Due to a serious personal scandal, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in office since 2018, will have to decide these days whether to resign and end his political career or whether to wage a long battle within his party, the African National Congress , even risking an impeachment process by parliament. Ramaphosa, who seemed to be on a quiet campaign for re-election in 2024, has been grappling since June with a scandal surrounding a massive unreported theft at his farm, which the local press dubbed Farmgate (“farm” means farm in English) .
An independent commission of inquiry set up by the South African parliament in recent days confirmed that Ramaphosa was guilty of “maladministration”: no legal proceedings are currently open against him, but the case concerns possession of undeclared foreign currency, evasion tax, failure to report crimes and improper use of state personnel. At the moment a spokesman said that Ramaphosa is evaluating «all solutions».
Ramaphosa is 70 years old and has been president of South Africa since 2018, when he replaced then president and leader of the African National Congress Jacob Zuma, himself involved in various personal and corruption scandals. Ramaphosa began his career as a union leader and entered politics in the 1990s, before retiring for a long time. In the following years he amassed enormous wealth through various entrepreneurial activities, both in the field of mining and in the media, telecommunications and some beverage and fast food companies.
Although the scandals related to Zuma’s presidency and the country’s economic difficulties had caused Nelson Mandela’s party (in power continuously since the end of apartheid, since 1994) to lose credibility and votes, Ramaphosa won the 2019 elections by focusing precisely on fight against corruption. The Farmgate case emerged last June from the complaint of a former director of the secret services and concerns his ranch, the Phala Phala Wildlife farm, north of Johannesburg, where the president raises various animals, including impalas, antelopes and wildebeests.
Here in 2017 a theft would have been committed for an amount which, depending on the version, ranges from 500,000 to 5 million dollars. Ramaphosa did not report the theft and, according to the allegations, would instead have ordered the head of the unit dedicated to his own security to investigate the case: the unit, led by General Wally Rhoode, would then have arrested and interrogated the suspects, without the police knew it, recovering the money and paying an amount to the perpetrators of the theft in exchange for their silence. At the basis of the secret operation there would be the desire to hide the illicit origin of the money, the result of laundering. The South African president, on the other hand, claims that the theft took place, but that it was minor and that the money in the farm was the result of the sale of some animals bred there.
After the publication of the findings of the commission of inquiry a statement was expected of Ramaphosa to Parliament, whose members could decide to carry on an impeachment process, as requested by the oppositions. However, Parliament is firmly in the hands of the African National Congress, the president’s party: to reach the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president, the votes of half of his party mates would be needed.
Ramaphosa’s political future will most likely be decided, if he chooses not to resign, by the party congress scheduled for December 16-20: then the ANC will have to decide whether to confirm him as leader, also indicating him as a candidate for the next elections, or replace him : in the latter case it would be difficult for him to continue to hold the presidency.
A decision could come as early as the weekend. The South African media believe the resignation option is probable, which will open a complex phase of struggles within the majority party for leadership, at a time that is already not easy for South Africa. The country is in the throes of a struggling post-pandemic recovery, with limited economic growth, sharply rising unemployment, widespread corruption, and unresolved education and health care issues still at a low level.