South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa will not resign over the ‘Farmgate’ scandal and could challenge the “clearly flawed” independent report into the affair, according to his spokesman.
On Wednesday, the independent panel led by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo found that Ramaphosa may have violated his oath of office by covering up the theft of at least $580,000 from his Phala Phala private game ranch.
Senior ANC figures met on Friday to discuss Ramaphosa’s future, amid speculation that the president was considering his position. But his spokesman says he is likely to fight on and dispute the findings of the report.
“President Ramaphosa is not resigning based on a flawed report, neither is he stepping aside,” Vincent Magwenya said.
“It may be in the long-term interest and sustainability of our constitutional democracy, well beyond the Ramaphosa presidency, that such a clearly flawed report is challenged.”
The resignation or impeachment of Ramaphosa – which would require a two-thirds majority in the national assembly – would likely plunge the country into a period of extended political turmoil.
Yet with just a month until the ANC’s elective conference at which it will choose its new leader to face the 2024 presidential election, the scandal has come at a pivotal time. Prior to the release of the panel’s report, Ramaphosa had been well-placed to extend his party leadership and thus to be re-elected to a second full term as president of South Africa.
Since assuming office in 2018, Ramaphosa has sought to present himself as a reform-minded anti-corruption leader after a decade of “state-capture” graft scandals under the presidency of his predecessor and arch-rival Jacob Zuma.
Yet critics argue that he has not gone far or fast enough in his bid to root out corruption or expand his economic reform agenda. The IMF predicts GDP growth of just 2.1% this year and the ANC has struggled to get to grips with high levels of unemployment.
Conflict of interest
The panel concluded that Ramaphosa had acted “in a way that is inconsistent with his office” and exposed himself to “a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business.”
The panel found that questions were raised about the source of alleged additional stolen currency, and said that the President’s decision to seek the help of the Namibian President to investigate the theft rather than reporting it through an open investigation raised questions over his conduct.
“Viewed as a whole, the information presented to the Panel, prima facie, establishes that: There was a deliberate intention not to investigate the commission of the crimes committed at Phala Phala openly… The request to the Namibian Police to “handle the matter with discretion” confirms this intention… The President abused his position as Head of State to have the matter investigated and seeking the assistance of the Namibian President to apprehend a suspect,” the panel wrote.
Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing in the affair. He says that the cash was the proceeds from the sale of buffalo and insists that the amount stolen was smaller than the $4-$8 million that former state security head Arthur Fraser alleged. He also denies a cover-up.
“I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny that I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me,” Ramaphosa said in a statement issued by the South African presidency.
Calls for resignation
The panel’s report has prompted conflicting responses. Writing in the Daily Maverick, Richard Calland, Associate Professor in Public Law at the University of Cape Town, said that Ramaphosa should not resign as a result of the “legally flawed” report which he said would create a “dangerous precedent”.
“Unfortunately, the Independent Panel has failed to deliver a report of the necessary impeccable quality and credibility,” he wrote.
“What was the core legal test that the panel needed to apply? The rules say ‘sufficient evidence of a serious violation of the law or serious misconduct’ (in contrast, as the panel notes, to the process in the case of the impeachment of the Public Protector where the rules expressly use the phrase ‘prima facie’). In my view, ‘sufficient evidence’ is a higher test than “prima facie evidence’.”
The panel’s conclusions were welcomed by Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who ran against Ramaphosa for the leadership of the party following her former husband Jacob Zuma’s resignation. In a series of tweets she called for the President to step down.
“If you go and read the ANC step aside rule, I think he should step aside… I think the President has to step aside now and answer to the case #PowerToTruth”