مشاركات عشوائية

A businessman, buffaloes and a sofa full of money: the alibi of a president

featured image

Phala Phala Wildlife, the game farm owned by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, near Bela Bela, South Africa, December 2, 2019. February 9, 2022. A bizarre scandal involving the game farm threatens to overthrow the south- African Cyril Ramaphosa of the leadership of the African National Congress, which begins its five-day conference on Friday.  (Joao Silva/The New York Times)

Phala Phala Wildlife, the game farm owned by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, near Bela Bela, South Africa, December 2, 2019. February 9, 2022. A bizarre scandal involving the game farm threatens to overthrow the south- African Cyril Ramaphosa of the leadership of the African National Congress, which begins its five-day conference on Friday. (Joao Silva/The New York Times)

JOHANNESBURG — The story begins when a Sudanese businessman landed at Johannesburg airport two days before Christmas 2019, according to his account, rolling a carry-on suitcase with $600,000 in cash. He said he wanted to surprise his South African wife for her birthday and buy a house.

Instead, according to Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, that money ended up hiding in a sofa in the private residence of his game farm.

This convoluted story – and if it is at all believable – is the subject of a scandal that has riveted South Africa and threatened to oust Ramaphosa from the presidency.

Sign up for The Morning of the New York Times newsletter

On Friday, his party, the African National Congress, convenes its national conference, which is held every five years, where some 4,000 delegates will decide whether to elect Ramaphosa for a second term as its leader. Given the dominance of the ANC over South African politics, the person elected as party president always became the president of South Africa.

A Nelson Mandela protege, Ramaphosa, 70, came to power five years ago hoping he could save the ANC, a once vaunted liberation movement that now faces rampant corruption and a failure to provide basic services.

His rhetoric on good governance and his record as a businessman gave South Africans hope that he would clean house and help the ANC focus on rescuing the most industrialized economy. from Africa.

But now much of the country — including opposition lawmakers, political analysts and even some of the president’s allies — can’t help but wonder if he simply represents the same old corruption of the government. ruling elite.

“Unfortunately he now has this cloud over his head,” said Lindiwe Zulu, a senior ANC official and member of the president’s cabinet who backed him. Referring to the scandal, she said: “People are going to ask a question, ‘How the hell can you have something like that as president? ”

The scandal known as Farmgate erupted in June, after Arthur Fraser, a former South African spy chief and political opponent of Ramaphosa, filed a criminal complaint accusing him of failing to report the theft of at least $4 million from the president’s farm.

Fraser accused the president of asking his security chief to conduct a secret investigation instead, which resulted in the abduction and torture of burglary suspects, some of whom fled to the other side from the border to Namibia.

One of those suspects, Floriana Joseph, housekeeper at the president’s game farm, Phala Phala Wildlife, was accused in Fraser’s complaint of helping plan the burglary and then being paid off by the President to remain silent on this subject.

Joseph lives in a small settlement, Vingerkraal, a collection of square tin shacks on dirt ground home to many Namibian exiles, about a 45-minute drive from Phala Phala. During a recent visit with reporters from The Times, she kept her guard up as she spoke, her eyebrows arched, as she cradled her son.

Joseph, 28, said she had never seen money on the president’s couch, let alone orchestrated a robbery. The first time she had even heard of the break-in, she said, was from a report on a local radio station in June. No investigator had interviewed her before, she said, contradicting a sworn statement from the president’s security chief, who said he interviewed her in March 2020, about a month after the burglary.

Now she suspects dark figures are out to trick her. Over the past few months, she said, random people have shown up looking for her. Some say they are with police, while others declined to identify themselves. She now photographs every car that arrives.

In one case, Joseph said, two men tricked his mother, who is illiterate, into filing a complaint with the police saying Joseph was kidnapped in 2020 – a ploy, she says, by opponents of Ramaphosa to lend credence to the charges in Fraser’s complaint.

Around September, she said, two men surprised her while she was shopping in the nearby town of Bela Bela. Badges that looked like police ID cards hung around their necks, she said, and they demanded she take them to her bank. They ordered him to print off his account statements and hand them over – presumably in an effort to find evidence of stolen money or a payment from the president.

“I said to all these people who kept coming, ‘If there was money, would I live here?’ she said, pointing to her cabin.

Ramaphosa said little about all of this, but presented his version of events in an affidavit.

The president, an avid game herder, said his lodge manager sold buffaloes to Sudanese businessman, Hazim Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim, for $580,000, then hid the money in a sofa in his house. the president’s private residence because the manager was concerned that too many workers had access to a safe on the property.

The burglars stole the money about a month and a half later, Ramaphosa said. He says he reported the theft to his head of security, who is a member of the South African police. And Ramaphosa said Fraser’s allegation that more than $4 million was stolen was far from accurate.

An independent panel appointed by Parliament to review the impeachment said it doubted the stolen dollars actually came from the sale of the game. ended up on the couch.

“The money needs to be moved from the safe to the couch because it’s not safe in the safe, is it safe on the couch?” asked Julius Malema, the leader of the opposition economic freedom fighters. “He thinks we’re all fools like him.”

The Sudanese businessman, reached by telephone in Dubai, offered a version of events that largely corresponds to that of the president. Ibrahim said after declaring the money on arrival at the airport, he met his wife and family at Sun City, a casino 2.5 hours northwest of Johannesburg.

The search for housing fell flat, he said. Estate agents, apparently, weren’t keen on showing the property over the holidays. But Ibrahim, who said he owns a farming business and a Sudanese football team, refused to let his US dollars go to waste.

He said he had a chance encounter with a game rancher at the station. Ibrahim said he had never bought or sold a game in his life, but had thought about business ideas involving gambling. He was stingy with details, but said it involved hunting.

So when the herder suggested he go to a farm called Phala Phala because it had a great reputation for its animals, Ibrahim said, he jumped at the chance. He went the next day, over Christmas, driving for two hours through an area with many game farms selling animals, and said he had handed over the money to buy 20 buffaloes to be shipped to Dubai. He said he had no idea at the time who owned the farm.

But Ibrahim’s narrative breaks with the president’s in crucial ways. Ramaphosa said in his affidavit – which was attached with a sales receipt – that he sold buffaloes to Ibrahim. Ibrahim said in the interview that he bought ankole, which is a breed of cattle – not buffalo. Asked about this discrepancy, Ibrahim wrongly insisted that Ankole is a type of buffalo.

Some ranchers have said in interviews that $29,000 per bison is not out of reach.

The animals were never delivered, Ibrahim said restrained, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and travel did.

He said he was asking for a refund.

Ibrahim wonders why all the fuss. Carrying large sums of cash and executing transactions on a whim were typical for him as a businessman, he said. As we were talking on the phone, he said he was shipping a $33 million shipment of fertilizer – so what’s $580,000 to him?

“For me, it’s not too much money,” he laughs. “This great drama and this dilemma is a dirty political game.”

South African lawmakers rejected an attempt last week to open impeachment hearings against Ramaphosa. But now, whether or not he is re-elected party president at the ANC conference, his legacy has taken a hit, said Kevin Malunga, a former deputy public protector and corruption watchdog.

“The halo he had when he started out as the clean guy,” Malunga said, “suddenly not only bowed, but kind of fell off.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

Post a Comment