Opinionista Omphemetse S Sibanda 11 May 2021

Factional splits in the ANC are an entertaining sideshow to the real issue facing the party – corruption

The country is fed up with corruption and corrupt practices. It is depressing watching or hearing news about corruption at the Zondo Commission and knowing how rampant corruption is in our country. Fighting corruption should be a fight taken up by all of us, using all available resources, including the power of the vote in the next local government elections.

So much has been written about the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on the weekend of 8 and 9 May 2021, which was supposedly about intraparty discussions and issue-oriented debates and self-analysis by the party. Thanks to the leaked audio of the presentation by different members of the NEC it was finally revealed that the country’s once-famous liberation movement is now swimming in a vortex of interfactional power struggles. The presentation of Dakota Legoete, NEC member, was telling as it raised the gamut of comments, including about the role of the ANC in service delivery and clean government.

However, selectivity in reporting reared its head as the issue of factionalism in the ANC and possible splits dominated media discussions and reports. Factionalism, a well-known global pathology of politics, was indeed on full display. The history of factionalism in South Africa, including bitter ones that led to the formation of new parties, is well documented. Ivor Sarakinsky and Ebrahim Fakir, for instance, point to the “emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) from the bitter conflict marking the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane Conference.”

Another notable breakaway party from the ANC is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which itself soon became the victim of factionalism and a resultant breakaway by Andile Mngxitama who formed the Black First Land First (BFLF) party.

The African Democratic Change (ADeC) was also chipping off bits of the ANC when formed by Dr Makhosi Khoza in 2017 after she was removed as an ANC member of Parliament. History is replete with political factionalism that led to infamous political party splits. For instance, the formation of the National Party (NP) in 1914, led by General JBM Hertzog, which articulated issues of autonomy and equal language rights for English and Afrikaans, later split in 1935, when DF Malan left Hertzog’s NP to form the Gesuiwerde (purified) NP.

The original formation of the Democratic Alliance (DA), what Sarakinsky and Fakir call “a political entity that represented a marriage of convenience between the Democratic Party (DP), the New National Party (NNP) – successor to the apartheid-era National Party – and the lesser-known Federal Alliance (FA)” is another notable breakaway party. 

Perhaps the almost exclusive interest by the media in the ANC factionalism is because even former president Thabo Mbeki warned the NEC members of the implosion and splitting of the ANC. In the leaked audio, Mbeki could be heard asking: “Do we still have an organisation called the ANC?”

There is a line of thought that in some instances “factions can serve as a transmission belt for bargaining processes, conflict resolution and consensus building within parties. The formation and further development of factions can also have participation-widening and mobilising effects for party members and supporters – especially, but not only, when it comes to internal elections. The existence of different power groups within a party can contribute to linking different social groups to the party and thus to strengthening the inclusionary character of the party,” according to Patrick Köllner and Mathias Basedau in a working paper published in 2005 under the auspices of the German Overseas Institute (DÜI).

But who cares about factionalism in the ANC or in any political party for that matter? There is much to care about, particularly when factionalism and a possible split of the ruling party is threatening to plunge the country into a state of disarray.

For ordinary citizens at least the following issues should have stood out of the weekend fracas: How the ANC as the governing party intends to deal with corruption and corrupt practices, particularly in the context of the ongoing revelations at the Zondo Commission related to the alleged complicity of ANC members in corrupt practices; combating the seemingly rising white-collar crime by the political elites; the ANC’s commitment to ensuring criminal conduct accountability within a political environment and its political frame; and whether our political leaders or leaders of political parties in South Africa have the requisite ethical, legal and moral compass to steer the country on the path of good governance.

Our nostalgic mood to see the ANC saved from self-authored implosion and the apparent belief that the only party that governs South Africa is the ANC must not blind us to the urgent challenges faced by the country. Anyway, one sees no better alternative to the ANC if we are to consider what is best for the country.

The failings of the ANC could not have been explicated or laid bare better than it was by its members. Legoete, for instance, bemoaned the ANC as a liability to the nation which is failing to deal with key and pressing needs of our country including service delivery, jobs, investment and infrastructure roll-out. Legoete confessed, perhaps correctly so, that we are stuck as a nation with a litany of corrupt leaders.

The issue of corruption and corrupt practices, including white-collar crimes allegedly committed by those in a leadership position and the political elites, cannot be swept under the rug for political expediency.

This is, at least, my reading of the argument of Legoete at the NEC. The controversy of the step-aside cacophony aside, the reality is that corruption is endemic in our society and our leaders are complicit in it. What we have seen so far is that populists are going out of their way to praise “the good people” and demonise those they regard as a “corrupt elite”. But no one ever thinks of the little person and their constitutional rights such as the right to food security, water, housing and shelter.

One South African political analyst has argued that the fracas currently engulfing the ANC has nothing to do with the ideological spectrum and differences within the party itself. What is it about then? Dominant at the ANC NEC, according to these leaked recordings, is that there is an aura of dishonesty of the political elites when it comes to corruption. White-collar crimes by the political elites also dovetail with corruption. The link between white-collar crime and corruption is that it involves “the use of a violator’s position of significant power, influence or trust in the legitimate order for the purpose of illegal gain, or to commit an illegal act for personal or organisational gain”.

The genie is out of the bottle

Unfortunately for the ANC and the country, we now know from the leaked audio that there are allegedly numerous corrupt individuals within the ANC. The genie has already left the bottle and cannot be put back securely. Although the illegal and ethically dubious manner in which the NEC discussions came to public attention is a concern, important discussions around corruption and corrupt practices still need to take place.

So far the Zondo Commission has exposed corruption and allegations of corruption as a reality in South Africa. A possible criminal conspiracy among some of our leaders is a concern if allegations at the commission are true.

For instance, during his appearance before the commission on 3 May 2021, former Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) CEO Lucky Montana alleged that it was a common practice for Prasa to receive requisitions for donations from the ANC. 

A report submitted by Government and Public Policy (GAPP) titled “Making Sense of State Capture in South Africa”, and recently critically analysed in Daily Maverick, detailed how monies have been siphoned from state agencies, as well as the capture of state agencies.

Accountability remains critical

Sensational stories about ANC infighting and fears of the possible split of the party make a good read and interesting news on any given day. After all, the ANC is the ruling party and one of the oldest liberation movements in the country that spearheaded the liberation of the country from the clutches of immoral apartheid laws and practices.

When all political debates are exhausted, the issue of respect for the law and accountability must be highlighted as needing urgent attention. Revelations in the GAPP report, for example, are that some of our leaders on the political spectrum have long breached their fiduciary duty to the country to such an extent that they view such breaches as acceptable. This is a great source of the indictment as to whether we are a country of laws or a country of men.

Why are we not seeing prosecutions of corruption and white-collar crime increasing in volume and visibility? The NPA’s Investigative Directorate reports that it is on the brink of a major inroad in dealing with State Capture crimes. Perhaps, finally, we will see a series of Big Fish taking the stand in our criminal courts – not only from the ANC but all political parties and political elites.

The following is an example in support of the need for accountability: The late Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, in an audit outcomes report for local government for the period 2018-19 titled “Not much to go around, yet not the right hands at the till”, warned of “very weak accountability and the consequent exposure to abuse of the public purse” in local government. For instance, Makwetu reported accountability failures by senior management, municipal managers, mayors, internal audit units, audit committees, municipal public accounts committees and councils in North West are indicative of ill-discipline in financial control. Irregular expenditure totalling R3.7-billion in municipalities in the province during the period under audit makes it clear that the total lack of decent service delivery in towns like Ottosdal is attributable to corrupt practices and lack of accountability.

“All municipalities [in North West] continued to have findings on non-compliance with laws and regulations relating to procurement and contract management, specifically in the areas that result in unauthorised, irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure. As a result, irregular expenditure increased by a further R3.7-billion (2017-18: R4.3 billion) in 2018-19”, stated the report (p115).

Unfortunately, several arguments seem to appear that militate against accountability within the ANC itself. Suspended former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo has argued that some of the parts of the step-aside rule are inconsistent with the law and must therefore be removed or suspended.

I hasten to argue that as food for thought, ANC members are doing themselves and the organisation a favour by selectively supporting the rule of law and the laws of the Republic. It may appear opportunistic to argue that the step-aside rule must be suspended because it may not be consistent with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic. Any organisational renewal must also include a complete overhaul of the ruling party’s policies and principles that are contrary to or conflicting with the Constitution and the country’s laws, instead of waiting to make an argument for respect for the supremacy of the Constitution when the paw paw has already hit the fence.

The country is fed up with corruption

Vulnerable South Africans are generally not properly fed – if you allow me to use a bit of an exaggeration. For instance, though the fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2020) suggests that South Africa is not among the 55 countries grappling with acute hunger, study after study highlights the problem of food insecurity, with scores of people going hungry and children not fed. The recently released fifth annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2021) paints a grim emergency picture of acute food insecurity estimates and drivers in South Africa, for example.

“The number of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) was 1.2 million. The situation was worst in KwaZulu-Natal province, with 535,000 people, or 5% of the population, in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Large numbers of people were also in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in Gauteng province (586,000) as well as in the Western Cape (36,000) and Free State (3,800). An additional 14.8 million (25% of the analysed population) were in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In the January–March 2021 lean season, the number of people in Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 or above) was expected to rise to 11.8 million. This includes 2.2 million in Emergency (IPC Phase 4)”, reports GRFC 2021 (p44).

Without necessarily endorsing the view of Legoete at the NEC about political divisions in the ANC, he pointed to how political wrangling and corruption has robbed the country of constitutionally mandated rights and entitlements such as proper service delivery.

One thing is for sure though: The country is fed up with corruption and corrupt practices. It is depressing watching or hearing news about corruption at the Zondo Commission and knowing how rampant corruption is in our country. Fighting corruption should be a fight taken up by all of us, using all available resources, including the power of the vote in the next local government elections.

On the other hand, our criminal justice system led by the NPA must grow the backbone to deal with corruption. Further, our courts must pass appropriate judgments capable of dissuading the degradation of the rule of law. Anti-corruption campaigns and political speeches and rhetoric will never be enough as these are just hot air with great appeal to the vulnerable.

The country has so many unarticulated challenges, some suppressed through intellectual complacency and political expediency. I can go on and on to speak to the different types of corruption and corrupt practices including but not limited to favouritism in public procurement, abuse of public office, conflict of interest, clientelism and nepotism.

It is important to be alive to debates around South African party politics and factional battles, particularly within the ruling ANC and leading opposition parties like the DA and the EFF. However, discourses that corruption and corrupt practices are running amok should not be relegated as being less important than the fear of the ANC splitting.

“Factionalism and corruption could kill the ANC – unless it kills both first.” This is the title of an article that appeared in The Conversation exactly two years ago on 12 May 2019. “The Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is now unravelling just how deeply corruption has eaten into the fabric of the ruling party. It has had a negative impact on service delivery and undermined public trust in the ANC and government”, Professor Christopher Isike noted in that article.

If the ANC splits, it can rebuild, but the devastation of corruption and corrupt practices will be with us for many generations to come. DM


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All Comments 17

  • Brilliant article Prof., and how true your words. I do however believe that state capture was started by a totally corrupt person, Zuma, even before he became president, and ANC members followed him like sheep. Zuma’s actions resulted in a large number of people believing its OK to be corrupt.

  • To stop the tide, Zuma must be charged for treason. And then the NPA can move fast to start charging all those other implicated. It is then that the broader public will start to react, giving little space for other potential corrupt individuals, inside and outside the ANC.

  • Today’s DM snippet “Braille was originally used as a means for French spies to communicate in the dark.” This explains why Braile is so popular in South Africa, with our ESKOM’s stellar performance.

  • I would say that the real corruption started under Mbeki as he showed how it is possible to steal billions with zero consequences. That succeeded because the SAPS, the NPA and parliament had been dumbed down. Jacob Zuma followed that example together with a whole new batch of rent seekers.

  • The only way to deal with this is through a properly functioning criminal justice system and good parliamentary oversight. If minimum sentences without parole were 30 years then people might think twice before committing any crime.

  • Corruption really took off with the Arms Deal under Mbeki. How did the Guptas start having so much influence over the ANc? According to a witness at State Capt Com, A Gupta brother was on Mbeki’s Int. Advisory Panel- hence giving them credibility. If true this is where State Capture started

      • Undoubtedly Mandela was president at the time but he relied heavily on Mbeki as his deputy and I believe that Mbeki and that horror story that was minister of defence arranged the arms deal. Mandela didn’t agree with it but turned a blind eye to it, particularly when money arrived out of nowhere.

  • A split in the ANC would surely relate to attitudes to corruption. Where will electoral support for the more corruption tolerant part come from? A split is to be welcomed, not feared. Renewal requires skin shedding. The party is unhealthily dominant anyway.

  • A well articulated take on corruption, especially bedeviling the parties in government. The end mentions the crucial role of the judicial system. Note the investigation into the ‘report’ by the judges clearing the arms deal, indicates problems with some judges also! & what of some auditing firms?

  • Excellent article spelling out the realities of the ANC as a corrupt ineptokleptocracy in which a culture of prebendalism is embedded.

  • I am tired of hearing that we have no alternative to the ANC in government. What nonsense! “Alternative” parties are in government at local level and they are doing well. The ANC has lost the moral high ground and they should feel the consequences at the ballot booth.


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