South Africa’s scandal-engulfed President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday easily survived a vote in parliament on whether to initiate impeachment proceedings that could have forced him out of office.
After a heated debate, his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party defeated the motion by 214 votes to 148, with two abstentions through open voting.
The “inquiry will therefore not be proceeded with”, declared National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, preventing an impeachment over allegations he concealed a huge cash theft at his farm.
Ramaphosa – championed as a graft-busting saviour after corruption-stained predecessor Jacob Zuma – escaped thanks to the support of a majority of MPs from the ANC, which has been further divided by the scandal.
The extraordinary parliamentary session opened noisily in Cape Town to discuss the findings of an independent panel which said Ramaphosa may be guilty of serious violations and misconduct.
The 70-year-old president survived the day, thanks to his party’s majority in parliament.
Last week, he secured the renewed backing of the ANC, which holds 230 of the National Assembly’s 400 seats, after mounting a legal bid to have the damning report annulled. Some of his party MPs were absent during voting.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola trashed the report saying “there is not sufficient evidence to impeach the president”.
“The panel report has set the bar too low to impeach a sitting president,” he said.
The ANC national executive had vowed last week to shoot down any attempt to force Ramaphosa from office.
That decision upset some, who said the executive had forced their hand.
A few ANC lawmakers, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – Ramaphosa’s rival, a cabinet minister and Zuma’s former wife – defied the party command.
Ramaphosa’s graft-tainted predecessor Zuma survived several no-confidence motions during his tenure before his own party forced him to resign in 2018.
Opposition parties presented a largely united front on the issue.
Julius Malema, the fiery leader of the second largest opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, expressed “deepest disappointment” in Ramaphosa who was once a “celebrated… architect” of South Africa’s constitution.
He said Ramaphosa was now “peeing” on that document, calling him a “constitutional delinquent”.
Vuyolwethu Zungula, leader of the African Transformation Movement, a small opposition party that tabled the motion for the parliament-sanctioned inquiry into the scandal, said the “watershed moment” would “affirm that no one is above the law”.
Ramaphosa, who was at his home during the vote, kicked off his day in the capital Pretoria, attending under pouring rain a police graduation ceremony.
If the opposition had had its way, Ramaphosa would have faced the prospect of having the affair further scrutinised by parliament in a year that leads to general elections in 2024.
An impeachment vote itself would have needed the support of a two-thirds majority of MPs to succeed.
The president, who was a wealthy businessman before entering politics, found himself in hot water in June when a controversial ex-spy boss filed a complaint against him to the police.
Arthur Fraser alleged Ramaphosa had concealed the theft of several million dollars from his farm in 2020.
He accused the president of having the burglars kidnapped and bribed into silence instead of reporting the matter to the authorities.
Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing.
The findings of the three-person special probe, issued last week, brought forward details that have left South Africa agog.
Ramaphosa acknowledged the theft of $580,000 in cash that was stashed under sofa cushions at his farm – a safer place, his employees said, than the office safe.
He said the money was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman, who recently confirmed the transaction in interviews with British media.