JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s president is fighting for his political future amid a scandal that has tarnished his reputation as an anti-apartheid icon once widely admired for tackling problems in America’s most developed economy. ‘Africa.
Cyril Ramaphosa, 70, says he is innocent of accusations that he hid at least $580,000 in a sofa at his ranch. He is accused of failing to register the money with authorities and, when it was stolen, failing to report the theft to police, to avoid questions about how he obtained the U.S. dollars .
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, is due to vote at a conference starting Friday on whether to resign Ramaphosa as party leader. The last two South African presidents had to resign after losing the party leadership at the ANC conference.
Ramaphosa handily survived an impeachment vote in Parliament this week, strengthening his position in the next party conference vote.
Ramaphosa is also under investigation over possible charges of illegally holding foreign currency.
“From Ramaphoria to Ramafailure,” read a headline on News24 this week that described how widespread admiration for Ramaphosa’s leadership in this nation of 60 million has turned to dismay.
Once respected for his anti-apartheid activism and his links to Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa rose from a trade union background to become a board member and shareholder in several of South Africa’s biggest companies. Considered one of South Africa’s richest men, he seemed well-equipped to tackle the corruption that has affected virtually every aspect of South African life, including relations with the police and access to government services.
One of Ramaphosa’s pet projects is his Phala Phala Ranch in Limpopo province, where he raises Ankole cattle and African antelopes. The allegations against him stem from a report that undeclared alien cash was hidden in a couch in his ranch home. When this money was stolen in 2020, Ramaphosa did not report the theft to the police, apparently to avoid questions about where the money came from and why it had not been reported to authorities.
Ramaphosa claims his ranch got the money from the sale of buffalo to a Sudanese businessman and that the ranch manager did not know what to do with the money.
Ramaphosa’s supporters say the allegations against him – that he broke South African regulations prohibiting citizens from holding foreign cash without declaring it to financial authorities – are minor compared to the billions of dollars that critics say , were stolen from the state by the former president’s associates. President Jacob Zuma who obtained fraudulent contracts with public companies.
“The disappointment with Ramaphosa runs deep,” said William Gumede, director of the think tank Democracy Works. “But South Africa’s expectations have fallen so low that Ramaphosa is still seen as better than the other alternatives. I am struck by the opinion expressed by the boards of directors of large companies and by the inhabitants of rural villages.
Parliament voted 214-148 against initiating impeachment proceedings on Tuesday, with Ramaphosa enjoying the support of almost all lawmakers in the ruling African National Congress party, which holds the majority of seats.
This support from the ANC bodes well for Ramaphosa’s re-election as party leader. He must win the party leadership in order to run again for a second term as president of South Africa in 2024.
Nelson Mandela is the only post-apartheid South African president to retire voluntarily, having served one term from 1994 to 1999. Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor, was forced to resign in 2008 after falling out with a faction linked to his deputy at the time, Zuma. .
Then came the Zuma years. A judge leading an in-depth judicial investigation into corruption said those years were characterized by rampant looting of state coffers. Zuma was forced to resign when corruption allegations against him became overwhelming.
When Ramaphosa took over from Zuma in 2018, he promised to clean up the mess and supported the judicial inquiry. He has earned respect for competently leading the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the scandal over dollars hidden on a couch at his ranch forced him to focus solely on staying in power.
“The majority of the ANC will undoubtedly close ranks around Ramaphosa and he will continue to lead the party and preside over the country,” Gumede said. “But to survive, he had to gain support from many questionable characters. They will demand a quid pro quo and he will no longer be able to fight corruption effectively. He will remain in power but he will have less power to do anything. This will make him a lame duck.
Ramaphosa’s political struggles come as South Africa faces a series of daunting problems, including 35% unemployment, 7.4% inflation and national blackouts lasting more than seven hours a day. day.
“Across South Africa there is a feeling of despair. People do not have political leaders or political parties that they trust,” Gumede said. “These are not good prospects for South Africa. The only glimmer of hope is that the 2024 elections will bring a better group of leaders.”
Ordinary South Africans express a weary cynicism about Ramaphosa.
Lerato Makgatho, 38, who lives in the Kempton Park area of Johannesburg, said the revelations about cash at Phala Phala shocked her.
“He was always known to be a billionaire, so hearing about dollars in cash on a couch at his farmhouse doesn’t fit that image,” she said. “This one was a shock to me.”
Thabiso Kome, 35, a community activist from Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg, said he did not expect Ramaphosa to solve the scourge of corruption because it is so widespread within the party in power.
“Some of us have witnessed corruption at the local level, in local clinics and hospitals. This type of corruption cannot be solved by one person,” Kome said. “It is normal to hear about corruption and controversy when it comes to the ANC. Ramaphosa is one of them.
Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg and Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed.