What to Know About South Africa’s Presidential Scandal

4 minute read

South Africa’s parliament voted not to proceed with impeachment proceedings against President Cyril Ramphosa on Tuesday.

Ramaphosa, head of the ruling African National Congress (A.N.C.) party, has come under fire from both opposition and rivals within his own party following a parliamentary report that accused him of corruption and violating the constitution.

A two-thirds majority is required to begin impeachment proceedings. Tuesday’s vote was expected to go Ramaphosa’s way as A.N.C. leadership had instructed its lawmakers—who hold 230 of 400 seats in parliament—to support him. While four A.N.C. Parliament members voted in favor of impeachment and a few others were absent from the vote, it did not sway the final tally. In total, lawmakers voted 214 to 148 against the move.

Here’s what to know about the corruption allegations against Ramaphosa and Tuesday’s vote.

What are the allegations against Cyril Ramaphosa?

A parliamentary report issued earlier this month accused Ramaphosa of “serious misconduct.” It alleged that he illegally hid a large sum of money in undeclared foreign currency at his farm in 2020. The report also claimed that Ramaphosa did not report the theft of the money from his Phala Phala game ranch in order to avoid scrutiny over the source of the money and his lack of transparency. Ramaphosa has acknowledged there was a theft at his farm, but he denied any wrongdoing.

The parliamentary report came following a criminal complaint from former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser, who accused Ramaphosa of not disclosing the theft of about $4 million from his farm. The subsequent parliamentary report noted that in his acknowledgement, Ramaphosa claimed the amount stolen was much lower, at $580,000.

A particular detail that has caught public attention is that in a “bizarre” move, the money was allegedly stuffed inside a couch and not kept in a safe, says Pierre de Vos, a professor at University of Cape Town.

There is also evidence to suggest Ramaphosa reached out to Hage Geingob, the president of Namibia—where some of the suspected thieves are believed to have fled—to address the incident. “The President abused his position as Head of State to have the matter investigated and seeking the assistance of the Namibian President to apprehend a suspect,” the parliamentary report noted.

If the evidence holds up, “he used his power as the President and status to get a personal favor from another President,” de Vos says.

What happens now?

Although Ramaphosa emerged safely from Tuesday’s vote, how long he will continue as President remains to be seen. The corruption scandal can still affect his reputation among voters, as well as within the A.N.C. “For the first time they might lose the overall majority in Parliament in the next election, and this scandal probably will contribute to that if that happens,” de Vos says.

Ramaphosa is vying for re-election to lead the A.N.C., which will host a national conference starting on Friday. Every five years they nominate a new leader at such a meeting. Whoever is selected as party president becomes president of the country if the A.N.C. secures the most votes in the next general election, taking place in 2024.

Ramaphosa’s main competition is former South African health minister Zweli Mkhize, who has also been implicated in a corruption case. Mkhize resigned after he came under fire for accusations of unfairly awarding COVID-19 related contracts to a company controlled by his former associates.

The A.N.C. has said that it will consider investigations by its ethics body into both Ramaphosa and Mkhize during the conference.

“If [Ramaphosa] wins that leadership election and is re-elected President, it strengthens his position…he will probably survive unless the criminal investigation yields something,” de Vos says.

He points out that under Ramaphosa’s leadership, the A.N.C. adopted a new rule which requires party members to step down if they are charged with a criminal offense. “It would mean that if he follows the rule that he championed and is charged, he must step down as President.”

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com