In this file photo taken on June 10, 2022 South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, gestures as he addresses a media conference, in the South African Parliament in Cape Town. Image Credit: AFP

Johannesburg: Senior officials in South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) were gathering on Friday to decide whether President Cyril Ramaphosa should stay on after an inquiry found evidence of misconduct over cash hidden at his farm.

His future has been in doubt since publication on Wednesday of a report by a panel of experts investigating the alleged theft of millions of dollars stuffed into furniture in the multi-millionaire leader’s Phala Phala game farm in 2020.

Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime. The president has said the money was much less than the $4 million to $8 million reported, and that it was the proceeds of game sales at the farm.

The media has dubbed the affair “Farmgate”.

For the investigators, the theft, which only came to light in June, has raised questions about how Ramaphosa acquired the money, why he wasn’t keeping it in a bank and whether or not it had been declared to authorities.

Ramaphosa put a pledge to fight endemic graft at the heart of his successful drive to oust predecessor Jacob Zuma in 2018.

The more than 80 officials of the ANC’s decision-making National Executive Committee (NEC) were meeting at a conference venue in the south of Johannesburg. A Reuters correspondent saw Deputy President David Mabuza and former president Thabo Mbeki arrive at the venue along with other NEC members ahead of the deliberations which were expected to take hours.

The Farmgate scandal has damaged South Africa’s image as a relatively stable investment destination and gateway to the continent. The country was only just recovering from several corruption scandals linked to Zuma, which authorities are now investigating. Zuma denies wrongdoing.

ANC closes ranks

Senior figures who analysts consider close Ramaphosa allies closed ranks around the president on Friday.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told Reuters in an interview he thought Ramaphosa should continue with his job, doing whatever he could to defend himself against the panel report including possible legal action.

He sought to reassure financial markets that no change to the fiscal framework was imminent and that he would be willing to stay as finance minister even if Ramaphosa were to resign.

ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe, in an interview with local television station Newzroom Afrika, denied Ramaphosa was considering resigning and said the president was giving space for the report to be interrogated and tested.

“My own view is that it would be premature for the president to just step down without a due process,” said Mantashe, who serves as energy and mines minister in Ramaphosa’s cabinet.

South African rand and government bonds rebounded on Friday, after Thursday’s panic-selling on speculation in local media that Ramaphosa was considering leaving.

Two other ministers in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife who narrowly lost the ANC’s 2017 leadership contest to Ramaphosa, and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who has campaigned to be elected ANC leader at the party conference this month, have called on the president to step down.

If Ramaphosa survives Friday’s NEC meeting, which seems likely given the strength of his support, he could still face impeachment in a drawn-out process. But he is likely to survive even that action given the ANC’s dominance of parliament.