malala said. “The ANC may have good people, but it is so eaten up by greed, corruption and infighting that it is unable to renew itself. … He is in agony.

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The ANC leadership conference is scheduled for this month, and Ramaphosa seemed assured of a landslide victory after securing just over half of the vote from ANC party branches. The winner will represent the ANC in the next elections.

His main challenger, former health minister Zweli Mkhize, followed him with nearly a quarter of the vote. Mkhize resigned last year after he was embroiled in a corruption scandal over coronavirus-related contracts that were awarded to a communications company controlled by former associates, but he has not been charged.

University of South Africa political analyst Lesiba Teffo said the ANC likely knew it would suffer serious losses at the polls in 2024 without Ramaphosa.

“Even his critics know they need him for the next election,” Teffo said. “The ANC knows that if they recall him, it will harm the country and further weaken the ANC in the elections. This is a political conundrum for the ANC. He still has a lot of credibility and support despite the mistakes he made.

The political turmoil dates back to a long-running investigation into a shadowy theft of cash from Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm. He said the money, which was hidden in a sofa, came from the sale of buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman in 2019.

But the panel, led by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, cast doubt on that explanation, asking why a foreigner would carry half a million dollars in cash to South Africa, visit the farm on Christmas Day without an arrangement beforehand, would pay cash and then leave. without ever claiming the bison.

The panel also questioned why the money was left there for 40 days instead of being deposited in a bank and why no one was able to provide the businessman’s contact details or ID Sudanese, who has not been in contact for two and a half years. The theft – and that Ramaphosa would not have reported it to police – raised questions about whether the money was improperly acquired, the panel said.

Ramaphosa maintained that he reported the theft to the authorities, informing the head of his protection unit, Major General Wally Rhoode, who is part of the police. But the report says that was not enough, noting that the incident only became public after a former spy chief allied with Ramaphosa’s rival Zuma announced he had filed a complaint against the president and others for the matter, setting off a media storm.

The political turmoil comes as South Africa grapples with weak economic growth, massive power cuts, high unemployment and rampant crime. The South African rand has fallen 4% against the dollar since the report was released on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg data, amid uncertainty over the country’s leadership and the future of economic restructuring.

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