Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing to challenge a damning report to the South African parliament that accuses the president of abuse of office, in the clearest sign yet that he aims to fight a scandal that has brought him to the brink of resigning.
“Our legal team is working on the review papers so they can be filed as speedily as possible,” the president’s spokesman told the Financial Times on Saturday.
Ramaphosa is under pressure to step down after a panel led by a former chief justice told lawmakers this week that he may have been guilty of serious misconduct in the case of a 2020 theft of at least $580,000 that was hidden inside a sofa at his Phala Phala game farm.
The panel’s findings have seriously damaged Ramaphosa’s reputation as a reformer who came to power in 2018 on a pledge to restore clean government after years of looting of the state under his predecessor Jacob Zuma.
Senior members of the African National Congress are due to convene on Sunday to discuss the report and Ramaphosa’s political future — just weeks before the party holds a leadership vote. Ramaphosa had been widely tipped to win another five-year term.
The parliamentary report says that more cash appeared to have been stored unbanked at Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game reserve than the $580,000 that was stolen, and that he may have failed to report the theft through the proper police channels.
Ramaphosa’s supporters have been pushing him not to resign and to launch a court challenge over what they see as serious flaws in the report. They complain that it overstepped its remit and relied on limited evidence.
South African lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on whether to accept the report and launch full-scale impeachment proceedings. A court challenge to the report by the president would freeze or complicate this process, legal experts said.
Ramaphosa has always denied wrongdoing over the Phala Phala robbery, saying that he reported the crime to his presidential protection unit as soon as he became aware of it, and that the cash was the legitimate proceeds from the sale of buffalo to a Sudanese businessman.
The panel said that these explanations were inadequate there was substantial doubt as to the legitimacy of the source of the cash, leaving the president with a case to answer.
A court battle over the Phala Phala report could overshadow Ramaphosa’s presidency even if he is reappointed to the ANC’s leadership. Africa’s most industrialised economy is plagued by rolling blackouts and stagnant growth.
Arthur Fraser, a former chief of South Africa’s spy agency under Zuma and prisons commissioner under Ramaphosa, revealed the robbery earlier this year that, and accused the president of covering it up.