South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will appear before the Integrity Commission of his party, the African National Congress (ANC), to respond to allegations that he stole millions of dollars.
The latest graft scandal surrounding Ramaphosa started last week, when a former intelligence director, Arthur Fraser, opened a complaint against the president.
In his leaked affidavit to the police, Fraser alleges that on February 9, 2020, robbers targeted Ramaphosa’s game farm in the northern Limpopo province, where they found $4 million (€3.7 million) in foreign currency hidden inside furniture.
The criminals were apprehended and the money recovered from them, the affidavit says, but the men were then paid to buy their silence.
Fraser accuses Ramaphosa of money laundering, kidnapping and corruption.
But the president has come out saying his hands are clean and that those funds were private, not public money.
“I am in the cattle business and game business. … I buy and sell animals,” Ramaphosa said on Sunday, adding that the animal sales are sometimes through cash or transfers. “So this was a clear business transaction of selling animals.”
More questions than answers
Ramaphosa’s reaction raises more questions than answers, political scientist Lukhona Mnguni said, adding that the critical question the president needs to clear up is the legality of the money.
“There was trading, and there was an income that accrued to him. Did he declare this income so that he can be taxed appropriately?” Mnguni posed. “The second issue is whether there was a cover-up?”
To curb corruption and money laundering, South Africa’s Financial Intelligence Act demands that people report all cash payments or receipts exceeding €1,520 to the Financial Intelligence Centre.
Battle for reelection
The scandal surrounding the stolen money may affect Ramaphosa’s chances of being reelected as ANC chairperson in December.
“The allegations made against President Ramaphosa are embarrassing for the president,” said Daniel Silke, a political analyst based in Cape Town.
For the moment though, Ramaphosa still seems to have his party’s support.
During an ANC executive committee meeting that took place after the allegations came to light, Tony Yengeni, a member of the executive and a strong opponent of Ramaphosa, tried but failed to persuade the committee to force Ramaphosa to take a leave of absence.
Opposition parties are also calling for Ramaphosa to step aside.
Democratic Alliance party leader John Steenhuisen called on the police to conduct a full-scale investigation.
“Why was such a large amount of foreign currency there?” Steenhuisen queried. “Why was it in furniture, not at the bank? Why was this not reported to the … police service to pursue the alleged perpetrators, and why the allegations of hush money being paid if everything was above board?”
Timing of accusation
However, political analyst Silke downplayed the impact of the scandal on Ramaphosa’s candidacy.
“We know the steep fragmentation within the ANC is causing great turmoil within the organization,” he said. “Personalities and various groupings are at each other’s throats very often, and internal divisions play themselves out very often in public spats.”
“Overall, this matter is not going to substantively deal the president any negative blow when it comes to defending his position at the ANC’s elective conference at the end of the year,” he said.
On the contrary, he said the president’s position has strengthened over the last few months as the various ANC branches and regions have been holding conferences and electing new senior office bearers, many of whom are largely supportive of the president.
ANC’s multiple corruption scandals
Democracy expert Steven Friedman, a professor at the University of Johannesburg, believes the timing of the allegations is a calculated move by a powerful faction within the ANC to disqualify Ramaphosa from reelection.
But Friedman warned that the scandal may “prove more politically damaging to the ANC than it could to Ramaphosa.”
During Ramaphosa’s presidency, the ANC, which has governed South Africa since the end of white rule in 2004, has seen its popularity slide. The party recorded its worst poll result ever in local elections held in November 2021, when it won less than 50% of the ballots cast.
As well as the Ramaphosa allegations, the ANC is also grappling with two other high-level corruption cases.
In the so-called Gupta state capture, Atul and Rajesh Gupta are accused of wielding influence over ministerial appointments after paying bribes to win contracts. The two tycoons were recently arrested in Dubai, and South Africa is seeking extradition.
The Gupta scandal badly dented the administration of previous President Jacob Zuma and led to Zuma’s downfall in 2018.
Zuma is currently facing trial in another case involving a $2 billion arms deal in the 1990s. He has pleaded not guilty to fraud, money laundering, and racketeering charges.
Edited by: Kate Hairsine
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