JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday brushed aside calls for him to resign over an alleged criminal cover-up, as he set the stage for a key party conference next month.
The decision-making body of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) convened in Johannesburg at the weekend to discuss preparations for the party’s upcoming national elective conference.
The meeting was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding accusations Ramaphosa attempted to cover up a multi-million-dollar cash theft at his luxury cattle farmhouse.
The scandal risks derailing Ramaphosa’s bid for a second term at the helm of the ANC, which in December is to pick a new leader in hotly contested internal polls.
The winner is to become the party’s candidate for the next presidential election in 2024.
The president, who denies any wrongdoing, reportedly faced questioning from party rivals and calls to step down at the closed-door gathering.
On Sunday, Carl Niehaus, an outspoken former member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC), posted on social media photos of himself staging a small protest outside the meeting.
In a statement Niehaus said the president had “brought the party into disrepute”.
But in televised closing remarks at the end of the NEC gathering, a tired-looking Ramaphosa did not address the issue, focusing instead on social and welfare policies.
Ramaphosa said the conference would focus on rebuilding the ANC, and did not take questions.
GLADLY STEP ASIDE
In a separate press briefing earlier during the day, presidential spokesman Vincent Magwenya said Ramaphosa “will gladly step aside” if he were to be charged but stressed this was not the case.
Under ANC party rules members charged with serious crimes have 30 days to leave their post or face suspension.
The scandal erupted in June after South Africa’s former spy chief filed a complaint with the police alleging robbers broke into the president’s Phala Phala farm in the northeast of the country.
There, they stole $4 million in cash stashed in furniture.
The complaint alleged that Ramaphosa hid the robbery from the authorities and instead organised for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.
The president has acknowledged a burglary but denies kidnapping and bribery, saying he reported the break-in to the police.
He has also disputed the amount of money involved, explaining it came from legitimate sales of game from his animal-breeding farm.
Earlier this month, he denied any wrongdoing in testimony to a parliamentary panel examining whether he should face impeachment.
Yet the issue has tarnished Ramaphosa who came to power on a promise of tackling corruption after the graft-tainted era of Jacob Zuma.