South Africa orders president to submit to medical examination after cocaine visit

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has been ordered to submit to a medical examination after taking cocaine during a business meeting, with the government saying it was testing him for traces of the drug.

South Africa’s chief medical officer, Mthandazo Mbhele, said in a statement on Tuesday that Ramaphosa, 65, had visited his local hospital on Monday afternoon after arriving in the capital, Pretoria, from a business meeting in Durban, where he had tested positive for the narcotic.

The government did not say what the president was doing in Durban. A spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

“He (Ramaphosa) was then being examined at the hospital for the presence of traces of the drug,” Mbhele said. He said the results of the tests would be known by 3 July.

The statement said the president would have been excused from office pending the results.

President Ramaphosa’s health has been in the spotlight in recent months, with speculation he is taking medication for a throat condition.

Last month, Ramaphosa returned home to South Africa from a trip to China after almost two weeks at an airbase in Northam due to a suspected bug and a fever.

South Africa’s Union of Shop Distributors’ Associations (USDADA) then said Ramaphosa had visited a methadone clinic after complaining of pains in his chest. Methadone is a drug used to control pain in drug addicts, many of whom use the drug intravenously.

Former president Jacob Zuma and his allies were accused by the corruption watchdog in a 2016 report of plotting to remove the then deputy president. Ramaphosa was appointed president after Zuma stepped down, as part of a deal struck between Zuma and the ruling African National Congress to preserve the unity of the ANC and end a corruption scandal.

Ramaphosa is currently participating in the G20 summit in Argentina, after concluding a two-day visit to the US, where he signed deals related to the expansion of road, rail and air links between South Africa and the US.

The populist and anti-corruption Ramaphosa’s decision to invite Zuma to the summit was seen as a sign of a new era of politics, coming after nine years of leadership dominated by Zuma’s scandal-plagued rule.

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According to the ANC government’s new National Development Plan (NDP), which was released in February, inequality has widened and South Africa’s economy remains underperforming.

“We need urgent action to build a new economy that has the capacity to drive job creation and economic growth,” the document says.

The country has also faced the biggest labour unrest since the end of apartheid more than two decades ago with the strike by platinum workers, the longest in the sector’s history, that began in February.

Ramaphosa has been working on a new tax and spending programme to ease the pressure on public finances that emerged after a 25% slump in the value of the rand in 2017.

The deterioration of the economy led to credit downgrades to sub-investment grade in February and widened the budget deficit, raising fears of a sovereign default.

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