Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, is facing the most serious personal test of his four years in office, following allegations that he attempted to cover up the theft of millions of dollars from his game farm.
The controversy, dubbed "Farmgate" by the South African media, has the potential to undermine Ramaphosa's bid for re-election and destabilize Africa's most industrialized economy.
Although Ramaphosa has not been charged with a crime, a police spokesperson stated that an investigation into the charges leveled against him had begun.
According to the former head of South Africa's intelligence service, Arthur Fraser, burglars stole at least $4 million in cash from cushions on sofas after breaking in at Ramaphosa's commercial game farm in the north-eastern state of Limpopo in February 2020.
According to reports, the heist suspects had been tracked down, kidnapped by Ramaphosa's presidential protection team, interrogated, and then bribed to keep quiet about the cash.
Ramaphosa recently acknowledged the theft and claimed that it was for a far lower sum of money from genuine sales of animals produced on his farm. He stated that he wanted a thorough inquiry to be conducted. "A criminal complaint has been filed in connection with the robbery that occurred on my farm Phala Phala in 2020, and the law must take its course."
"We want the police to investigate any crime, against whomever it is committed, without fear, without favor, and on an unbiased basis." Ramaphosa added.
The claims might lead to tax evasion charges or other criminal charges, which would be exceedingly embarrassing for the president and undercut any efforts to combat pervasive graft in the country.
The 69-year-old labor leader turned tycoon was elected on an anti-corruption campaign in 2018 but has been unable to implement reforms. He now has to fight to keep his position as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) later this year, followed by national elections in 2023.
The claims have created a chance for foes both within and beyond the ANC, which has long been plagued by bitter factional disputes. If Ramaphosa is found to have infringed the law or the ANC's ethics code, the ANC committee might ask him to resign as the party's leader or suspend him, which could be the first step toward parliament impeaching him.
Supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa claim the allegations are politically motivated and that the former spy chief has a grudge against Ramaphosa, who fired him for allowing South Africa's intelligence services to serve the interests of Zuma, who was forced out in 2018 amid allegations of systematic corruption.
Opposition leaders have blasted Ramaphosa for this crime. The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, stated that "he has to stop hiding behind the false cover of a 'pending investigation' and explain to the people why he neglected to report this major crime and why he used state resources to try to reclaim his dirty dollars."
Many South Africans have pinned their hopes on Ramaphosa to turn things around after years of high unemployment, failing infrastructure, and sluggish economic growth. However, deep divisions within the ruling party and the COVID epidemic have all contributed to considerable dissatisfaction with his presidency.