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South Africa's president dodges impeachment, but his political future is in question

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, avoided impeachment today. This comes after weeks of uncertainty following a corruption scandal that involved cash that was hidden in and stolen from a couch that belonged to Ramaphosa. But there are other political challenges awaiting the president. To help us sort all of this out, we're joined by Justice Malala. He's an author and political commentator who splits his time between Johannesburg and New York. Welcome.

JUSTICE MALALA: Thank you. It's good to be here.

SUMMERS: Good to have you. So Ramaphosa survived possible impeachment, but can you just walk us through what brought South Africa to this point?

MALALA: This year a man who he had removed from being the spy boss alleged that Ramaphosa had covered up a theft at his farm. It seems as if it was 580,000 U.S. dollars. And the big question is, what is the president of the country doing with 580,000 U.S. dollars stuffed in his couch?

SUMMERS: Ramaphosa is someone who ran on an anti-corruption platform back in 2018. He was also a close ally of Nelson Mandela. I know that you're in New York right now, but what have you heard from South Africans about what they think about the story that you've just shared with us and about the development today that he avoided impeachment?

MALALA: Many South Africans are appalled at the details of this, and many South Africans at the same time are saying, what's really going on here? So there's a bittersweet reaction to this that, well, you know, he's won this one, but he hasn't really taken South Africans into his confidence and said, my fellow countrymen, my fellow countrywomen, this is what happened, and I'm sorry. He's hunkered in. He's in his bunker and has not communicated for six months about any of this.

SUMMERS: You mentioned that Ramaphosa has kept a very low profile recently. We've heard that he even considered resigning. How stable are things for him now? What is the future outlook for his leadership?

MALALA: The African National Congress holds its conference every five years. It chooses a new leader at these conferences. He served one term as leader of the party, and he's running for a second term. And so Cyril Ramaphosa faces this one fight that's coming up. My view is that after his win today, he will win again. He will be reelected as president of the ANC, and he will continue. However, I do believe that this scandal has tainted him hugely. There are seven different state enforcement agencies which are investigating. So it will continue to dog his presidency going forward. And I suspect down the line he will be forced to resign.

SUMMERS: So taking a step back here and thinking about this big-picture, what do these recent events tell you about the strength of South Africa's democracy?

MALALA: First of all, you have the chattering classes, the intellectuals, business leaders all saying Cyril Ramaphosa is all we've got. He's the best guy to lead right now. And it's shocking, to be honest, that we only have one person we think is capable of protecting the institutions, holding up our democracy, that if this one person leaves, then we have no one else. But the second one for me is that I think it's the end of the road for Nelson Mandela's party, the African National Congress. I think that it has been engulfed by corruption, by infighting and that it will diminish and maybe even die over the next 20 years.

SUMMERS: That is Justice Malala, author and political commentator. Thank you so much for joining us today.

MALALA: Absolute pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC TUCKER SONG, "FWM FT. FRE$H") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.