This week is decisive for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa: destabilized by a scandal involving mysterious sums of cash, his political future hangs on the possible launch of an impeachment procedure on Tuesday, before a vote by the ruling party to a second term.
The 70-year-old head of state, who is also a wealthy businessman, is accused of having tried to hide from the police and the tax authorities a burglary dating from 2020 in one of his sumptuous properties where he indulges in a passion: breeding rare cattle.
The thieves walked away with $580,000 found in a couch, much more according to the complaint in June that sparked the scandal that accuses the president of taking dirty money. No charges have been brought against him at this stage, the police investigation is continuing.
Parliament is due to decide on Tuesday whether or not to launch an impeachment vote. Three days before the congress meeting of the ANC, which must elect its next leader and potential future head of state if the party wins the general elections of 2024.
Mr. Ramaphosa is a candidate for the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) which has chosen heads of state since the advent of democracy in the country, far ahead of his former Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize, 66.
Embarrassed for months by the case, the president has displayed a skull of confidence in recent days, testing his popularity over the weekend during a trip to Cape Town. Welcomed like a star by cries and flashes, he shook hands, patted the heads of the children, declaring with a smile to the journalists: "There is no problem, no crisis, relax".
However, a parliamentary report concluded at the end of November that Mr Ramaphosa "may have committed" acts violating the law in the burglary case, paving the way for dismissal proceedings.
The president counter-attacked last week with an appeal to the highest court in the country to invalidate the conclusions of this independent commission composed of three lawyers, criticized for being only a series of conjectures. The Constitutional Court must rule urgently.
The caciques of the ANC announced official support for the head of state, calling on parliamentarians to vote on Tuesday against the launch of an impeachment procedure. Rumours of a possible resignation of the president, reputed to be a fine tactician, had circulated the previous days.
Dissident voices within the historic party denounced the lack of debate and a forced passage of the apparatchiks. No matter, "parliamentarians generally follow the party line, the ANC has things in hand," a senior official told AFP.
And since the party has a large majority in Parliament with 230 deputies out of 400, the possibility of a forced departure which would require - in the wake of a simple majority vote opening the procedure - a two-thirds majority vote, is unlikely.
Moreover, "it is possible that the president of the National Assembly, a political ally of Ramaphosa, will decide to postpone the whole procedure until next year," said political scientist William Gumede.
This would give Cyril Ramaphosa full latitude to orbit within the ANC for a second term at the helm of the country, undisturbed by any of the scandal-related proceedings.
The head of state claims his innocence, arguing that the stolen money comes from the sale of 20 buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman. Hazim Mustafa recently confirmed to several British media the transaction and its amount, at least partially supporting the president's version of events.
Purchased at the end of 2019 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cattle were never delivered to Dubai where he is based, explains Mr. Mustafa, admitting that he did not realize he was in a transaction with the South African president from whom he expects always a refund.
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