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Can scandal-hit Ramaphosa survive as president of South Africa?

Johannesburg, South Africa – In December, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) will hold its elective conference, and key provinces have indicated they will support President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for re-election as party leader.

But a personal scandal could land him in an impeachment vote even before the conference takes place.

On June 1, 2022, the former head of the national spy agency, Arthur Fraser, filed a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa, charging him with money laundering and bribery to cover up a February 2020 heist at his game farm, in which $4 million in illicit funds are alleged to have been stolen in cash.

Ramaphosa later issued a statement confirming that a robbery had taken place at his Phala Phala farm, but denying any wrongdoing.

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The opposition wants Ramaphosa to answer questions about the scandal. But the president also has to answer to several investigative agencies, including the elite crime-fighting agency the Hawks, as well as the office of the Public Protector and the South African Reserve Bank.

In August, Ramaphosa refused to answer questions in parliament related to the robbery, again reiterating that he wants “law enforcement agencies investigating the case to have space to do their job.”

On September 9, several opposition parties marched on the office of Acting Public Defender Kholeka Gcaleka to demand the publication of a report on the alleged theft.

But while law enforcement is busy investigating various aspects of the robbery, National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has appointed an independent panel that includes the country’s highest judge, former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, to conduct an assessment. preliminary decision on whether Ramaphosa should face an impeachment investigation for alleged misconduct related to the robbery.

The three-person panel has not yet started their evaluation, but they will have 30 days from when they start reporting to the speaker. If the panel recommends impeachment, a special parliamentary committee decides whether to call an impeachment vote in parliament. If at least two-thirds of lawmakers support the motion, the president will be immediately removed from office.

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Although the ANC still has a parliamentary majority (with 230 of the 400 seats), Ramaphosa has enemies in the party, the scandal has sparked a public outcry and the impeachment process is likely to be completed before the ANC’s elective conference.

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ramaphosa must go

In the South African political system, there are no direct presidential elections. The leader of the party with a majority in parliament becomes president.

Since the fall of the apartheid regime in 1994, Nelson Mandela and Kgalema Motlanthe have been the only presidents who have not been removed from power.

Former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were forced to resign over allegations of misconduct.

Ramaphosa took office in 2018 after defeating a Zuma-backed candidate in the ANC general election and vowed to root out state corruption.

He has faced a difficult few years, tasked with guiding the country through the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as facing high unemployment, violence and crime, major riots, crippling blackouts and internal ANC disputes.

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But the Phala Phala farm scandal now poses the biggest threat to his presidency.

The public has been outraged by the scandal, with #RamaphosaMustGo and #PhalaPhalaFarm regularly taking to social media and protesters calling on him to resign.

Opposition political parties have called on him to resign, with the strongest demands coming from Julius Malema, a former ANC youth league leader who now heads the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters party.

“Ramaphosa should know that his days are numbered in that position of president,” Malema told thousands of EFF members at the party’s ninth anniversary celebrations on July 30.

Malema and his EFF were instrumental in the removal of former President Zuma by disrupting his speeches in parliament and keeping up calls for him to resign.

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Ramaphosa has also faced dissent within the ANC over the Phala Phala farm scandal, with ANC supporters joining the protests and senior party figures indirectly criticizing him or urging him to step aside.

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In July, senior ANC politician Mavuso Msimang said on a radio show that Ramaphosa “should step aside temporarily as head of state until his name is cleared.”

At a meeting in the Eastern Cape on September 18, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu criticized politicians who “pile money under mattresses while the nation starves.”

Meanwhile, at a memorial service for ANC party stalwart Jessie Duarte in July, Mbeki told mourners the country could face an “Arab Spring”-style uprising if the ANC doesn’t get its house in order and develop concrete plans to deal with the country’s problems. many problems, especially the youth unemployment rate of 66.5 percent.

“You can’t have so many unemployed people, so many people living in poverty, facing lawlessness and facing corrupt leadership and not expect the situation to blow up one day,” Mbeki said.

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Ramaphosa did not immediately respond to Mbeki’s criticism, but addressing ANC members at the KwaZulu-Natal conference in July, he said the challenges facing South Africa are longstanding.

“[Unemployment] It didn’t start two years ago,” he said. “We have lived with this problem for a number of years and have been involved amongst the social partners to find or create the steps we need to take to address all these challenges.”

Ramaphosa’s allies have said that cleansing Africa’s oldest liberation movement of corruption has been unpopular with many in the party, and this is causing infighting and calls for Ramaphosa’s ouster.

‘There is no one else to rule’

Oscar van Heerden, an author and political commentator who was a member of the ANC in the 1980s, said Ramaphosa’s opponents may make his life difficult, but they are unlikely to win an impeachment vote. as he still has grassroots support within the ANC, which is also concerned about the performance of the 2024 elections and sees Ramaphosa as a safer bet.

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Zuma and Mbeki were only removed from their posts after they were deposed as leaders of the ANC.

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“If Ramaphosa wins the race for the ANC presidency, which I think he will, the ANC will be better prepared to win the 2024 election,” van Heerden said.

Benedict Xolani Dube, director of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, told Al Jazeera that although he believes the country needs a new leadership, Ramaphosa will survive as president because divisions in the ANC could threaten his electoral chances and because politicians from the ANC who oppose Ramaphosa still requires your support to be nominated in the next elections.

“This is the situation for the ANC and the country: without him, there is no one else to govern,” Dube said.

“[But] We should no longer look at the ANC as the messiah that will change things. We need leadership in the country.”

Political analyst Levy Ndou told Al Jazeera that if the National Prosecutor’s Office files charges against Ramaphosa, it could alter the complexity of the situation.

“If there is no evidence,” he said, “there is nothing to fall back on and the ANC will continue to support Ramaphosa as there is no one else to replace him at the moment.”

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