South Africa: Ramaphosa could resign after losing support

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Thursday, 1 December 2022 14:11

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at 10 Downing Street to meet Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in London, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

President Cyril Ramaphosa's office has cancelled official appointments for at least the next week, as allies become thin on the ground. He faces the toughest test of his presidency so far, after an independent panel led by a retired judge found that there might be grounds to impeach him.

The panel found that Ramaphosa “may have” contravened anti-corruption laws, violated the constitution, abused his power and exposed himself to “a situation involving a conflict between his official responsibilities and his private business”.

This is in relation to the theft of at least $580,000 in cash stashed into a sofa on his private Phala Phala game farm in February 2020. The panel also found he may have played a role in trying to conceal the investigation.

On the basis of these findings, parliament, with a two-thirds vote in favour, could set in motion an impeachment process against Ramaphosa when it convenes on Tuesday.

But Ramaphosa faces a much more immediate hurdle.

The party’s acting secretary general, Paul Mashatile, who has wide support within ANC branches and who has presidential ambitions himself, had called a special meeting of the governing ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) for Thursday night (1 December), but that has since been postponed.

Even though Ramaphosa’s closest allies have been defending him, some believe there are too many knives out for him and that the committee will decide that he should resign.

The meeting is set to take place two weeks before the party is expected to go to its elective conference on 16 December.

Should he survive politically until then, Ramaphosa is likely to be elected for a second term, albeit greatly weakened by the corruption allegations, but if not, Mashatile or former health minister, Zweli Mkhize, who has been vying for the position too, could be elected president in his place.

Mkhize, however, is also facing corruption allegations and the nominations process has shown his support to be mainly confined to his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, while Mashatile has more widespread support.

All appointments called off

Ramaphosa has already cancelled a question and answer session he was due to attend in parliament’s National Council of Provinces house Thursday, and his spokesperson cancelled a general information briefing scheduled for the same day.

Soon after the report was handed over by the panel to the parliamentary speaker on Wednesday morning, Ramaphosa’s office sent out a statement saying a state visit by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, scheduled for Tuesday 6 December, had been postponed.

Too many knives are out and they all want him gone because, if not, it means they will all be gone in the end.

Some of Ramaphosa’s allies on the NEC have come out fighting.

Northern Cape premier Zamani Saul, for example, pointed to the fact that the panel had “limited scope” and the findings are preliminary, having used words like “prima facie” and “may have” in its recommendations.

These words could shape perceptions, he said, “but they are not conclusive and do not attribute guilt on the part of the president”. It should be left to the parliamentary processes to deal with the matter, he said.

Another ally said it was unlikely that Ramaphosa would survive the NEC meeting. “Too many knives are out and they all want him gone because, if not, it means they will all be gone in the end.”

Most of the NEC last month supported Ramaphosa during the first physical meeting of the committee since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

At this meeting, his directors called for him to step down on the basis of the Phala Phala allegations.

Will he jump or wait to be pushed?

Now that there are official findings that Ramaphosa has serious charges to answer, some of his erstwhile supporters in the NEC might change their opinions.

News24 reported on Thursday that Ramaphosa told allies he wasn’t averse to resigning.

The president has subjected himself to the processes. He is dealing with corruption and he has been leading in that sense.

A source hinted that he might even make an announcement ahead of the NEC meeting. It’s not clear as yet whether he would resign only as the country’s president or whether he would also relinquish his leadership of the ANC.

One of Ramaphosa’s biggest allies, minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele, at a post-cabinet briefing on Thursday morning said Ramaphosa “appreciates the situation” and was busy dealing with the matter.

“It is a unique development,” he said. “The president has subjected himself to the processes. He is dealing with corruption and he has been leading in that sense.”

  • Ramaphosa was elected ANC president in 2017 on the back of promises that he would fight the large-scale corruption committed under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and his administration has strengthened anti-corruption institutions in the past five years.
  • He has also pushed to eradicate corruption within the party’s ranks, by instituting a rule to force those facing serious charges to step aside.

Ironically it is on the basis of his record as a corruption fighter that Ramaphosa might have to do the right thing and resign.

But if he doesn’t, there are at least two precedents for the party removing its president from power.

Zuma, as well as his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, have had their terms ended after the ANC’s NEC took decisions to that effect.

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