South Africa


ANC’s anti-corruption ‘storm’ – all Sound & Fury, signifying… anything?

ANC’s anti-corruption ‘storm’ – all Sound & Fury, signifying… anything?
From left, ANC MP Bongani Bongo, Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa and member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature and former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. (Photos: Flickr / GCIS) | Flickr / NYDA_RSA | Gallo / Jackie Clausen)

In public, senior leaders and members of the ANC appear to support the party’s statement that those implicated in corruption must ‘stand aside’. But no one has actually done so or even given the impression of willingness to do so.

Just last week, the ANC’s top six national officials said they were “drawing a line in the sand” and that the party would no longer tolerate corruption. This was seen by many as a turning point, indicating that the party was going to mend its ways. Just days later, however, there are already signs of… things still being the same, despite what appears to have been the strongest possible backing for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fiery rhetoric.

Some ANC officials have already refused to define the meaning of “step aside”, while no one, as yet, has actually resigned from their position. It is now possible that a much worse scenario is on the cards.

Last Monday’s almost unprecedented briefing by the ANC’s top officials saw Ramaphosa saying starkly that there would be no tolerance for corruption. He was speaking after a meeting of the National Executive Committee. Crucially, that meeting resolved that:

“Cadres of the ANC who are formally charged with corruption or other serious crimes must immediately step aside from all leadership positions in the ANC, legislatures or other government structures pending the finalisation of their cases. The officials, as mandated, will develop guidelines and procedures on implementation, and the next National Working Committee (NWC) meeting will review progress. In cases where this has not happened, such individuals will be instructed to step aside.”

In the hours after the briefing, the meaning of “stepping aside” appeared obvious. It meant step down, remove yourself and leave the position that you were in if you are charged with corruption. It seemed, again, at the time, that this meant Bongani Bongo would have to leave his positions in Parliament (as an MP and as chair of the Home Affairs Committee), while Zandile Gumede would have to vacate her position as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature. It would also mean that Andile Lungisa would have to quit his position as a councillor in Nelson Mandela Bay.

But, so far, none of these obvious and necessary moves have happened.

On Monday morning the Parliamentary spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, confirmed that in the case of Bongo “we’ve not received any resignation”. On the same day, the KwaZulu-Natal legislature’s spokesperson, Wesley Canham, was asked if Gumede was still a member of that body. He confirmed that: “She’s still a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Bongo himself had said he would not yet step down. He said that this was because he needed instructions from his movement, and that there were legalities involved.

There is other evidence of what might well be seen by some as an attempt to water down or dilute the resolution’s impact/meaning.

As early as Wednesday last week, the ANC’s head of Presidency, Sibongile Besani, refused to give a definition of what “step aside” actually meant in practice. Speaking to SAfm, he refused to say if this meant that people would have to leave their posts.

Besani is technically in Ramaphosa’s corner, as he runs the president’s office. But some will point to his history as the provincial secretary in the Free State ANC during the time Ace Magashule was its chair and ask questions about political loyalties.

A number of the practicalities have become apparent. If, for example, the currently on-special-leave Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku doesn’t vote in the Gauteng legislature, the ANC in that province does not have enough votes to pass any measure, and could even lose a vote of confidence. It could even be possible, theoretically, that Masuku’s wife, Loyiso Masuku, who is also on special leave, could be in the same situation in Joburg, as the ANC is governing with the help of other parties there, and could lose a tight vote without her in the chamber. 

Are these leaders so weak that they do not have the power to implement their own decision, or are they simply lying, biding their time until something else happens to divert the public’s attention?

But despite the problem with the practicalities, Ramaphosa does appear to have very strong support from Deputy President David Mabuza.

Mabuza published an opinion piece in the Sunday Times at the weekend. Again, that is almost unprecedented.

In the piece, he said that the time has come “for those who opt to define themselves in contrast to the values and ethos of the ANC, to leave”.

He also said:

“We draw a line in the sand against the practice of recalling leaders without having conducted any assessment of their contribution towards the implementation of the popular mandate, but merely for the advancement of factional motives.”

This may well be seen as the strongest possible support for Ramaphosa, that Mabuza is suggesting it would be wrong for anyone to even suggest removing Ramaphosa.

However, Mabuza goes on to say:

“We must thus commit to support, strengthen and capacitate the integrity commission so that it can play an effective role in the rebuilding of our organisational values.”

Seen from outside the ANC, this does appear to be a vital step, as one of the major problems with the current situation is that while the Integrity Commission can make recommendations, these go to the NEC for “processing”. And the NEC can override those decisions. Being a political body, this means that objectivity around accusations of corruption goes out the window.

But within the ANC there is a very different side to this: while Mabuza now says that the Integrity Commission must be strengthened, he himself has unfinished business with the body. Last week he appeared to say, during that Top Six briefing, that he had given his side of the story and that was that. But, so far as is publicly known, the commission has said that it has not cleared him. He certainly appears to have a case to answer. 

So far then, it appears that in public, senior leaders and members of the ANC support the idea that those who are implicated in corruption must “stand aside”. But no one has actually done so, or even given the impression of willingness to do so.

Are these leaders so weak that they do not have the power to implement their own decision, or are they simply lying, biding their time until something else happens to divert the public’s attention?

The NEC has in fact been ignored in the past: Lungisa simply refused to step down from his position despite being ordered to do so 18 months ago. It seems likely that he knew he could disobey the ANC’s top executive body’s decision with a sense of impunity, because the NEC was divided.

This current situation, where again words are spoken but actions are still not taken, suggests the same dynamic may be at play. Ramaphosa and Mabuza are speaking, but only one of them means what they are saying. And everyone knows that all of these processes have to be managed by the secretary-general’s office. Thus, Bongo, Lungisa and Gumede could simply stay where they are.

Should this continue, there is the prospect that last week’s decisions are never implemented and become meaningless. Which would mean there is no deterrent to anyone in the party committing more corruption in the future. Ramaphosa is no doubt aware of the danger of never again being believed or feared. This is an opportunity he must not miss. It is that important. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    The sooner the President realises that the ANC cannot be salvaged, the better for the country.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Nash. He’ll miss it. Again

  • Andrew Wright says:

    We all know the problems with “lines in the sand”. As soon as the tide come in, they disappear. I guess that is why the phrase is so popular with politicians (& journos & commentators) – it does not signify permanence at all, in fact the opposite, but it “appears” to mean something quite different.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Thanks Stephen, that set out what “drawing in the sand” means to out illustrious ANC politicians. They need a rough ride in the next elections.

  • Mike Griffiths says:

    When will we learn? The ANC is a crooked institution and the rot runs into the roots. There is no chance it can redeem itself. Unless the voters (many of which, sadly, are already compromised) realise that salvation can only come through another government we are all destined to sink. The crooks have had it too good they are certainly not about to do anything as stupid as going straight.

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