The fissures are widening in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) as President Cyril Ramaphosaaccelerates his anti-corruption drive in the governing party.
The ‘Rainbow Nation,’ the term famously coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in reference to the country’s diverse ethnic make-up and epitomized by South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, has for the past decade endured a corruption pandemic that has progressively retarded economic growth, decimated state owned enterprises, diminished the credibility of public institutions, significantly eroded public trust (replaced with growing anger) in the 107-year old movement.
With the already spluttering economy smashed by the coronavirus lockdown and now in its worst state since the end of apartheid, the ANC’s very own survival may be at risk if Ramaphosa fails to act decisively on his promises to deal with South Africa’s runaway corruption.
This crossroad, analysts and commentators warn, could determine whether the continent’s most developed nation flourishes or fails.
“Should this parliament fail to effectively deal with corruption, which ultimately takes away resources for socio-economic development, voters may engage in more disruptive actions outside formal political processes, undermining political stability,” noted Joleen Steyn Kotze, a senior research specialist in democracy, governance, and service delivery at the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) shortly after the May 2019 poll.
“The new ANC-led parliament has a responsibility to make good on their political promises. If not, the consequences for the country could be dire, potentially leading to a breakdown of democracy and political stability.”
In October 2016, the then ANC chief whip in Parliament, Jackson Mthembu, told eNCA “the public has lost confidence in the ANC because of factional behavior, because of arrogance.”
Mthembu, now the Minister in Ramaphosa’s presidency and who sits on the NEC, ominously added:
“Perhaps we are not the leadership that can take the ANC forward.”
Ramaphosa wrote to ANC members in late August saying the party stands as “accused No. 1” in the court of public opinion, and then drew a pledge from its NEC that officials facing disciplinary and criminal procedures “must step aside.”
Pressure is growing to push forward with arrests and prosecutions, and in doing so, going for the so-called ‘big fish’ instead of compensating with ‘small fry’ censures.
“Cyril doesn’t have to worry about stepping on a few toes… the public will defend him,” said Matthew Parks, parliamentary coordinator for the 1.8-million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and member of the tripartite alliance along with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
“Cyril Ramaphosa needs to be bold in rooting out corruption within his own party. People need to see politicians in prison to show that the government is serious in dealing with corruption.What we want from the president is decisiveness, throwing people into prison.”
So far, that hasn’t happened.
The extent of the graft within the ANC became clear when it was revealed the husband of Ramaphosa’s own spokesperson, Khusela Diko, had ‘won’ contracts to supply the government with medical equipment needed to fight Covid-19.
Diko has since stepped down as investigations continue.
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was drawn into the PPE scandal when it emerged that his two sons won similar tenders, though they’ve not been accused of wrongdoing.
And, it must be added, this is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are numerous allegations of fraud and corruption against other ANC ministers and cadres deployed at provincial and municipal level.
RAMAPHOSA CRACKS THE WHIP… BUT IS IT HARD ENOUGH?
The president did dock his defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, three months’ pay after senior ANC figures hitched a ride on a state aircraft during the minister’s formal visit to Zimbabwe, blurring the lines between government and party business.
On Thursday, the Hawks, indicted Angelo Agrizzi, a former executive at corruption-plagued services company Bosasa, and Vincent Smith, a senior ANC politician who was chair of parliament’s correctional services committee.
Agrizzi had previously told the state capture commission that Bosasa paid numerous bribes to win government contracts.
Senior government officials were also arrested this week over alleged corruption at a state housing project in Free State province.
But aside from Zuma, who’s facing corruption charges that were reinstated after being dropped more than a decade ago, and former Security Minister Bongani Bongo, no ‘big hitters’ have been apprehended.
The lack of prosecutions has been the catalyst for increased dissatisfaction and anger with the ANC as testimony at several commissions of inquiry into corruption has been broadcast almost daily for more than a year.
“I don’t see any new moment as far as the ANC is concerned, and as far as the president is concerned, the only new thing is public indignation,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga told Bloomberg.
“It is a question of who gets arrested; there are people who are disposable. There is still a sense of [it being] a face saving exercise.”
INTERNAL ANC STRIFE THE ROOT CAUSE
The challenge for Ramaphosa is that however much public support he garners in his anti-corruption drive, it’s inside the century-old ANC where the real battle is raging.
Until now, his ability to act against graft has been constrained by his wafer-thin victory in the 2017 party election that saw two key Zuma allies in the ANC’s top six decision-making body, the NEC, limiting his room to manoeuvre.
With the ANC’s next elective conference set for 2022, Ramaphosa may need to placate the various party factions if he is to survive and serve a second term as president.
In July this year, various claims emerged, painting a picture of the nature of the power struggle that is being waged within the ANC.
The Daily Maverick reported that these reports suggest that Ramaphosa literally told his critics to “be my guest” if they want to remove him at the party’s 2020 national general council and that ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was gagged from speaking to journalists after his vicious attack on fellow NEC member Derek Hanekom.
The ANC has done little or nothing to fix the structures where its problems start – its branches, believes Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
The ANC insists that its branches are all-important, but ut it has never begun a concerted effort to ensure that the branches really are where power lies and where members can express themselves openly, he adds.
ANC leaders, naturally, firmly deny this assertion. After all, it is an article of faith within the organisation that the leaders are simply ‘servants of the members in the branches.’
But many ANC branch members routinely complain about being ignored, bullied into supporting factions or generally being treated like ‘useful weapons’ in the battles between party elites.
Making sure branches wield real power and allow members a say is difficult, and because so many are excluded from the economy, some do join branches in the hope of attaching themselves to politicians who will steer resources their way, says Friedman.
“But it is not impossible. Many members belong to branches because they care about the ANC and the country. Many are unhappy with vote-buying and corruption and would fight it if they were taken seriously.”
Fixing ANC branches is key to the ANC’s revival,” he says.
“The only way to fix the ANC is to make sure that the branches have power to fend off those who would buy or bully them and to hold to account leaders who look after themselves, not citizens.”
MANDELA’S PARTY IS NOT AGING WELL
As South Africans went to the polls on May 8 last year, a sense of disillusionment was palatable, noted Kotze.
“Voter turnout has now been in steady decline in South Africa for a number of years. From a high of 89 percent turnout in 1999, voter turnout has declined to 66 percent this year . This has much to do with the ANC.”
An increasing number of South Africans now express the sentiment that life has not necessarily gotten better under ANC rule Kotze added.
“The origin of this apparent disenchantment with democracy is perhaps linked to a view that the ANC, as liberator and custodian of the aspirations of those most brutalised and oppressed during apartheid, have not delivered.”
She went on to say that people’s dreams of a better life were “sold for self-interest and self-enrichment amidst declining governance, increasing corruption and increased socio-political instability.”
Swathes of empty at pre-election ANC rallies also served as pointers that not all is well within the governing party. The ANC, instead of reflecting on this alrming development, chose instead to blast the media for its “preoccupation with stadium counting” calling it the ” new science of ‘stadiumology.’”
And many political observers were thrown when then ANC President Jacob Zuma announced at the party’s national general council (NGC) in 2015 that ANC membership had plummeted by some 37% since the Mangaung conference of 2012.
Former ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, now party chair, said in 2012 the party hit the one million mark in terms of members, adding that the party were monitoring the numbers after membership dropped to around 700 000.
PREVIOUSLY ‘UNTHINKABLE’ NOW VERY REAL
In 2016, then President Zuma repeated his mantra that the “ANC will rule until Jesus Christ comes” during an election campaign roadshow, and last year, during the ANC’s 107th birthday celebrations, party president Ramaphosa told a crowd of supporters that the governing party would still be “around in 107-years’ time.”
Amid the corruption turbulence and bold predictions by its former and current presidents, the ruling party appears to also be in deep financial trouble with reports that it’s been unable to meet its June, August and September salary bills. In December 2019, it could only pay its staff days after Christmas.
And last week, the Johannesburg High Court ordered the ANC to pay a KZN-based company R100 million for 2019 election merchandise.
In addition, the ANC must pay R106 000 to the South African National Defence Force for the ill-fated Zimbabwe trip on a government jet.
In September 2018, the ANC’s official website was taken down after they failed to pay a bill of R32.5 million. To this day, anc.org.za remains offline.
All the ingredients for the perfect storm as the once mighty ANC, who has seen a steady decline in electoral support and a dwindling, discontented membership, prepare to face voters in next year’s local government elections as well as a general election in 2024.
“The idea of the ANC losing power is not far fetched.”Ntsikelelo Breakfast, political science lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch.
CORRUPTION’S CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCES
“It’s an untenable situation; we are stealing out of the mouths of our children and the old and the infirm and the vulnerable,” chimed in Martin Kingston, vice president of Business Unity South Africa and chairperson of the local unit of Rothschild & Co.
“We are not going to mobilize the capital that’s required domestically or internationally without comprehensively tackling crime or corruption.”
That’s key, given that Ramaphosa has staked the country’s economic resuscitation on an ambitious and unprecedented plan to attract some R2.3-trillion in private investment into South Africa over the next decade.
The national power entity, Eskom, is mired in corruption scandals and is R480 billion in debt, the state arms company, Denel, can’t pay salaries and the national airline, SAA, is insolvent.
The consequence has been state bailouts that have deepened South Africa’s already heavy debt burden and has seen Pretoria take its first ever loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a step the ruling ANC had in the past vociferously opposed.
Friedman says the ANC “will remain in crisis unless it looks at its own organisational problems.”
“It has recognised these problems – it excels at identifying its woes and discussing them openly. But, although it has debated remedies and set up teams to deal with them, its willingness to say what is wrong is not matched by an ability to put it right.”
Until Ramaphosa carries out a decisive strike against corruption, the economy can’t progress, Claude Baissac, the head of Eunomix Business and Economics Ltd, told Bloomberg. For South Africa, he said, “Ramaphosa’s effort right now is the last chance saloon.”
And as Krista Mahr wrote in 2016, the signs for the ANC are ominous as the once glorious black, green and gold tricolor faces the fate of India’s deposed Indian National Congress, the party which dominated national politics from independence until it was crushed in India’s 2014 election.