South Africa's National Assembly on Monday delayed by a week a keenly watched parliamentary vote that could lead to the impeachment of President Cyril Ramaphosa, as his party rallied around the embattled leader.

In an eventful day, Ramaphosa, who has been under heavy political pressure, mounted an 11th-hour legal bid to have a damning report on an alleged cover-up of a cash robbery at his farm annulled.

Top African National Congress leaders who had met to discuss his future vowed to stand by the president and oppose any motion seeking to remove him.

Parliament was due to debate and vote on the report on Tuesday in a session that could lead to his impeachment.

But during a late-night urgent meeting of the parliament's programming committee, the lawmakers unanimously agreed that the unprecedented sitting was too important to be conducted in a hybrid format.

They agreed to meet on Tuesday December 13, said speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, to allow time for lawmakers to travel to Cape Town to physically sit and vote through an open ballot and a roll call.

The delay is unlikely to change the stance of the ANC, which agreed earlier it "will not support that vote," according to ANC interim secretary-general Paul Mashatile.

Mashatile said the decision to vote "against the adoption of the report" was reached after the ANC's most senior leaders "fully and frankly" debated it.

Earlier Monday, Ramaphosa had filed a petition to the Constitutional Court seeking to have the investigative report "reviewed, declared unlawful and set aside", according to court papers.

The report by an independent panel found that Ramaphosa "may have committed" serious violations and misconduct.

- Phala Phala -

The scandal erupted in June when South Africa's former spy boss filed a complaint with the police alleging that Ramaphosa had concealed the 2020 theft of a huge haul of cash from his Phala Phala farm.

RTL

The scandal has become known as the Phala Phala affair, named after Ramaphosa's farm in the northeast of the country / © AFP

He accused the president of having organised for the burglars to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.

Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing.

He said the cash -- more than half a million dollars, stashed beneath sofa cushions -- was payment for buffaloes bought by a Sudanese businessman.

But his explanations did not convince the parliament-sanctioned independent panel, which raised questions about the source of the cash.

The parliament sitting is a step that could lead to a vote on forcing Ramaphosa from office.

To initiate an impeachment vote would require a simple majority in the National Assembly, where the ANC has 230 out of 400 seats. The impeachment vote itself would need a two-thirds majority to succeed.

In the meantime, "the president continues with his duties as president of the ANC and the republic," said the ANC's Mashatile.

Ramaphosa will Tuesday be in Cape Town, where parliament is based, to deliver a keynote address at the World Science Forum attended by hundreds of delegates.

- Not resigning -

The president had insisted he would not resign after the special panel's report, but his political future still remains uncertain. He briefly attended the ANC meeting which discussed the crisis.

He left shortly afterwards, smiling and waving to the media.

Forged by Nelson Mandela into the weapon that led the fight against apartheid, the ANC has been deeply divided by the affair, but after a pendulum swing a majority now seems to be backing Ramaphosa to remain.

The scandal comes at the worst possible time for him.

On December 16, he will contest elections for the ANC presidency -- a position that also holds the key to staying on as the nation's leader.

A former mine union president who made a fortune in business in the post-apartheid era, Ramaphosa came to office in 2018 riding on a graft-free image after the corruption-tainted presidency of Jacob Zuma.

Although a police inquiry is ongoing, he has not so far been charged with any crime.

The second-largest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, said it was "disgusted and appalled by the decision of the rogue president", to challenge the report.

But the ANC's overwhelming majority in the National Assembly means that it is not even certain that parliament will vote to launch the removal procedure.