Cash heist puts S.Africa's Ramaphosa on back foot

South Africa Under pressure: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.  By RODGER BOSCH AFP
JUN 10, 2022 LISTEN
Under pressure: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. By RODGER BOSCH (AFP)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday dodged questions over a multi-million-dollar cash heist that has put him on the back foot in a heated rivalry within his ruling party.

For a second day, his previously planned appearances at parliament were overshadowed by hecklers from the opposition, who scuffled with security as some lawmakers were physically dragged from the chamber.

The scandal erupted last week when a former spy chief filed a police complaint alleging that thieves had stolen $4 million in cash from Ramaphosa's farmhouse, where the money had been stashed inside furniture.

After his parliamentary appearance, he took questions from reporters for over an hour but clung to his line that he could not comment.

"The robbery that took place on my farm... in 2020 is the subject of a criminal complaint and the law must be allowed to take its course. In other words, due process must be followed," he said.

"I have listened to the views of a number of (lawmakers) ...who have raised thoughts, suggestions and proposals on this matter. Some of the views have been to counsel me and yet others have been laced with insults."

"I will not respond to insults. I should, however, say the counsel and suggestions that have been made raise points I should consider," he added.

Ramaphosa is a former trade unionist who amassed a reputed $450-million fortune as a businessman in post-apartheid South Africa before returning politics.

He took office in 2018 vowing to clean up the corruption that defined the presidency of his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

South Africa's former intelligence boss Arthur Fraser accused Ramaphosa of hiding the heist from police and the tax authorities.

Instead, Fraser alleged, Ramaphosa organised the kidnapping and questioning of the burglars, and then bribed them to keep quiet.

Ramaphosa has acknowledged the burglary but disputes the amount of money involved. He says the cash came from legitimate sales of game.

He denies the alleged kidnapping and bribery, saying he reported the burglary to the police after he had learned of it.

Ramaphosa will face party members at a conference in December during which he could be ousted from the top job by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

South Africa's top anti-corruption official, herself the target of years of legal battles, opened a case into the affair.

Ramaphosa suspended her on Thursday as parliament prepared impeachment proceedings against her. The case against him will remain, but the timing only added fuel to his rivals' criticisms.

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