S.Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa survives ouster plot, set to win second term as ANC leader

Cyril RAmaphosa

ANC  Members of Parliament cheer following a vote on whether to initiate impeachment proceedings that could have forced South African President Cyril Ramaphosa out of office, at a parliamentary session in Cape Town on December 13, 2022. 

Photo credit: AFP

South Africa's scandal-engulfed President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday easily survived a vote in parliament on whether to initiate impeachment proceedings that could have forced him out of office.

ANC defeated the motion by 214 votes to 148, with two abstentions through open voting.

With 230 MPs in the 400-member House of Assembly, and ANC MPs under instruction from party bosses to save Ramaphosa, the outcome of the vote was in doubt only among the president's open enemies.

Ramaphosa's escape comes just days ahead of a crucial ANC meeting to elect the new leadership. 

Former President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is contending for the position of ANC party leader, was the first to step out of line and go against party whip orders to vote in favour of setting up a committee to look into Ramaphosa’s impeachment.

She was followed by a handful of other anti-Ramaphosa MPs in the ANC, with others choosing indirect methods of conveying their sentiments, by saying “party line”, when their names were called.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma walked out of parliament telling journalists that if Ramaphosa wants to fire her, "it's his democratic right. I won't hold it against him". 

Notable in her absence was Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of two anti-apartheid luminaries, who has thrown her hat into the ring in the race for the ANC’s top job, though she has little support, her absence from the sitting being an effective abstention. 

The official opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), was in favour of the Assembly adopting the independent panel’s report which found that Ramaphosa may have something to answer for, but was not definitive.

Prior to the Parliamentary impeachment process vote, the ANC national executive had decided that it could not rationally proceed with Ramaphosa’s impeachment, as the three-person panel report to Parliament on the ‘scandal’ called for, since it was under judicial review.

The ruling party’s executive decided at the weekend, in what was described as a ‘heated’ session, that it would not support the adoption of the panel’s report potentially implicating Ramaphosa in serious law-breaking and violation of his oath of office.

Ramaphosa has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the matter, and almost resigned last week, but was persuaded to fight on and review the panel’s report, which was an interim assessment and which contains repeated reliance on hearsay and other ‘information’ not usable in court or to be treated as ‘evidence’.

Lawmakers during the extraordinary parliamentary session voted after debating the findings of an independent panel which said Ramaphosa may be guilty of serious violations and misconduct over allegations he concealed a huge cash theft at his farm.

The vote prevented an impeachment procedure that was feared could have politically destabilised Africa's most industrialised country.

Ramaphosa -- championed as a graft-busting saviour after corruption-stained predecessor Jacob Zuma -- survived thanks to the support of a majority of ANC MPs.

The 70-year-old president had last week secured the backing of the ANC, which holds 230 of the National Assembly's 400 seats, after mounting a legal bid to have the damning report annulled. 

Some of his party MPs were absent during voting.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola trashed the report saying "there is not sufficient evidence to impeach the president".

Constitutional delinquent

Ramaphosa's escape comes just days ahead of a crucial ANC meeting to elect the new leadership.

Although the ANC's national executive had vowed last week to shoot down any attempt to force Ramaphosa from office, his continued stay in office remains to be seen after the conference.

His "leadership will be tested again at the party's national conference", Aleix Montana, analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note. 

He will likely be re-elected as leader because "there is no viable alternative candidate in the ANC that can secure the political survival of the party," said Montana. 

That will position him for a second term as head of state, if the ANC wins the 2024 national election.

Last week's ANC decision to back Ramaphosa upset some in the party.

A few ANC lawmakers, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma -- Ramaphosa's rival, a cabinet minister and Zuma's ex-wife -- defied the party command.

She walked out of parliament telling journalists that if Ramaphosa wants to fire her, "it's his democratic right. I won't hold it against him".

Ramaphosa's graft-tainted predecessor Zuma survived several no-confidence motions during his tenure before his own party forced him to resign in 2018.

Opposition parties presented a largely united front on the scandal.

"Today South Africans were left in no doubt that the presidency of... Ramaphosa is no different to the presidency of... Zuma," said John Steenhuisen, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Alliance, accusing both of weakening parliament "to evade scrutiny and the law".

Julius Malema, the fiery leader of the second largest opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, expressed "deepest disappointment" in Ramaphosa who was once a "celebrated... architect" of South Africa's constitution. 

He said Ramaphosa was now "peeing" on that document, calling him a "constitutional delinquent".

Sudanese element -

Ramaphosa was at his home during the vote, said his spokesman.

The president, who was a wealthy businessman before entering politics, found himself in hot water in June when a controversial ex-spy boss filed a complaint against him to the police.

Arthur Fraser alleged Ramaphosa had concealed the theft of several million dollars from his farm in 2020.

He accused the president of having the burglars kidnapped and bribed into silence instead of reporting the matter to the authorities. 

Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing.

The findings of the three-person special probe, issued last week, brought forward details that have left South Africa agog.

Ramaphosa acknowledged the theft of $580,000 in cash that was stashed under sofa cushions at his farm -- a safer place, his employees said, than the office safe.

He said the money was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman, who recently confirmed the transaction in interviews with British media.