South Africa's ANC stops impeachment process against Ramaphosa

  • Vote called over report into cash hidden at Ramaphosa's farm
  • ANC executive told its lawmakers to reject report
  • Only five disobeyed party orders
  • Ramaphosa now even more likely to be re-elected ANC leader

CAPE TOWN, Dec 13 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) on Tuesday stopped an impeachment process from being launched against President Cyril Ramaphosa, as most of its lawmakers voted to reject an inquiry report into alleged misconduct.

The outcome of the vote puts Ramaphosa in a stronger position to secure re-election as ANC leader at a party contest starting on Friday, and to run for a second term as head of state at a 2024 election.

Ramaphosa's political future had been hanging in the balance earlier this month, after the report by a panel of experts found preliminary evidence he may have violated the constitution over a stash of foreign currency hidden at his private game farm.

Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing over the scandal, which has been dubbed "Farmgate" by the media, and challenged the report in court. He has not been charged with any crime, but some opponents have called for his resignation.

Some 214 out of 400 lawmakers in the National Assembly, where the ANC has a majority, voted against setting up an impeachment committee to further probe the allegations against the president and make a recommendation on whether he should be removed from office.

However, five ANC members were among the 148 lawmakers who voted in favour, disobeying instructions from the ANC's national executive. Two lawmakers abstained from voting and many others were absent.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, an ex-wife of the president's predecessor Jacob Zuma who narrowly lost the last ANC leadership contest to Ramaphosa in 2017, was among those who pushed for the impeachment process.

COURT THREAT

Ramaphosa's spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said the president noted the lower house of parliament's decision and had consistently stated his commitment to "due process".

The firebrand leader of leftist opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, told reporters his party would file court papers challenging Tuesday's vote.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the biggest opposition party the Democratic Alliance, said the vote showed Ramaphosa "would not hesitate to damage and weaken parliament in order to evade scrutiny and the law".

Farmgate broke in June when South Africa's former spy chief, Arthur Fraser, told police that thieves had raided Ramaphosa's Phala Phala game farm in February 2020, and had stolen at least $4 million in foreign cash found hidden in the furniture.

The theft raised questions about how Ramaphosa, who came to power on a promise to fight graft, had acquired the money and whether he had declared it.

Ramaphosa has said a much smaller amount of money than that reported had been taken and that it was the proceeds of game sales. Contrary to allegations, he also said he reported the theft when he heard about it.

Additional reporting by Sisipho Skweyiya Writing by Alexander Winning Editing by James Macharia Chege, Arun Koyyur and Crispian Balmer

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