JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was confronted in Parliament Thursday by opposition politicians who pressed him to step down from office pending a criminal investigation into allegations that he covered up a theft from his rural game farm.
Parliament members from the Economic Freedom Fighters were forcibly removed from the legislature’s session for repeatedly interrupting Ramaphosa as he presented the annual budget for his office.
The theft in 2020 of a large amount of cash in U.S. dollars from his ranch in the northern Limpopo province was alleged in a criminal complaint filed this month by former intelligence chief Arthur Fraser.
Ramaphosa later confirmed the burglary and said the cash was from selling game animals on his farm. The president said that he reported it to the head of his personal protection unit but not to the police.
The scandal is a major blow to Ramaphosa’s image as a leader committed to stamping out corruption in South Africa. His strong stance against corruption propelled him to power in 2018 when former President Jacob Zuma was forced to step down from power amid widespread graft allegations. Ramaphosa again vowed to root out corruption in the 2019 election when he won a five-year term as the country’s president.
The questions surrounding the theft come as Ramaphosa seeks re-election as the leader of the ruling party, the African National Congress, at its national conference in December this year.
Some of the questions Ramaphosa has been asked include: How much money in U.S. dollars was stolen from his farm? Where did the money come from? Was the foreign exchange declared to the South African Revenue Service?
The populist Economic Freedom Fighters, the second-largest opposition party in Parliament, said it has briefed its lawyers to launch legal proceedings to force Ramaphosa to step down pending the criminal investigation.
Another opposition party, the United Democratic Movement, has formally requested Parliament to launch its own probe into the matter and for Ramaphosa to appear before it.
In South Africa, the president may be removed from office by a vote of no confidence by Parliament.