South Africa’s Ramaphosa Faces Crunch Impeachment Debate

South Africa’s parliament is to debate Tuesday whether to initiate proceedings to remove scandal-engulfed President Cyril Ramaphosa from office.

Ramaphosa, who was championed as a graft-busting saviour after the corruption-tainted tenure of predecessor Jacob Zuma, has been marred by accusations that he attempted to cover up a huge cash theft at his luxury farm.

The findings of an independent panel, which said the president “may” be guilty of serious violations and misconduct, will be at the centre of an extraordinary parliamentary session in Cape Town at 1200 GMT.

Lawmakers are called to decide, by simple majority, whether to press ahead with impeachment proceedings.

The 70-year-old president seems likely to survive the day, having last week secured the renewed backing of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party — which holds 230 of the National Assembly’s 400 seats — after mounting a legal bid to have the damning report annulled.

“The ANC caucus is likely to be relatively united,” said Daniel Silke, director of Political Futures Consultancy.

“The fact that this is not a secret ballot will make it very difficult for any MP to vote against the party line.”

Yet others believe there might be room for surprises, as the scandal has heightened rifts within the deeply factionalised ANC.

The party’s national executive vowed last week to vote down any attempt to force Ramaphosa from office.

That decision upset some within the party, who said the executive had forced their hand.

“It’s not a done deal, they (the ANC) are divided,” said political analyst Sandile Swana.

Opposition parties are presenting a largely united front on the matter and are expected to make their voices heard.

“It could very well be a very heated and long procedure,” said Silke.

‘Untenable’

Were the opposition to have its way, Ramaphosa would face the unappealing prospect of having the affair further scrutinised by parliament in the year leading to general elections in 2024.

This could make his position “untenable” in the long term, said Swana.

An impeachment vote itself would need the support of a two-thirds majority of MPs to succeed.

The president, who was a wealthy businessman before entering politics, found himself in hot water in June when South Africa’s former spy boss filed a complaint against him to the police.

Arthur Fraser alleged Ramaphosa had concealed the theft of several million dollars from his game and rare cattle farm in 2020.

He accused the president of having the burglars kidnapped and bribed into silence.

A police inquiry is ongoing, but Ramaphosa has not so far been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing.

He has acknowledged the theft of $580,000, which was stashed under sofa cushions at his farm, but said the money was payment for buffalo bought by a Sudanese businessman.

The latter recently confirmed the transaction in interviews with British media.

The vote comes just three days before the ANC meets for its five-yearly conference to elect a new leader.