EXPLAINER: The scandal engulfing the South African president

Cape Town, South Africa — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa could face criminal charges and is already facing calls to withdraw from allegations that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars in US currency hidden in furniture at his farmhouse in game.

The stunning allegations made by the former head of South Africa’s intelligence agency also include that the suspects of the robbery two years ago were tracked down and kidnapped by Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit, questioned about his property and bribed to keep quiet about the existence of the cash, and nothing was reported to the police.

The charges seriously damage Ramaphosa’s reputation as a dedicated anti-corruption leader. He became president in 2018 on a promise to clean up the government and his corruptly-tainted ruling party, the African National Congress, which is now a far cry from when it was widely respected and led by Nelson Mandela. The scandal, dubbed “farmgate” by the South African press, threatens to end Ramaphosa’s presidency and destabilize Africa’s most developed economy.

Here’s what we know so far about the scandal:

MONEY

Former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser walked into a Johannesburg police station on June 1 and filed a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa for the theft of what Fraser says is more than 4 millions of dollars in cash stashed on the ranch. This sent the country’s media into a frenzy. Fraser alleged in an affidavit that Ramaphosa and others were guilty of money laundering and violating the country’s foreign currency control laws over hidden money.

Fraser also claimed that the robbery suspects were kidnapped and bribed to remain silent, and Ramaphosa hid the incident from police and tax authorities. Fraser said he submitted “supporting evidence” to police including photographs, video footage and bank details. He said the theft took place in February 2020.

THE SPY BOSS

The fact that it was Fraser who made the allegations against Ramaphosa suggests that they are politically motivated. Fraser is a well-known loyalist to former President Jacob Zuma and an ANC faction that wants Ramaphosa out. Zuma, Ramaphosa’s predecessor, was forced to resign as president in 2018 and is currently on trial for corruption. This trial is seen as an indicator of Ramaphosa’s commitment to fighting corruption at the highest level.

Fraser also made headlines last year when, as head of the Department of Corrections, he granted Zuma medical parole against the recommendation of a parole board which advised Zuma not to not be released soon after being found in contempt of court. . Fraser was South Africa’s spy chief under Zuma from 2016 to 2018.

PRESIDENT

The allegations have forced Ramaphosa, 69, to fight for his political life. He admitted the theft happened at his ranch in Phala Phala, in the northern province of Limpopo, but said it was reported to the head of his protection unit, which is part of the South African Police Service. . He said the money came from the sale of game on the farm and he was “not involved in any criminal conduct”.

These responses, however, were considered woefully inadequate. Ramaphosa declined to say how much money was involved, why it was hidden on his ranch and whether the foreign currency was reported to authorities. He dodged a plethora of questions about the scandal during a 90-minute press conference in Parliament last week, where he cut an exhausted and pressured figure. He said he would not comment until a police investigation.

“I would like to see due process in this case,” Ramaphosa said.

THE CONSEQUENCES

Ramaphosa was shouted into parliament for two consecutive days last week by lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters, the second-largest opposition party. The EFF has since stepped up its criticism, demanding Ramaphosa’s resignation over the scandal. Two other opposition parties this week called on parliament to put Ramaphosa on “sabbatical leave” and open a parliamentary inquiry. This was rejected by the Speaker of Parliament.

No criminal charges against Ramaphosa have been announced by police, although a high-profile and serious crimes unit is investigating Fraser’s allegations. Ramaphosa said he would appear voluntarily before an ANC integrity committee, which has the power to suspend him as party leader. No date has yet been set for Ramaphosa to appear before the committee.

Scandalous timing is dire for Ramaphosa, who already faces tough political challenges and a critical party election in December that will decide whether he remains as ANC leader and, indeed, remains president. .

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Writer AP Mogomotsi Magome contributed to this story.

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