Defend Truth


ANC’s failed step-aside rule a dead letter destined for the dustbin of history


Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now.

The impact of leaving questionable names on the ANC election lists is not to be underestimated. The veterans and aristocracy of the ANC may baulk at being represented by those who should be in ill-fitting orange garb.

It seems doubtful that the ANC leadership will do anything constructive to prevent its current crop of suspects in corruption-related criminal matters from standing for election in the upcoming national and provincial elections on 29 May 2024 through allowing their names to appear on ANC candidate lists.

According to press reports, neatly summarised in Legalbrief Today on 6 March 2024:

“The ANC’s highest decision-making body has handed President Cyril Ramaphosa and the party’s top brass powers to decide the fate in the party of those accused of graft. And NEC members Zweli Mkhize, Bathabile Dlamini and Gwede Mantashe and eThekwini regional chairperson Zandile Gumede have made it onto the list of party leaders destined for Parliament, despite being implicated in serious offences.

“Legalbrief reports that the ruling party’s elite on Monday debated the guidelines for candidature ahead of the Friday deadline for submitting candidate lists to the Electoral Commission of SA. Business Day reports that the decision to put the matter in the hands of Ramaphosa will test his determination to recast the ANC as a party that is serious about fighting corruption and restoring trust.

“The decision will also test the party’s unity and cohesion, as well as its commitment to fighting corruption and State Capture. Two party heavyweights, national chair Gwede Mantashe and deputy secretary-general Nomvula Mokonyane, were implicated for having benefited from State Capture. Other prominent members mentioned in Raymond Zondo’s State Capture Report include Malusi Gigaba, Vincent Smith, Winnie Ngwenya, David Mahlobo, Siyabonga Cwele, Faith Muthambi and Mildred Oliphant.”

Bad Vibes

Ramaphosa dismissed Mkhize from his Cabinet when the Digital Vibes case, still pending in court, placed the ANC’s former Treasurer General under a dense cloud of corruption allegations.

Mkhize continues to serve as an ANC MP. Dlamini is a convicted perjurer. Gumede currently graces the dock in a criminal court, as does Vincent Smith. The others named above by Legalbrief have all come in for criticism in the Zondo Commission’s report. Most now dwell under no more than a cloud of suspicion with only two of those named actually facing pending criminal charges at present.

There is very little wiggle room available to those tasked with finalising the list.

The step-aside rule of the ANC is an internal policy of the ANC which requires members charged with corruption or other serious crimes voluntarily to “step aside” from participation in party and government activities, or face suspension. It is now a dead letter, but it has an interesting history.

The origin of the rule is in a 2015 National General Council (NGC) meeting of the ANC. The background to the introduction of the rule is that during the presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009–2018), political corruption in the ANC-led government had become an increasingly pressing issue, especially amid mounting allegations of State Capture by Zuma and his associates.

The 2015 NGC had a heated debate about the powers of the ANC’s internal Integrity Commission, and ultimately resolved to reinforce the commission’s powers to respond to allegations of corruption by ANC members.

In December 2017, at the ANC’s 54th National Conference — which also elected Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president — the ANC’s then Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe (he is now Chairperson) emphasised concerns about corruption in his organisational report, saying, “we must accept that corruption is therefore systemic in our movement, as was the case with the apartheid state”.

The delegates at the conference resolved to “reaffirm the 2015 NGC resolution that ANC leaders and members who are alleged to be involved in corrupt activities, should, where necessary step aside until their names are cleared”.

The conference also called on the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to implement measures to:

  • Demand that every cadre accused of or reported to be involved in corrupt practices accounts to the Integrity Commission immediately or face Disciplinary Committee processes;
  • Summarily suspend people who fail to give an acceptable explanation or to voluntarily step down while they face disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial procedures; and
  • Publicly disassociate the ANC from anyone, whether business donor, supporter or member, accused of corruption or reported to be involved in corruption.

The so-called step-aside resolution was viewed as aiming to restore the party’s reputation and public image as part of a broader campaign spearheaded by Ramaphosa for the internal “renewal” of the ANC. It has turned out to be an empty threat, or brutum fulmen, as lawyers are wont to say. Whether this is so by design or by default is an open question on which the electoral fortunes of the ANC in 2024 will turn.

Prosecution capacity

One of the fundamental flaws in the step-aside rule is that it is dependent, when all internal processes have failed, upon an effective and efficient prosecution service actually charging people in high political places with corruption or other serious crimes.

Lack of capacity and will within the National Prosecuting Authority accounts for the paucity of follow-up against the 97 ANC high-ups named and shamed in the report of the Zondo Commission which was finalised in 2022. The report was published in tranches between 4 January 2022 and 22 June 2022.

The evidence upon which prosecutors will have to rely in prosecuting ANC members named in the report was all in the public domain before 2022, either as “Guptaleaks” in the media or in the well-publicised evidence heard by the commission.

The fact that so little has been done by the NPA suggests that it is in no hurry to bite the hand that feeds it. The lack of progress in prosecuting renders the step-aside rule ineffective.

Misleading by example

A further problem, now that the decision-making around stepping aside has been transferred from those of integrity in the Integrity Committee to what Legalbrief calls “the top brass” of the ANC, is that the top brass is itself infested with allegations of wrongdoing by its own members.

Cyril Ramaphosa himself has the Phala Phala cross to bear, his deputy, Paul Mashatile, has the “Alex Mafia” tag, Mantashe and Mokonyane are both alleged to be too close for comfort to the tentacles of Bosasa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bosasa whistleblower Angelo Agrizzi fit to stand trial, and will face two cases in one

They are a majority of the top seven and it seems unlikely that they will recuse themselves from the deliberations that will have to go into the finalisation of the ANC lists that must be presented to the electoral commission on Friday 8 March 2024.

Add to these worrying features the fact that the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has a rap sheet as long as a Manie Libbok touchfinder as she faces fresh allegations of bribe-taking that have impressed the NPA, as well as konkeling the salary of the secretary of Parliament, and a perfect storm is now brewing rapidly for those tasked with stopping the rot at the top by severely pruning the list of candidates of its questionable components.

The smart money is saying that the ANC will do no such thing.

Panicked by the early successes of the MK party in recent by-elections, the ANC sees the Jacob Zuma-led new party as a threat to its electoral prospects. It will do anything to stem the outflow of support to MK, including keeping the rogues’ gallery of dodgy characters on its candidates list rather than suffer the indignity of them defecting to MK.

The “new dawn” announced by Ramaphosa in 2018 will be seen to be a false new dawn as very little of the necessary political will to address corruption, both within the ranks of the ANC and in the country as a whole, has manifested itself.

No will, no action

The indications of lack of political will within the ANC have been there for ever so long. The Rev Frank Chikane, an ANC blueblood, chairs its Integrity Commission. It is reported that he has insisted that 92 out of 97 members identified as corrupt be excluded from ANC party lists of its election candidates. It is doubtful that he will be heeded.

There are reports that 62 members of the ANC have been referred to its Disciplinary Committee for hearings into their alleged wrongdoing. Whether they are on the party lists is not clear at this stage.

The impact of leaving questionable names on the party lists is not to be underestimated. Mavuso Msimang, having been persuaded to retract his resignation from the ANC, may be inclined to reconsider his position. The veterans and aristocracy of the ANC may also baulk at being represented by those who should be in ill-fitting orange garb. How Chikane will react to being thwarted is an open, but interesting, question.

Read more in Dail Maverick: Mavuso Msimang backtracks on resignation after ANC agrees to exclude leaders implicated in state capture

The stance of the ANC on the reform of the criminal justice administration is of questionable constitutionality and efficacy. Only an organisation soft on corruption could twice elect Zuma to lead it (and the country) while criminal charges against him have been pending since 2005.

At least Thabo Mbeki had the common sense to dismiss Zuma as his deputy, but the delegates at Polokwane in 2007 voted for Zuma over Mbeki in overwhelming numbers. He lasted in office until 2018.

The damage done to the moral fabric of the ANC by Zuma is both deep and lasting. Those who enter politics to enjoy their “turn to eat” rather than to serve the people who elect them are drawn to the ANC like moths to a flame. There is nothing sustainable about the politics of the stomach. The poor, the hungry and the unemployed of SA know this to be true. They all have the opportunity on 29 May to express their displeasure with those who enter politics for selfish reasons rather than to serve the public weal openly, accountably and responsively in accordance with the rule of law.

New dawn or ANC twilight 

The response of the ANC top brass to the challenge of pruning the party list will reveal whether the new dawn with its flowery anti-corruption rhetoric was nothing more than a false promise to the people of South Africa. A promise designed to lull them into a baseless sense of security in the wake of the excesses of the Zuma years, the “nine wasted years” as his last deputy, Ramaphosa, likes to call them.

It is widely expected that the top brass will not rise to the challenge inherent in the pruning exercise. On Friday 8 March, everyone will know whether the ANC remains forgiving of misfeasance and malfeasance on the part of those who seek to represent it in the five years ahead.

It is up to the electorate to reject a list on which the names of those identified as in need of investigation still appear after all the years of misplaced public trust in the probity and integrity of the ANC. The best way to so reject would be to vote appropriately and express revulsion by voting for those political parties or independent candidates who are not in the shadow of criminal investigations.

Voters will be spoilt for choice because democracy is still alive and well in SA. The criminals may have hijacked the ANC, they have not succeeded in doing so to the people of SA.

Gwede Mantashe has likened the corruption in the ANC to the corruption in what he calls “the apartheid state”. We all know the fate of the apartheid state. It was consigned to the rubbish heap of history, with the help of its leadership.

Does a similar fate await the ANC? DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Errol Price says:

    Oh dearie me ! What a fuss.
    The “step aside rule “ was drafted for public consumption just like repeated proclamations by the ANC that they believe constitutional democracy .
    The real credo of The ANC like the Mafia which is the organisation it resembles is “omertà”
    Witness what happened when it was inadvertently discovered that Ramaphosa had bags of Dollars in his couch.
    The wagons were circled including
    SARS and the Reserve Bank.

  • ST ST says:

    They don’t have ‘better candidates’. It is and had been very clear that South Africans should get the entire ANC to step aside…it’s just less clear for most would be voters who should step in

  • Rae Earl says:

    Apartheid corruption was in no way similar to the ANC corruption. Although it did exist, it never drained the country coffers. Eskom, Denel, Prasa, SAA, SABC, the Post Office, ports and harbours, were all shining examples of efficiency and reliability. They were all (without exception), handed to the ANC in perfect working order. They are now all in disarray and consigned to the rubbish heaps of the ANC’s mantra of “our time to eat”. Only 38 municipalities (mostly DA), out of 257 are still functional and have clean audits. The rest are in advanced stages of bankruptcy and near total collapse. Apartheid corruption never ever caused damage like this.
    We are told today by Finance Minister Godongwana, that the ANC expects to win the elections by an overwhelming majority. Dream on.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    As a matter of accuracy, did Mkhizi not resign BEFORE CR fired him from cabinet ?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Your concluding observation re the possible demise of the ANC was presciently foretold by Madiba when he uttered the words to the effect about “doing to the ANC what you did to the apartheid regime” . Sadly … he was the only one in the ANC who really ‘understood’ what happens in most organisations … no doubt encouraged by the other moral giant Tutu and his emphasis real ‘ethics’ and accountability.

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