Furor over robbery plagues Africa’s oldest political movement

(Bloomberg) – The party that has governed South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994 is rocked by a scandal involving its leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, stalling its efforts to recover support lost during nine years of bad management by his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

The opposition want Ramaphosa to explain the theft of foreign currency from his game farm two years ago, a crime that only came to light this month and is currently being investigated by a unit special police investigation. The fury, which the president has done little to quell, is the latest blow to the African National Congress, which saw its share of the vote fall below 50% in last year’s municipal elections and fears losing its parliamentary majority in 2024.

The prospect of Africa’s most industrialized nation being ruled by a shaky alliance would be a wake-up call for investors, as it is unclear which partners the ANC would woo, what policy concessions it would make and what key positions it would hand over. . It is also possible that Ramaphosa, a 69-year-old lawyer and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, will be forced to resign and replaced by one of a number of sullied civil servants with less business-friendly leanings.

“The allegations against Ramaphosa are very bad for the ANC and send the message that all of its leaders are compromised,” said Ralph Mathekga, independent political analyst and author of “The ANC’s Last Decade”. “I see them forced to form a national coalition and forced to learn the principle of co-governance. We are in a very unstable government.

Arthur Fraser, a former South African spy chief and close Zuma ally, filed criminal charges against Ramaphosa last week, accusing him of covering up the theft of more than $4 million from his farm in the province. from North Limpopo in 2020 and alleging that the suspects were unlawfully detained and interrogated. The president confirmed the theft took place, said he had reported the matter and denied any wrongdoing, but his reluctance to discuss what happened has prompted accusations from parties of opposition that he broke the law.

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The revelations have dominated newspaper headlines and social media since they broke and three senior ANC officials, who are allies of Ramaphosa and who have asked not to be identified because they are not allowed to comment, said they were very worried it would not see its end. Opinion polls previously showed the president was far more popular than his party and his leadership was a major factor why he continued to retain support.

With roots dating back to 1912, the ANC is Africa’s oldest political movement. Its carefully nurtured reputation as the people’s party that toppled white minority rule was shredded during Zuma’s tenure, which was marred by political missteps, improper appointments and the alleged theft of billions of dollars from government. state coffers. The ANC finally forced him out in February 2018 and replaced him with Ramaphosa, who had taken control of the party two months earlier and identified the fight against corruption as a top priority.

A judicial commission that spent four years investigating what became known locally as the state capture placed Zuma, the three Gupta brothers who were his friends and in business with his son, and senior government officials. ANC at the center of malfeasance, and foresaw the party’s response to it.

“The ANC and the ANC government should be ashamed that this happened under their watch,” Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chaired the panel, said in a statement. “Where were they? What were they doing? Did they know everything and didn’t have the courage to stop President Zuma and his friends the Guptas for what they were doing? were they looking the other way?

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  • Meet the Guptas, Symbols of South African Corruption: QuickTake

Dubai police arrested two of the Gupta brothers this month after Interpol issued a notice asking for international assistance to track them down, and South Africa is seeking their extradition to stand trial. Even so, not a single senior politician has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the wave of looting and a number of those involved continue to hold ANC and government positions, and have openly opposed to Ramaphosa’s reform campaign.

The ANC admitted it was in trouble even before Fraser dropped its bombshell. In a discussion paper released ahead of a policy conference next month, the party admitted it was facing an “existential crisis” as its ranks had been infiltrated by “opportunists and careerists” eager to gain power and to the resources of the state, and that his position among the electorate has been defeated.

“Our back is against the wall. Something must be done to correct this situation,” Gwede Mantashe, ANC president and national mines minister, told a party meeting in the southern town of Gqeberha. “We servants of the ANC are arrogant, our egos can fill a house. This arrogance repels all members of society who believe in the ANC. »

The ANC’s saving grace has been the lack of a solid alternative. The main opposition leadership, the predominantly white Democratic Alliance, has struggled to gain ground in a country where 80% of the population is black, and has seen its share of the national vote drop to 20.8 % in 2019, compared to 22.2% five years earlier. The Economic Freedom Fighters, an offshoot of the ANC that advocates the nationalization of land, banks and mines, increased their support to 10.8% from 8.2% during this period, but struggled difficult to penetrate rural areas.

Political realignment

“We are in a period where our political system is undergoing profound change, which must necessarily lead to a realignment of political forces,” former president Kgalema Motlanthe, a senior ANC official, said in a webcast. hosted by the Center for Development and Enterprise. . “I don’t think the current political parties represent the future. I think the kind of formations that are going to move this country forward” have yet to emerge, he said.

Ramaphosa, who is up for re-election as ANC leader in December, said the ANC must tackle “indiscipline, factionalism and other deviant tendencies” and is adamant that that he can still redeem himself and win the 2024 vote.

“The time has come for us comrades to come up with more explicit rules on what kind of conduct prevents a person from becoming a leader of this movement,” he said at the rally in Gqeberha.

Whether the president himself falls into this category will become clearer as more details about the theft from his farm emerge.

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