JOHANNESBURG: With less than four weeks to go until South Africans vote in a general election, corruption scandals again threaten to tear open old rivalries within the long-governing African National Congress.
After 25 years in power, widespread graft allegations have tainted the ruling party, which forced out shamed former president Jacob Zuma last year.
Despite his replacement President Cyril Ramaphosa vowing to tackle corruption, new claims about the moral rot at the heart of Nelson Mandela’s party have emerged.
The latest in the firing line is the ANC’s Secretary General Ace Magashule, a key Zuma ally.
A recent book entitled “Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture” claims he was at the centre of a scheme to loot millions from state coffers for his own financial gain.
Magashule immediately denounced the allegations as lies, stating: “I am not corrupt.”
The party also quickly dismissed the book as “propaganda” and part of a “vicious character assassination campaign” ahead of the May 8 election.
But at a time when the ANC has faced criticism for including candidates implicated in corruption, not everyone towed the party line.
“I am not prepared to simply dismiss all the allegations as lies,” said Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, a close associate of Ramaphosa.
“Nor would most of my … comrades,” he added.
His comments, effectively breaking rank with the ANC, come as the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), puts the fight against corruption at the heart of its campaign.
“ANC corruption is now an established fact. Everyone is now convinced that ANC is rotten to its core and that it’s not going to change ever,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
Although Ramaphosa became ANC president on a clean-up ticket, several Zuma allies associated with graft have said they will seek election for the ruling party.
They include Nomvula Mokonyane, the environment minister who was recently implicated at a corruption enquiry, and Bathabile Dlamini, who was at the centre of a social welfare payments fiasco.
The inclusion of discredited ANC figures on the candidate list will hand ammunition to opposition parties, say analysts.
Despite the controversy, a recent survey still put the ANC on course to win more than half of the parliamentary seats.
The ANC currently holds 249 seats of 400, according to the parliament website, and Ramaphosa hopes it can still snare a parliamentary majority, which would enable him to win a five-year presidential term.
The key question, analysts say, is over the margin of victory for the ANC, which has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994, which saw the scrapping of white minority rule.
“We are not a dictatorship. We function in terms of the rule of law,” Ramaphosa said last week.
Two months ago the president set up a special tribunal to fast-track corruption prosecutions and he emphasised his commitment to the process.
“If there needs to be jail time, it must be jail time. Those who did wrong will be punished,” he said.
The promise to take action has not convinced everyone.
‘Not about the poor’
Lumkile Mondi, senior lecturer at Wits School of Economics and Business Science, said the ANC needs to show it can successfully tackle corruption.
“Most of us are sceptical, until I see one big ANC fish (in jail). It will be very positive for the country if one big fish is caught,” he said.
Life for most South Africans is a struggle, with sluggish economic growth, poor government management and corruption helping to ensure society remains deeply unequal.
Officially, the ANC has distanced itself from the Magashule case and Ramaphosa has been careful not to make public appearances with him.
But the party faithful are worried.
“He (Magashule) should resign because those allegations have an impact on the whole party,” said an activist in his Free State province, Fourie Sentimile, while also pledging his support to Ramaphosa.
Undaunted by the allegations against him, and concerns of ANC members, Magashule has continued to campaign as if nothing has happened.
“Let’s make sure we win this elections,” he said Thursday. “After elections… let us sit down, let us talk, let us build the ANC proper.”
The next day, Magashule received a message of support from Zuma, loathed by many others in the party and the country.
“Stay resolute during these times,” tweeted Zuma to Magashule.