South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is in trouble.
A subdued response to a speech at a major policy conference on Friday indicated that all was not well. He admitted that his party, the governing African National Congress (ANC), was “at its weakest”, but the president himself is in the firing line.
Four years ago, he replaced corruption-tainted Jacob Zuma as president on the promise of being clean.
But now he has his own potentially explosive corruption scandal. Dubbed “farmgate”, the controversy surrounds an alleged cover-up of a robbery that took place at his private farm, Phala Phala, back in February 2020.
This is happening in a year when the ANC is set to pick its presidential candidate for the 2024 election and Ramaphosa is under increasing scrutiny.
After dragging his feet, he finally responded to questions about the incident from the country’s top anti-corruption official, known as the Public Protector.
Kholeka Gcaleka had threatened to subpoena the president after he failed to meet an initial deadline for the answers to be delivered.
The robbery and the alleged aftermath was first brought to light in June by Arthur Fraser, the country’s former head of the State Security Agency.
The ex-spy chief, who is a close ally of Zuma, accused the president of kidnapping, bribery and acting unlawfully by allegedly authorising the pursuit of suspects who stole an estimated $4m from his farm.
Fraser further alleged that such a large amount of money, which was reportedly stuffed in cushions, could have been the proceeds from money laundering and corruption.
The theft was allegedly committed by Namibian nationals who conspired with a domestic worker on the farm.
As the stolen cash was reportedly in foreign currency, it means that exchange control laws could also have been contravened.
In an initial response, the president said that there was “no basis for the claims of criminal conduct”.
Ramaphosa’s office confirmed that there was a robbery at his farm in Limpopo province “in which proceeds from the sale of game were stolen”, but disputed the figure given by Fraser.
Some of the questions posed by the Public Protector concerned whether the president violated the code of ethics and the constitution by concealing the break-in at his farm. She also wanted to know what steps the president took to ensure that the theft was thoroughly investigated.
The president has dismissed Fraser’s allegations as a political smear campaign against him by those opposed to his anti-corruption agenda. He also believes that his political opponents inside the ANC do not want him to have a second term in office. (BBC)