By Kopano Gumbi and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Leaders of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) met on Friday after an inquiry found evidence President Cyril Ramaphosa may have committed misconduct, but they delayed a decision over whether he should stay in his post.
Ramphosa’s future has been in doubt since publication on Wednesday of a report by a panel of experts that investigated revelations that he kept millions of dollars in cash at his private game farm and failed to even report it missing when the money was stolen from the property in 2020.
The existence of the cash at the Phala Phala game farm and his failure to report the theft to police only surfaced in June.
Ramaphosa, who did not attend Friday’s brief meeting, has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime. The president has said the money was much less than the $4 million to $8 million reported, and that it was the proceeds of game sales at the farm.
The media has dubbed the affair “Farmgate”.
After the meeting of the ruling party’s National Executive Committee, ANC Treasurer General Paul Mashatile said the group would reconvene before Dec. 6 to discuss the report, which will be debated in parliament on that day.
“We want to deal with it properly, we don’t want to miss any step,” Mashatile told reporters, adding that party officials needed to scrutinise the report further.
“The mood was that there is a sense of urgency, that we should resolve these issues so that we can go on with the responsibilities of running the country.”
South Africa’s rand and government bonds rebounded on Friday, after Thursday’s panic-selling on speculation in local media that Ramaphosa was considering resigning.
Investors fear uncertainty and that any president who is not Ramaphosa could slow down or reverse economic reforms, increase government spending and take on more debt at levels they deem unsustainable. Despite the doubts raised over Ramaphosa’s integrity, he is still seen by investors at home and abroad as cleaner than any of his rivals.
ANC CLOSES RANKS
Senior figures whom analysts consider close Ramaphosa allies closed ranks around the president on Friday.
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told Reuters in an interview he thought Ramaphosa should continue with his job, doing whatever he could to defend himself against the panel report including possible legal action.
He sought to reassure financial markets that no change to the fiscal framework was imminent and that he would be willing to stay as finance minister even if Ramaphosa were to resign.
ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe, in an interview with local television station Newzroom Afrika, denied Ramaphosa was considering resigning and said the president was giving space for the report to be interrogated and tested.
“My own view is that it would be premature for the president to just step down without a due process,” said Mantashe, who serves as energy and mines minister in Ramaphosa’s cabinet.
Two other ministers in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former president Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife who narrowly lost the ANC’s 2017 leadership contest to Ramaphosa, and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who has campaigned to be elected ANC leader at a party conference this month, have called on the president to step down.
If Ramaphosa survives the ANC deliberations, which seems likely given the strength of his support, he could still face impeachment in a drawn-out process. But he is likely to survive even that action given the ANC’s dominance of parliament.
(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks, Alexander Winning, Bhargav Acharya and Rachel Savage in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; editing by James Macharia Chege, Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)