Details leak in South Africa's 'cash and cushions' scandal

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a press conference in central London on November 24, 2022. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • The sum is part of what the media has reported as a cash haul of $4 million that was stolen at Ramaphosa's farm -- a burglary that he is accused of trying to cover up.
  • Ramaphosa, a 70-year-old former trade union boss who made a fortune in business in post-apartheid South Africa, has two farms.

  • Ramaphosa came to power in 2018 on a promise to root out graft after the corruption-stained era of his boss, Jacob Zuma.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has told a probe into a burglary scandal enmeshing him that $580,000 in cash stolen from beneath sofa cushions at his ranch came from a cattle buyer, according to leaked documents on Wednesday.

The sum is part of what the media has reported as a cash haul of $4 million that was stolen at Ramaphosa's farm -- a burglary that he is accused of trying to cover up.

A three-person special panel investigating the affair submitted on Wednesday its report to parliament, which next week will decide whether to push ahead with a vote to impeach the president.

Ramaphosa told the inquiry that the accusations against him are "without any merit," according to a leak of documents published by local media.

"This matter ought not to be taken any further," he said in his submission.

However, the leak provided juicy insights into a scandal that has tarnished Ramaphosa's clean image, imperilling his bid for a second term at the helm of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

 'Cash and cushions' 
The affair erupted in June after South Africa's former national spy boss filed a complaint with the police.

It alleged that Ramaphosa had hidden a burglary at his farm at Phala Phala in northeastern South Africa from the authorities.

Instead, he allegedly organised for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.

The president has denied any wrongdoing, and spelt out his position at length in the 138-page submission.

"I did not 'hunt' for the perpetrators of the theft, as alleged, nor did I give any instructions for this to take place," he wrote.

Ramaphosa said that $580,000 stashed beneath the cushions was payment made by a Sudanese citizen who had bought buffaloes.

Before the sale, the farm's manager and Ramaphosa had discussed disposing of buffaloes that were "substandard" and a "financial drain" due to high veterinary and feeding costs, he wrote. 

Staff at the farm initially locked the money in an office safe, Ramaphosa said. 

But the lodge manager then decided that the "safest place" to store it would be under the cushions of a sofa inside Ramaphosa's residence at the farm, he said. 

 Re-election bid 
Ramaphosa, a 70-year-old former trade union boss who made a fortune in business in post-apartheid South Africa, has two farms.

In his submission, he described his passion for cattle -- something that led him in 2017 to write a book called "Cattle of the Ages." 

Ramaphosa came to power in 2018 on a promise to root out graft after the corruption-stained era of his boss, Jacob Zuma.

He faces elections on December 16 in his bid for a second term as president of the deeply-factionalised ANC.

That position, as head of the dominant party in parliament, is also key to his survival as national president.

Ramaphosa is facing a challenge from Zweli Mkhize, 66, an ex-health minister who resigned from government last year amid graft allegations. 

The special panel was set up in September following a clamour by the opposition.

It was tasked with ascertaining whether there was sufficient evidence to show that the president committed a serious violation of the constitution or the law or a serious misconduct.

Lawmakers will examine the report's findings in a one-day sitting on December 6, and adopt a resolution, "through a simple majority vote, whether a further action by the House is necessary or not," said National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

If so, the next step could be a vote to remove the president, which to be successful would require approval by at least two-thirds of the seats in the assembly.

Mapisa-Nqakula described the handover of the report as "one of the indicative milestones in South Africa's maturing constitutional democracy."

It should be published within 24 hours, she said.

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