April 1. 2023. 3:48

The Daily

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Investigations into ‘farmgate’ scandal clear South Africa’s beleaguered Ramaphosa of wrongdoing

Cyril Ramaphosa’s embattled presidency has been buoyed by the findings of two investigations into a robbery-related scandal that only months ago threatened to end the South African leader’s political career.

In recent weeks, the South African Revenue Service and the public sector ombudsman both cleared Ramaphosa of wrongdoing around his handling of various aspects of the “farmgate” scandal, which involved the theft of a large sum of US dollars from his game farm in Limpopo province.

Their findings are a welcome development for the beleaguered president, whose administration was plunged into chaos last year by the fallout from the crime, and more recently by an energy crisis that has the country grappling with daily electricity blackouts.

In December some analysts thought farmgate could derail Ramaphosa’s bid to be reelected as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s leader. However, he managed to secure a second term as party leader at its elective conference that month.


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The saga erupted in June 2022 when former director general of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, filed a complaint with police accusing Ramaphosa of hiding the theft of $4 million (€3.8 million) from his rural farm. Fraser claimed the money, which was hidden in a couch, could be the proceeds of money laundering and corruption. He also accused Ramaphosa of failing to report the crime to the police and of being involved in the kidnapping of suspects.

Ramaphosa denied the allegations. He says the stolen sum was the proceeds of the legitimate sale of 20 buffalo to a Sudanese businessman in late 2019, and that it amounted to $580,000 rather than $4 million. He also insisted he reported the crime to his presidential security team in the belief that the police would be informed about the robbery.

[ Ramaphosa hampered by corruption allegations and power cuts ]

The allegations have prompted four investigations into the incident led respectively by parliament, the revenue services, the public sector ombudsman and the police. The first to issue its findings was the parliamentary inquiry, and it recommended the allegations against Ramaphosa warranted further investigation. This prompted opposition parties to call for the president to face a fully-fledged impeachment process.

In response, Ramaphosa has sought a judicial review to have the report’s findings set aside. In court papers he argues the panel of investigators “misconceived its mandate, [and] misjudged the information placed before it”. South Africa’s constitutional court has yet to conduct its review.

Since then, South Africans have awaited the outcome of the other three investigations, as were they to implicate Ramaphosa in wrongdoing his chances of leading the ANC at next year’s general election would appear slim. However, the revenue service issued a statement on March 7th saying the president’s tax affairs relating to the sale of game from his Phala Phala farm were in order, indicating he had correctly declared the stolen sum of money.

Four days later the public sector ombudsman’s preliminary findings on the Phala Phala farm robbery were leaked to the media. In its report, acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka said she had found no basis to conclude Ramaphosa had contravened the government’s executive ethics code.

It had been alleged the sale of the buffalo amounted to the president undertaking paid work while serving as the head of state, which was a conflict of interest between his private interests and national responsibilities. However, Gcaleka did find the president’s police protection unit had acted improperly in its handling of the robbery by not reporting the matter to the correct authorities and conducting its own investigation instead.

The fact that Fraser had failed to provide direct evidence of Ramaphosa’s wrongdoing after filing his complaint with the police had also contributed to the president being cleared, the public protector’s report stated.

On March 10th the police’s priority crime investigation unit, the Hawks, also gave a short update on its investigation of the Phala Phala saga. During a media briefing Hawks boss, Gen Godfrey Lebeya, told reporters his officers had gathered 126 statements to date as part of their inquiry, but he did not indicate when they would finalise the investigation. “As we have indicated before, no stone shall be left unturned,” he said.

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