Ramaphosa readies scandal defense before key ANC meeting

Alexis Juanita

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers will challenge an advisory panel’s report that said there may be grounds for his impeachment, as the governing party’s top leaders hold a crucial meeting on how to respond to the damning findings.

The president’s legal team will file papers with the Constitutional Court on Monday, said Peter Harris, a partner at law firm Harris Nupen Molebatsi, which is acting for Ramaphosa. The documents will then be distributed by the presidency, he said by phone.

Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent by text message.

Ramaphosa considered quitting last week after the panel said he may have committed serious misconduct and constitutional violations because of the way he handled the theft of at least $580 000 stashed in a sofa at his game farm in 2020. That option was taken off the table at the weekend when the presidency said Ramaphosa will ask the courts to review the “clearly flawed” findings and will seek a second term as leader of the governing African National Congress at its five-yearly elective conference next week.

The party’s National Executive Committee is due to meet at 10 a.m. on Monday to decide on whether or not to back Ramaphosa. Lawmakers are scheduled to hold a debate in parliament on Tuesday on whether to adopt the panel’s report, which would trigger impeachment proceedings, or reject it.

‘Flawed nature’

A meeting of the ANC’s National Working Committee, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the party, agreed on Sunday to advise the NEC to reject the panel’s findings,  Cape Town-based news website News24 reported, without saying where it got the information. ANC spokesman Pule Mabe didn’t respond to a request for comment sent by text message.

“Our expectation is that parliament will proceed with the debate on Tuesday and that the ANC caucus will reject the report due to its flawed nature,” Magwenya said by text message on Sunday.

Ramaphosa told reporters after making a brief appearance at the NWC meeting that his fate lay in the hands of the NEC.

“The president will attend the NEC tomorrow and the meeting will advise on whether he must be recused or not since he is the subject of discussion,” Magwenya said.

The president has said the cash at his farm came from the sale of 20 buffalo to a Sudanese businessman, and his farm manager stored it in a couch in a spare bedroom at his private residence because he thought that would be the safest place to keep it. Ramaphosa denied doing anything wrong or interfering in the investigations — assertions that were rejected by the panel headed by former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.

Delayed proceedings

If the ANC does decide that the legislature should adopt the panel’s report, a committee of lawmakers would be constituted to reassess the case against the president. Its findings would then be presented to the National Assembly, which would vote on how to proceed. Impeaching the president would require the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers.

That parliamentary process would however be derailed should Ramaphosa win his lawsuit to have the panel’s findings overturned. Pierre de Vos and Richard Calland, who are law professors at the University of Cape Town, have each written that the president has a chance of winning the case.

There remains a possibility that the parliamentary proceedings could be delayed, according to Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.

“By filing papers, it will give the speaker of the National Assembly the opening to say the matter is before the courts and postpone Tuesday’s debate,” Naidoo said “If he gets access to the Constitutional Court and a hearing, it will be highly unlikely that they will make a ruling before December 16 when the ANC national conference starts.”

Ramaphosa, 70, a lawyer, former union leader and one of the richest black South Africans, took office in 2018 and was the clear frontrunner to win a second term as ANC leader and president before the panel released its explosive findings.

“This is do or die time for Ramaphosa and he should do what people have being saying for a long time: that he must now be politically ruthless in order to survive,” Naidoo said.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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