South Africa Rejects Impeachment Inquiry of President

JOHANNESBURG — Lawmakers from South Africa’s governing African National Congress put their weight behind President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday, rejecting an effort to proceed with an impeachment inquiry over accusations that he broke the law in his response to the theft of a large sum of U.S. currency from his farm.

The vote essentially kills an effort to remove Mr. Ramaphosa from office and lifts his political prospects just three days before the start of a national conference for his party, the A.N.C., at which he is expected to face a grueling battle to win a second term as party leader.

The A.N.C. holds 230 of the 400 seats in Parliament, and his opponents fell far short of the 31 members of the governing party they needed to get above the 50 percent threshold required to proceed with the impeachment process.

A handful of A.N.C. lawmakers voted against the party line, defying an order last week from the party’s executive committee to reject the impeachment process against Mr. Ramaphosa, who has long fashioned himself as a champion of good governance.

“As a disciplined member of the A.N.C., I vote yes,” said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a staunch critic of Mr. Ramaphosa. Several allies of former President Jacob Zuma, who was dogged by corruption allegations during his tenure that eventually forced him from office, also voted for the impeachment process against the president.

The report calling for impeachment hearings, issued by a three-member panel appointed by Parliament, said that Mr. Ramaphosa may have violated the Constitution and the law when he failed to tell the police about the break in at this farm, and in conducting private business that conflicted with his duties as a public official.

Before the vote, opposition parties had lobbied for a secret ballot, in the hope that it would give Mr. Ramaphosa’s critics within the A.N.C. more breathing room to ignore party leaders. But the speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, a senior A.N.C. member, rejected that effort.

What to Know About Cyril Ramaphosa and ‘Farmgate’

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Who is Cyril Ramaphosa? Before he was sworn in as South Africa’s president in 2018, Mr. Ramaphosa was a former labor leader who became a wealthy businessman. During his campaign, he pledged to root out the country’s debilitating corruption. Now, he is being accused of a cover-up involving a stash of money stolen from one of his properties.

What is “Farmgate”? According to the accusations, burglars stole a fortune in U.S. dollars stashed in furniture at Mr. Ramaphosa’s farm. The president never reported the theft to the police or disclosed it publicly, but apparently started an off-the-books investigation and paid the suspects to keep quiet. Mr. Ramaphosa has denied that he was trying to cover up the situation.

What happens next? After an independent panel’s damning report found that Mr. Ramaphosa may have broken the law, the president said he would not resign and would instead challenge the report. Lawmakers from the ruling African National Congress have put their weight behind Mr. Ramaphosa, rejecting an effort to proceed with an impeachment inquiry and essentially killing efforts to have the president removed from office.

In the debate preceding the vote, members of Mr. Ramaphosa’s party defended him, pointing to the panel report’s limited investigation. “The panel’s report has set the bar too low to impeach a sitting president,” said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

Outnumbered opposition lawmakers tried to appeal to members of the ruling party. “The hate that exists in your party is impacting negatively on the entire 60 million people in this country,” said Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, a member of the National Freedom Party.

Mr. Ramaphosa has filed a petition in court challenging the report calling for an impeachment inquiry, arguing that it was legally deficient and accusing the panel of treating the president unfairly by going beyond its original scope.

Mr. Ramaphosa has been under intense scrutiny since June, when a political opponent filed a criminal complaint against him for not reporting the burglary at his game farm, Phala Phala Wildlife.

Supporters of Mr. Ramaphosa demonstrated in Cape Town on Tuesday before a debate on a report by a panel of experts who said he might have violated his oath of office.Credit…Esa Alexander/Reuters

The complaint, filed by Arthur Fraser, the former head of state security in South Africa, said that between $4 million and $8 million hidden in a sofa had been stolen in February 2020, and it accused Mr. Ramaphosa of enlisting the head of his security detail to open an off-the-books investigation that led to the kidnapping and torture of the suspects in the case.

The president has denied any wrongdoing. He said the amount stolen was significantly less, $580,000, and that the money came from the sale of 20 buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman on Christmas Day in 2019.

The parliamentary panel, which included two retired judges and a lawyer, was skeptical of Mr. Ramaphosa’s version of events and questioned whether the money stolen actually came from the sale of game.

The panel could not interview witnesses or subpoena records. Instead, it mostly reviewed information obtained from members of Parliament, much of which was based on media reports and other secondhand accounts of what occurred at the president’s farm.

Mr. Ramaphosa considered resigning after the panel released its report came last month, advisers said, but his allies rallied around him and urged him to fight back.

He has since forged ahead with his presidential duties and his quest for re-election as the president of the A.N.C. — a status that would almost guarantee him a second term as president of the country.

The president has staked much of his tenure on cleaning up the corruption within the A.N.C. and the government that has damaged the country’s economy and reputation, and contributed to a significant loss of electoral support for a party that established itself as a moral force in the apartheid era.

His main rival for party president at the conference, scheduled to begin on Friday, is Zweli Mkhize. He served as health minister under Mr. Ramaphosa until becoming entangled in his own corruption scandal over a communications contract that his ministry awarded to a company owned by close associates.

Before Parliament’s vote over the impeachment hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Mkhize was highly critical of the A.N.C. executive committee’s decision to urge its members vote against the impeachment hearing.

He has told reporters that the executive committee, which he belongs to, bullied members into agreeing to issue the mandate. He said that members of Parliament needed to be given space to make up their own minds about how to vote on impeachment.

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