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The big story: Cyril’s big scandal

Cyril Ramaphosa is facing the biggest scandal of his presidency yet. Here’s what you need to know:

🔹A spurned spy boss, who was loyal to former president Jacob Zuma and demoted by Ramaphosa, reported the president to the police last week. His name is Arthur Fraser and he has long had an axe to grind against ole’ cupcake. 

🔹He claims Ramaphosa failed to report the theft of millions of US dollars in cash from his private game farm in Limpopo in 2020.

🔹He also claims Ramaphosa’s Presidential Protection Unit tracked down the thieves, roughed them up and paid them off to stay mum about the large cash reserves at the property. 

🔹Ramaphosa has confirmed the theft, saying it was from the sale of game from his business declared to Parliament. But he noted it was far less than the $4 – $8m Fraser quoted, and denied the rest of the allegations. 

Whew. It’s not a good look for Ramaphosa, for two reasons. 

🔹Given the risk of money laundering, there are lots of rules governing trading in cash with such large sums – especially in forex. Ramaphosa will have to prove that he followed those to a T. But doing it in cash is still going to raise eyebrows – other game farmers have said it’s not really common practice.  

🔹Keeping quiet about the theft for two years is odd. Some say it’s because he realised how bad it looks making that much money in a sea of poverty. The president is a rich man thanks to his previous business dealings. An ardent game farmer, he infamously bid R19.5-million for a buffalo cow in 2012, and apologised for the tone-deaf move. 

While it’s not clear that Ramaphosa has done anything wrong yet, something smells fishy. Ramaphosa’s reputation or “currency”, if you will, has been “devalued”, says respected financial journalist Carol Paton. “The reputational damage will affect not just his standing among voters but, even more, will damage his international reputation and that among business and investors,” writes Paton.

So what happens next? The Hawks are investigating, and while our revenue services and Reserve Bank have to stay mum, they will no doubt do their own investigations. Compromised Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has jumped into the fray with an investigation of her own, which isn’t surprising given her alignment to the faction against Ramaphosa. Ultimately this scandal isn’t expected to dent Ramaphosa’s chances at a second term of the ANC presidency. But that’s only because the other side doesn’t have a strong candidate. If they did, Ramaphosa – and the general reform agenda – would be in trouble. Watch this space. 

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