South Africa

POLITICAL DYNAMICS OP-ED

Culture of corruption runs deep within the ANC, and shielding its members from accountability is the party’s choice

Culture of corruption runs deep within the ANC, and shielding its members from accountability is the party’s choice
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Harish Tyagi) | ANC supporters with a flag during a by-election campaign. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Corruption has become an essential part of the way politics is conducted within the ANC, which means any credible attempts to address it would require the party to take radical steps to change its culture and the way it operates.

Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter caused a stir when he said in an interview last week that “the pigs are at the trough at Eskom and the corruption goes right to the top of the ANC” (to borrow Justice Malala’s pithy summation). The interview outraged the ANC and its allies, with its secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, calling the claims of political meddling and corruption at the embattled Eskom “unfortunate, irresponsible and baseless”. 

I will leave it to others to opine on the wisdom of De Ruyter giving the interview, or on the extent to which he may or may not have been a failure as CEO of Eskom. What interests me here, rather, is to look beyond the immediate political dynamics at play, and reflect on what the vehement response from the ANC might tell us about the party’s longer-term efforts to address corruption within its ranks.  

One way to do so is to revisit parts of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. I am not referring to Part IV of the Zondo Commission report into State Capture at Eskom — although it does remind us just how endemic corruption at Eskom had become — but rather to Part VI of the report, which explains the inextricable link between ANC money politics and endemic corruption in South Africa, and casts doubt on the ability of the party to address the problem within its ranks.  

The report reminds us that the ANC itself has correctly identified the reasons for the party’s corruption problem. For example, the report quotes extensively from the ANC’s 2020 review of its Through the Eye of a Needle document, which warns that “money politics has put the ANC in a precarious position of risking being auctioned at all levels” and: “State and private resources are being used, thus making corruption to be an essential modus operandi of these transactional politics.” The report also quotes President Cyril Ramaphosa as saying not so long ago, “that there has been corruption, but that it is both continuing and pervasive, in government and in the party”. 

The ANC is unable or unwilling to hold its own members who have credibly been implicated in corruption accountable

This is a significant admission from within the party that corruption in the ANC is not merely a problem of “a few bad apples” within the party enriching themselves through corruption. Instead, corruption has become an essential part of the way politics is conducted within the party, which means any credible attempts to address it would require the party to take radical steps to change its culture and the way it operates.  

The problem can therefore not be fixed merely by prosecuting some of the perpetrators of corruption and hoping that this will lead to a fundamental change in attitudes towards corruption, and in the way in which politics is conducted within the party. (Given the scope of the problem, even a well-resourced and highly competent National Prosecuting Authority would not have been able to prosecute even 1% of all cases in which some form of corruption had occurred over the past 10 years.)  

If I am correct, the question is: What else could be done to fix the problem? To my mind, there are two possible solutions to the problem. One would be for the ANC to be voted out of office. The other would be for the ANC to fix itself, but this would require the party to go to war with a significant portion of its own members who are involved in the kinds of practices the party has identified as a problem. 

As the Zondo Commission report concludes, it is “abundantly clear from the evidence before the Commission, that for as long as the ANC is in power, the failure of the ANC successfully to reform and renew itself as undertaken by President Ramaphosa will render the South African state unable to rid itself of the scourge of State Capture and corruption. What is equally clear from the evidence is that such reform and renewal should take clear precedence over attempts to appease various competing factions within the governing party for the sake of party unity.” 


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Chances of ANC ‘renewal’ are slim

Unfortunately, the chances of the ANC “renewing” itself successfully are rather slim. While Ramaphosa told the State Capture Commission that the party was committed to eradicating corruption in the government and in the party, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo remained sceptical, pointing out that the ANC had been promising to fight corruption within the party for more than 20 years. Moreover, there has been no explanation from him as to “why the party’s previous attempts to deal with these problems have failed, and why any such attempts might now succeed”.  

The State Capture report identifies several factors for the failure of the ANC over the past 20 years to deal decisively with corruption and suggests that it is unlikely that the party will be able to do so now.  

Speaking specifically about the Zuma era, the report points out that important members of the ANC — those who held that balance of power — were against acting on matters of corruption and State Capture, and that they held enough power in the party to ensure corruption continued. One could argue that this is no longer the case, but as Stephen Grootes pointed out earlier this week, in December last year 40% of ANC delegates voted for corruption-implicated Zweli Mkhize at its recent conference, raising questions about the commitment of a very sizeable number of ANC members to the anti-corruption drive. 

By choosing not to discipline its members for corruption-related matters unless they have been prosecuted and found guilty by a court, the party has made a policy choice that in effect shields its members from accountability

Another, but related, problem identified in the report is the tendency within the ANC to conflate the interests of the party and the constitutionally enshrined public duty of those in government. Quoting Gwede Mantashe, the report concludes “that the ANC prioritises its own survival and strength over the interests of the country. It seems that Mr Mantashe was preoccupied with the survival of the ANC irrespective of what happened to the country and its economy.” 

The report does not mention this explicitly, but the retention of several corruption-tainted, as well as incompetent Cabinet ministers in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, is an obvious example of this tendency. Another is the tendency to “recycle” corruption-tainted party members who work at any level of government. For example, a municipal manager might resign from his or her job after disciplinary charges are instituted against them, only to be reappointed as city manager in another town governed by the party.  

Which brings me to the crux of the problem identified by the State Capture report: the ANC is unable or unwilling to hold its own members who have credibly been implicated in corruption accountable. Astonishingly, the report reveals that not a single party member had been disciplined at the national level for their involvement in corruption. (This finding is based on the records of the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee and National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal provided to the commission by the party.) 

Instead, the ANC has outsourced the responsibility to hold its members accountable to the Hawks and the NPA as the party’s position is that it will only act against a party member implicated in corruption after that member had been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced. Because these bodies remain underresourced and — despite some efforts to strengthen them — still largely inept, the ANC approach, in effect, shields the vast majority of its members from any accountability for their actions. (It is for this reason that party leaders who are prosecuted inevitably complain that they are being prosecuted for political reasons — another way to say that the party failed to protect them from prosecution.)  

The failure of the ANC to hold its members accountable is perfectly illustrated by the party’s response to the report of the State Capture Commission in which approximately 200 ANC members were implicated in some form of wrongdoing. While the ANC announced at the time that it had handed over a list of those members implicated in the report to the party’s Integrity Commission, and later announced that 97 of these members would be summoned to appear before the commission, no other action was taken against any of those implicated in the report.  

The Integrity Commission does not have the power to discipline any ANC member, although it can make recommendations, including recommendations for disciplinary action. However, the chances of any of the members summoned before the Integrity Commission being disciplined are rather slim, because so far, “there is no evidence that Integrity Commission recommendations have resulted in disciplinary action against any ANC member accused of corruption, save for recommendations that certain individuals should step aside from their positions on the NEC”.  

The ANC justified its failure to hold its members accountable by arguing that it could not discipline its members for corruption unless they had been convicted of a criminal offence. Justice Zondo rejected this argument, pointing out that the “ANC disciplinary bodies have their own standards for proof of misconduct and their own appeals process”, and deal “with many types of misconduct, which are not dependent on criminal convictions”.  

By choosing not to discipline its members for corruption-related matters unless they have been prosecuted and found guilty by a court, the party has made a policy choice that in effect shields its members from accountability. In the long run, this may not be in the party’s best interest. 

But as the Zondo Commission report points out: “This is a risk that the party, by failing to discipline those accused of corruption, has deemed acceptable. This certainly does not augur well for the prevention of corruption in the future. Nor does it give positive reassurance that State Capture will not recur.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Tx, Pierre. As ever, clear and concise. Anyone who votes for ANC in 24 does so because they want a place at the trough. Finish and clear.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    We should accept that the State remains captured, since nothing of any substance has been done to ‘uncapture’ it. Indeed, it is more fully captured now than it was during the Gupta feeding frenzy. And it will remain so regardless of who wins the election. Beating the ANC at the ballot will not magically ‘uncapture’ the State and the dozens of municipalities under control of its cadres.

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    You have to go a long way back to find a time when the ANC genuinely believed in its own lofty principles. Jacob Zuma had no difficulty in weakening the moral framework of the movement to the point where its conscience simply withered and died. And as anyone knows, you can do nothing with a dead vine.

  • Ian Dewar says:

    As the original flag-bearer for the liberation struggle how the hell can the ANC survive its self-inflicted loss of struggle ethics? Right now I just cannot see how.

  • Johan says:

    We might have coalitions governing SA after the 2024 elections. Instability in such coalitions have repeatedly been demonstrated in various metros. What role does and will money from the mafia bosses play in fueling this instability?

    One remedy to corruption is through the ballot box. But it will only be a solution if anti-corruption parties gain a clear majority. These anti-corruption parties are marked not only by stance or words, but by a track record of anti-corrution actions.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    Thanks Pierre. Very interesting!
    Perhaps you can comment on this clause under Section 34 of PRECCA since suddenly it seems ANC officials are threatening to lay charges under this section.
    “Any person who holds a position of authority and who knows or ought reasonably
    to have known or suspected that any other person has committed…. corruption”.
    This is a tough requirement because it implies that Ramaphosa cannot say he didn’t know and is hence immune from prosecution under this section because, due to his position, HE OUGHT REASONABLY TO HAVE KNOWN. And that also applies to the Mininsters Gordhan and Mantashe and I’m sure a whole bunch others. In my understanding, this clause was built in specifically to deal with people in authority in positions of authority who turn a blind eye to corruption and pretend they didn’t know when it was right under their noses.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    The concept of “its our turn to eat”, and various spin-offs, permeate South African society. Much of it hinges on a sense of victimhood due to the legacy of colonialism and apartheid; the unresolved “land issue” etc. There is a worrying amount of criminal celebrities on social media – gangsters indulging in conspicuous consumption and showing off with their ill-gotten gains with sizable followings. The rot is deeper and more widespread than the ANC; it manifests in every sphere of national and regional government as well as businesses and communities; it is a national crisis. We need to talk more openly about South Africans embracing and celebrating criminality. Just focusing on the ANC is going to leave us with more pain for decades.

  • Gregory Michael Van Der Krol says:

    “Nor does it give positive reassurance that State Capture will not recur.” – But it is recurring – it is just continuing with the ANC having captured the State and using the State purse / contracts / SOE’s to enrich its members.

  • Rory Short says:

    That people need to eat is undoubtedly true but the question is from which trough, the trough filled by corruption or the trough filled by enterprise. Corruption cannot sustain itself as it is dependent on enterprise whereas the trough filled by enterprise is continuously replenished.

  • Johnny Kessel says:

    Is all of this news? I mean how else do we think have they funded the patronage over the decades? The ANC responses are damaging, especially in the way they continuously deny objective reality and their incessant gaslighting. It is as if, as an organization, they suffer from a cluster B personality disorder. This is plain and simply abuse, and is extremely damaging to the psyche of South Africans.

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