The African National Congress is facing a meltdown of terrifying proportions out in the provinces. There are two assaults on the soul of the party: in the one, powerful party bosses like John Block in the Northern Cape and David Mabuza in Mpumalanga are running the party – and the province – like their personal fiefdoms, to be looted at will.
In the other, factional battles within the ANC are playing out in extreme ways. A few days ago, former ANC mayor of Rustenburg Matthew Wolmarans and his bodyguard were jailed for the murder of ANC councillor and whistleblower Moss Phakoe in 2009. In Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, political assassinations are starting to multiply – and it’s not different parties killing each other. This is all happening within the ANC.
The alarm bell that has been shrieking ceaselessly in the ANC has come from outside the party proper: its political ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, eulogised Phakoe in City Press. He wrote: “Moss Phakoe’s tragic story provides a shocking insight into the crisis of crime and corruption in our country. He sacrificed his life for blowing the whistle on corruption in the Bojanala Platinum District Municipality in North West.
“Just before his assassination, Phakoe handed Wolmarans a dossier that implicated numerous politicians in acts of corruption in the municipality. He also had evidence of fraud in North West drought-relief projects. R33-million had been allocated for drought relief, but none of the money reached the communities in need. Instead, it was siphoned off through companies,” Vavi wrote.
The reason why Wolmarans and his bodyguard are behind bars today is because North-West Cosatu secretary Solly Phetoe led a campaign to bring Phakoe’s killers to justice, the general secretary said. The situation for this man got so fraught that Cosatu hired bodyguards to protect him. And still, the rot goes deeper. Vavi mentioned even more instances of corruption in that province.
“Former Madibeng municipal manager Philemon Mapulane was arrested and charged with fraud and corruption for allegedly receiving bribes for tenders worth R100-million,” he said. “Other Madibeng officials have been arrested and charged, and no fewer than 28 cases of fraud and theft involving amounts ranging from R61,000 to R30-million are being investigated.” And this is just one province.
In Mpumalanga, political assassinations are all too common. Caswell Maluleke, a council speaker in Ehlanzeni, was shot 14 times in April 2000. He was the mayor of Bushbuckridge at the time and had been appointed to help re-establish the bankrupt and destroyed Bohlabela District Municipality in Limpopo. In 2009, Mbombela speaker Jimmy Mohlala was killed after he blew the whistle on tender corruption around the construction of the World Cup stadium in that city. Last year, Ehlanzeni chief whip John Ndlovu was murdered.
In KwaZulu Natal, a similar trend is emerging. The province is usually cast as homogenous and aligned in one purpose – to anoint ANC president Jacob Zuma for a second time. Yet, all is not as it seems. The Mail & Guardian interviewed a party member in the province who said that he carried a gun wherever he went in case one of his own party members attacked him.
“That ANC comrades in the province are packing heat to defend themselves against their ‘own’ indicates that the political temperature has reached boiling point: there have been three assassinations, allegedly political, in the province in just more than a year and a half, which debunks the notion that politics in the region is homogenous,” the M&G said.
“Several provincial ANC members said the political landscape was just a few bullets and funerals away from ‘Mpumalangaisation’, a reference to the province where political murders are nearly as commonplace as potholes.”
In the case of figures like John Block, the troubles take on a different form. Block was arrested and is being tried for widespread corruption. Yet he enjoyed the support of large groups at his trial, and even the premier Hazel Jenkins. At this point, there is absolutely no indication that Block is going to be kicked out of the party.
On 20 July, the ANC’s PR machine released a statement on Wolmarans. It said: “The ANC values (the) lives of all South Africans and is disappointed that a senior member of the organisation who has served in important positions as a PEC member and a Mayor in the North West has been found guilty of the murder of a whistle blower and a fellow ANC Councillor. It is not only disgusting, it also erodes the values on which the ANC is founded: values of interpreting selflessness and respect for one another and respect for life. Corruption has no place in the ANC or its government at all levels. We are therefore disgusted that in the court proceedings it emerged that Comrade Phakoe was murdered with intentions to cover corruption.”
The feeling that the ANC would not have made a big deal of Wolmarans’s arrest had Cosatu not intervened hangs thickly in the air.
For now, the country has been spared the murderous appetites of the provincial bosses at the national level. Luthuli House leaders merely content themselves with polluting the state security apparatus with political infighting. Heaven forbid that the ANC’s provincial tendencies should find their way to Luthuli House. We’d all be in trouble.
We needn’t wait for the provincial bosses to find their way to the national level – questions ought to be asked of the top party bosses right now. Why are they continuing to entertain unspeakable corruption and criminality in the provinces? The answer could, of course, lie in the vulnerability of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency. Elected by a motley crew of people who were rejected by Thabo Mbeki, he can’t exactly be seen to be lashing out against any one factional leader. He can’t lead a move to eject Block out of the party, lest he frighten the likes of Mpumalanga’s Mabuza. We all have to wait for Cosatu – easily the most powerful bloc in the tripartite alliance, when all its affiliates sing from the same hymn sheet – to start applying pressure before the ANC moves itself.
Vavi’s frustration at the current state of events is fundamental. “The worst problem of all is the emergence of death squads. Political killings are on the rise, in particular in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. If this continues, anyone who speaks out will be silenced, the entire state will be auctioned to the highest bidder and we shall be well on our way to becoming a corrupt banana republic,” he raged.
We’ve said before that as much as the public hates Cosatu during strike season, the federation often acts as the last bastion against corruption in the ANC. Cosatu balances out the powers of the “political hyenas” in the party. No matter what your politics are, you have to acknowledge that we have a lot to be grateful for as far as the unions are concerned.
But again we ask: why is the ANC waiting to be prodded by Cosatu before curbing the largesse of its corrupt regional bosses? DM
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