South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is back in the spotlight after two suspects connected to the February 2020 burglary of his Phala Phala farm in northern Limpopo province were arrested on Tuesday.
The stolen money, amounting to around $580,000, was reportedly sewn into couches on the property and was not declared to authorities by Ramaphosa.
The case sparked outrage among opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and triggered an investigation by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) in June 2022.
Off the hook
The SARB investigation aimed to determine whether Ramaphosa had violated Exchange Control Regulation 6(1), which states that, “every person resident in the Republic who becomes entitled to sell or to procure the sale of any foreign currency, shall within 30 days after becoming so entitled, make or cause to be made, a declaration in writing of such foreign currency to the treasury or to an authorised dealer.”
In a previously confidential report, the SARB found that the president had not contravened regulations – an outcome the DA seeks to overturn in the courts.
Then-acting public protector, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, also cleared Ramaphosa of any wrongdoing in July.
Instead, she found that his bodyguard, Major-General Wally Rhoode abused state resources after undertaking his own investigation into the theft – a decision that has garnered much criticism.
Business as usual
In December 2019, Sudanese businessman Hazim Mustafa paid $580,000 in cash for 20 buffalo to be transferred from Ntaba Nyoni Estates CC (also known as Phala Phala Wildlife), of which Ramaphosa is the sole director.
“It’s nothing to do with His Excellency the President — I just went there and bought cattle and buffaloes from the farm,” said Mustafa in an interview with eNCA in December 2022.
According to the SARB report, Mustafa never received the animals due to multiple factors, including the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
DA leader John Steenhuisen filed a request with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) in the same month as Mustafa’s interview to receive a copy of Mustafa’s declaration of the cash at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
SARS was not able to produce any record of the declaration which means that either the record does not exist, or SARS could not find it.
For a few days in December 2022, the country was unsure whether Ramaphosa would remain in his seat after he was reportedly on the brink of resigning.
That was until he brushed aside calls for his resignation only weeks before being re-elected to a second term at the helm of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Ramaphosa has been accused of “quiet quitting” by analysts who have noted a marked decline in his interest in governance since news of the ‘farmgate’ scandal broke.
With the Phala Phala scandal back in local newspapers, it is unclear what effect it could have on the ANC’s prospects in the 2024 elections. For some, what is of greater concern, is whether Ramaphosa wants the country’s top job.
While the president has been cleared of any misconduct by multiple bodies, including the public protector and parliament, the saga has left an indelible mark on his record with some arguing that he will be remembered as the president who stashed cash in a sofa.
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