The degeneration of the African National Congress (ANC), Africa’s oldest and most prominent freedom-fighting organisation and political party has continued apace. Earlier in the year, South Africa’s former head of intelligence, Authur Fraser, revealed that president Ramaphosa failed to report the theft of about $4 million in cash, in his farmhouse in northern Limpopo province. Ramaphosa was said to have stashed the money in his couch and under a mattress – and when the theft was discovered, he tried to cover up the crime and pay off the criminals. Ramaphosa did not deny the theft but said the money was “the proceeds from the sale of games”.
An investigation was ordered and last week the report indicted the president for breaking the law by covering up the theft at his farm. Although the report is headed to parliament and impeachment proceedings are bound to follow, the ANC has provided the president with a brief respite. The party’s leadership has directed its Members of Parliament, who form the majority, to vote against the adoption of the report while the president challenges the report in the country’s Constitutional Court.
Five years after the euphoria of electing a supposedly competent, corruption-free Mandela ally as president of the ANC to reset the party and the country, end corruption, and improve the efficiency of state enterprises and service delivery in general, there is now a feeling of déjà vu – that peculiar feeling of disappointment that all the hopes and enthusiasm were all misplaced.
It is now becoming clear that the degeneration of the ANC was not just a Zuma phenomenon but deeply rooted. In an earlier article, I traced the problem of corruption in the ANC to the end of apartheid, in 1994, during the leadership of the venerable Nelson Mendela when it accepted the principle of black economic empowerment (BEE) and subsequently adopted and codified it in 2001. At its core, the policy sought to use the powers of the newly captured state to direct intervention in the redistribution of assets and opportunities and deracialize the control of the economy or resolve the wide economic disparity created by apartheid policies that favoured only white business owners.
While the policy was rammed through, selling a few of the SOEs to blacks, the majority of the beneficiaries were ANC apparatchiks. That began the practice of seeing all government parastatals, in the words of Roger Southall, a sociology professor at the University of Witwatersrand, as “sites of transformation”, effectively opening them up to wanton corruption and a legitimate means of wealth accumulation by all cadre of the ANC membership. The revelations by the Zondo Commission bears this out. “Many of South Africa’s SOEs have been left on the verge of financial collapse because of tender fraud linked to ANC members who were deployed to senior positions”.
Of course, Zuma’s tenure epitomizes the level of rot and decay in the ANC. Under him, the term “state capture” was added to the political lexicon of South Africa, describing a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage.
The recall of Jacob Zuma and the election of Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 did not signal a repudiation of his policies or the corruption bazaar he superintended. It was rather a strategic reaction to mollify a clearly disenchanted electorate.
Granted Ramaphosa’s reputation is now in tatters with calls for his resignation growing louder, the ANC would be making the greatest mistake in its history by replacing him with the vice president, David Mabuza, a staunch Zuma ally. The vice president’s corruption resume is as solid, if not worse than Zuma’s. He’s accused of building and running a network of political patronage by corruptly awarding contracts when he was premier of Mpumalanga, to strengthen his power base within the ANC. Besides accusations of monumental corruption, he’s also widely known for, and accused of assassinating political opponents. A staunch Zuma loyalist, Mr Mabuza smartly switched his support at the last minute to enable the emergence of Cyril Ramaphosa instead of Zuma’s preferred candidate to the presidency of the party, thus winning himself the deputy presidency of the party and the country in return.
What about the General Secretary of the party? Ace Magashule, also another Zuma loyalist, has been under suspension and facing corruption charges since 2020. These corrupt elements are the real power brokers within the party and they have prevented any real reforms, at each point threatening Ramaphosa with removal from office as leader of the party and country.
South Africa is in a very bad place right now. It either sticks with Ramaphosa or surrenders to the vultures waiting on the wings to privatise and cannibalise the state. Despite his misdemeanor, Cyril Ramaphosa is the only half-sane individual standing between this brood of vipers and South Africa’s commonwealth. But even beyond Ramaphosa’s phala phala scandal, the ANC’s leadership elections in the coming weeks, will decide the fate of the party and the country in the coming years.