South Africa’s president has been exonerated of charges of misconduct and betraying the honour of his office in a burglary scandal that almost cost him his job last year, the country’s ombudswoman announced on Friday.
The scandal broke in June 2022 when the former head of intelligence lodged a complaint accusing Cyril Ramaphosa of having concealed the theft in 2020 of bundles of dollars unearthed by burglars under the cushions of a sofa in one of his properties.
The police and the Ombudsman, Kholeka Gcaleka, launched investigations at the time. Mr Ramaphosa was also accused in the complaint of having bought the silence of burglars who had stumbled upon these sums, leading to suspicions of money laundering and corruption.
The Ombudsman, also known as the Public Protector, determined that in this case the behaviour of Mr Ramaphosa, 70, was not contrary to the Constitution.
“In the light of the standards imposed by the executive’s code of ethics, there is no basis for concluding that the President has breached” the relevant provisions of the law, “including during the period following the alleged theft of dollars”, Kholeka Gcaleka told the press in Pretoria.
The Office of the Public Protector is an independent institution, provided for in the Constitution, which must investigate and report any misconduct or wrongdoing within the government “without fear, favour or prejudice”. It does not, however, have the power to prosecute.
Mr Ramaphosa has always denied any dishonesty in this affair, stating that the money, $580,000 in cash, came from the sale of buffalo from his farm.
Last year, a parliamentary committee found that he “may have committed” “violations and faults” in this affair. Parliament subsequently decided not to initiate impeachment proceedings, which could have forced him to step down.
Mr Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a business tycoon after apartheid, took over as head of South Africa in 2018, promising a “new dawn” after the scandal-ridden term of office of his predecessor Jacob Zuma.