CAPE TOWN, South Africa – An independent panel appointed by the speaker of South Africa’s parliament on Wednesday found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa violated his oath of office, findings that could lead to his eventual impeachment.
The president immediately denied any wrongdoing. Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crimes.
“I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny that I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me,” Ramaphosa said in a statement issued by the South African presidency.
Ramaphosa is less than a month away from an elective conference that will decide if he gets to run for a second term on the governing African National Congress’s (ANC) ticket at 2024 polls.
The ANC’s national executive committee called for a special meeting for Thursday in light of the report. The meeting was initially meant to take place on December 9, said acting secretary general Paul Mashatile.
The recommendations were made by a three-member panel set up to inquire if Ramaphosa should be impeached after millions of dollars in cash was allegedly stolen at his private farm.
The panel, led by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, said Ramaphosa should face further scrutiny on his ability to stay in office. Other members of the panel were retired High Court Judge Thokozile Masipa and Advocate Mahlape Sello.
“In all the circumstances, we think that the evidence presented to the panel, prima facie, establishes that the president may be guilty of a serious violation of certain sections of the constitution,” the report found.
The panel said it was evident that Ramaphosa put himself into a situation where there was a conflict of interest between his official responsibilities as president and as business person involved in cattle and game farming, and acted in a manner that was inconsistent with his office.
John Steenhuisen, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), said Ramaphosa was in a tight bind.
“The report itself leaves the president in a virtually untenable position, particularly as it relates to his own party’s step aside rules and the strong line that he has taken against others within his party,” he said, referring to Ramaphosa’s insistence that any party official accused of corruption leave office pending investigations.
The chances of impeachment are slim given the ANC’s dominance of parliament, where it holds 230 seats, or nearly 60 percent of the total, and typically votes along party lines. Impeaching a president requires a two-third majority in the national assembly.
In June, it emerged that an estimated US$4 million was robbed at Ramaphosa’s farm in 2020, raising questions about how the billionaire president, who took to power on the promise to fight graft, acquired the cash and whether he declared it. The cash was stuffed under sofas and mattresses.
Ramaphosa confirmed the robbery at his farm but has denied any claims of criminal conduct.
The panel was formed in September to find out if there was any preliminary evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
Ramaphosa is expected to answer questions in parliament on Thursday and could face a tough time from opposition lawmakers.
The inquiry is separate from a criminal investigation that police are conducting, and which Ramaphosa has welcomed.
The report will be debated in the national assembly on December 6, said the speaker of parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. – Reuters