South Africa

Rand boosted as Ramaphosa survives Phala Phala vote

South African lawmakers quashed an advisory panel’s report that found President Cyril Ramaphosa may have breached the constitution, bolstering his campaign for re-election as party leader. The rand and government bonds rallied.

Ramaphosa’s political future was cast into doubt on 30 November when the panel delivered a scathing assessment of his handling of the theft of at least $580,000 that had been stashed in a sofa at his game farm. The findings were rejected by 214 legislators in the 400-member National Assembly on Tuesday, scuppering a potential impeachment inquiry.

Ramaphosa didn’t break any laws, and there is no case for him to answer, Pemmy Majodina, the party’s chief whip, said during a debate on the report. “Credible evidence should be presented for impeachment,” she said.

The rand extended its gains and traded 2% stronger at 17.2348 per dollar by 6:08 p.m. in Johannesburg. The yield on the benchmark 10-year government bond fell 16 basis points to 10.92%.

“The ANC’s decision not to move ahead with impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa is a net positive for South Africa’s financial markets and the rand,” said Brendan McKenna, the New-York based emerging markets economist & FX strategist at Wells Fargo Securities.

“Keeping Ramaphosa in office at least keeps his reform agenda on the table, which I think is something the economy needs and can provide long-term benefits to the economy if implemented.”

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Ramaphosa Opponents

The ANC’s top leadership ordered its 230 lawmakers to defend Ramaphosa. Five legislators voted against him, while a handful of others stayed away.

Those who broke ranks included Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in the contest to lead the ANC in 2017, along with former Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Supra Mahumapelo, an ex-premier of the North West province.

“I was just thinking about my responsibility to the public,” Dlamini-Zuma said in an interview. “I was not thinking about any consequences” for the ANC’s internal elections, she said.

The sitting was held in the Cape Town city hall because the National Assembly chambers were gutted by a fire in January and have yet to be repaired. Lawmakers from all the main opposition parties voted in favor of adopting the report.

“We note the decision of the National Assembly,” Vincent Magwenya, Ramaphosa’s spokesman, said in a text message. “The president has consistently stated his commitment to due process.”

Buffalo Bills

Ramaphosa is widely expected to win a second term as ANC leader at its Dec. 16-20 national conference after receiving the most nominations for the post, and the vote reinforced his status as the front-runner. The party has held power since the racist system of apartheid ended in 1994, and whoever is chosen as its leader will also be its presidential candidate in a 2024 general election.

“This predictable outcome puts an end to the impeachment proceedings,” said Melanie Verwoerd, an independent political analyst and former ANC lawmaker. “It also paves the way for a Ramaphosa victory at the ANC elective conference.”

The furore embroiling the president erupted in June when Arthur Fraser, the nation’s former chief spy, laid charges against him, alleging that he tried to cover up the theft of at least $4 million from his farm in the northern Limpopo province. The source and accuracy of that information remain unclear. Opposition parties questioned whether the president had broken foreign exchange and tax rules.

Parliament appointed the advisory panel headed by Sandile Ngcobo, a former chief justice, to investigate the matter. It disputed Ramaphosa’s assertions that the stolen cash came from the sale of 20 buffalo to Sudanese businessman Hazim Mustafa and that his farm manager decided to hide it in a couch because he thought that was the safest place to keep it.

While Ramaphosa initially contemplated resigning, he later backtracked and said he will challenge the panel’s findings in court on the basis that they’re legally flawed. He’s consistently denied any wrongdoing. Mustafa confirmed in an interview with Sky News that he’d bought the animals through an agent but never took delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramaphosa isn’t necessarily off the hook despite having escaped parliamentary censure. The police are also investigating the matter, and under ANC rules, he’ll have to resign if he’s criminally charged. The central bank and tax authorities are meanwhile conducting their own probes into his conduct.

“Should those come up with serious adverse findings, he would almost certainly resign,” Verwoerd said. “The question remains how long Ramaphosa will remain president.”

A former labour union leader and one of the wealthiest Black South Africans, Ramaphosa succeeded Jacob Zuma in early 2018 and pledged to tackle the corruption and economic malaise that set in during his predecessor’s nine-year rule.

The scandal “has tainted Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption credentials and re-election campaign but there is no viable alternative candidate in the ANC that can secure the political survival of the party,” said Aleix Montana, Africa Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“We still expect the ANC to win a parliamentary majority at the 2024 election since opposition parties remain unable to capitalize on the ongoing political crisis within the ANC.”

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