An independent panel appointed by the speaker of South Africa’s parliament has found preliminary evidence that President Cyril Ramaphosa violated his oath of office, findings that could lead to his eventual impeachment.
Parliament will examine the report, which was submitted on Wednesday, and decide whether to push ahead with impeachment proceedings next week.
This comes just weeks before an elective conference that will decide if Ramaphosa gets to run for a second term on the governing African National Congress’s (ANC) ticket at 2024 polls.
The president immediately denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.
“I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny that I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me,” Ramaphosa said in a statement issued by the South African presidency on Wednesday.
On Thursday, he delayed an appearance in parliament to answer questions, requesting time to consider the report, noting that the panel’s recommendations had “implications for the stability of the country,” parliament said in a statement.
The ANC’s National Executive Committee – the party’s decision-making body – is due to hold urgent talks about the matter on Thursday, according to local media. Meanwhile, South Africa’s foreign minister called the report “a very troubling moment” and several cabinet ministers called for Ramaphosa to resign.
In June, it emerged that an estimated $4m in cash was stolen from Ramaphosa’s game farm in 2020, raising questions about how the billionaire president, who took to power on the promise of fighting corruption, acquired the money and whether he declared it.
The three-person panel was set up in September and tasked with ascertaining whether there was sufficient evidence to show that Ramaphosa committed a serious violation of the constitution or the law or grave misconduct, National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said when she was handed the report earlier on Wednesday.
The panel said Ramaphosa should face further scrutiny on his ability to stay in office.
“In all the circumstances, we think that the evidence presented to the Panel, prima facie, establishes that the president may be guilty of a serious violation of certain sections of the constitution,” the report found.
These include not reporting the theft directly to police, acting in a way inconsistent with holding office and exposing himself to a clash between his official responsibilities and his private business.
While Ramaphosa has confirmed that a robbery occurred at his farm, he said the cash was from proceeds from the sales of game. He has denied breaking the law or any regulations relating to his office.
John Steenhuisen, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), said Ramaphosa was in a tight bind, Reuters news agency reported.
“The report itself leaves the president in a virtually untenable position, particularly as it relates to his own party’s step-aside rules and the strong line that he has taken against others within his party,” he said.
Ramaphosa, 70, came to power in 2018 on a promise to root out graft after the corruption-stained era of his former boss, Jacob Zuma, and has generally insisted that any party official accused of corruption leave office pending investigations.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife, who narrowly lost the ANC’s 2017 leadership contest to Ramaphosa, wrote and Twitter late on Wednesday: “I think the president has to step aside now and answer to the case.”
Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu tweeted: “CR MUST RESIGN NOW!”
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, who analysts see as a Ramaphosa ally, said in an interview at the Reuters NEXT conference on Thursday that the panel report was a “very troubling moment” for South Africa and the ANC.
“I hope we’re going to bring all efforts to bear to assure the people of South Africa and [around] the continent that we respect the constitution of South Africa, as well as the rule of law,” Pandor said.
The alleged cover-up has tarnished Ramaphosa’s reputation and overshadowed his bid for re-election at the ANC’s December 16-20 conference, where he faces a challenge from Zweli Mkhize, 66, an ex-health minister who resigned from the government last year amid corruption allegations.
The independent inquiry is separate from a criminal investigation that police are conducting, and which Ramaphosa has welcomed.
The report will be debated in the national assembly on December 6, said the speaker, Mapisa-Nqakula.