Corruption and incompetence plague A.N.C.: Liberation lost in South Africa?

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It was hailed as a liberation movement under the revered South African president and global political icon Nelson Mandela. Now, as the party leading an increasingly dysfunctional and corrupt government, the African National Congress seems doomed to follow the ruinous path of other liberation movements in Africa.

The country’s current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is suspected of corruption after it was revealed that millions in cash had been stolen from his private game farm. Instead of calling police to report the crime, Mr. Ramaphosa attempted to keep the robbery from the South African public, raising questions about possible tax evasion and money laundering. The scandal, dubbed #farmgate, now threatens his political survival.

But the burgeoning scandal is only the latest example of dysfunction within the A.N.C. Critics like political scientist Ralph Mathekga warn that corruption and incompetence have become endemic within the governing party, contributing to a massive breakdown in basic services. And when basic services fail, Dr. Mathekga says, democracy also collapses.

The Farmgate scandal is the latest example of dysfunction within the African National Congress. Critics warn that corruption and incompetence have become endemic, contributing to a massive breakdown in basic services.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo released the final part of a report from the Commission on State Capture on June 22. The judicial commission had been set up to investigate endemic corruption of public officials and allegations that former President Jacob Zuma had allowed the powerful Gupta family to access state funds and to interfere in political appointments, promoting candidates to regulatory panels who would further their business interests.

The Guptas fled the country when the commission first began its probe, but criminal charges were laid against them. In the beginning of June, brothers Atul and Rajesh Gupta were arrested in Dubai.

Serious allegations of corruption had been swirling around Mr. Zuma for years before other A.N.C. leaders pressured him to resign in 2018. Now multiple charges of criminal activity have been brought against him. The former president is accused with the French arms company Thales of political influence peddling and corruption over a $2.5 billion arms deal concluded in the 1990s.

The report from the corruption investigation further implicates Mr. Zuma and his son, Duduzane Zuma. It describes Duduzane Zuma as a “conduit” between the Gupta family and the South African government headed by his father.

The former president has spent the last four years defying the criminal court system, maintaining an ongoing political and legal battle to evade accountability. He was jailed for 15 months in 2021 for contempt of court but never served his full sentence.

Allegations of corruption had been swirling around former president Zuma for years before other A.N.C. leaders pressured him to resign in 2018. Now multiple charges of criminal activity have been brought against him.

The A.N.C. is divided into a number of factions—and a big faction includes the supporters of the former president, Mr. Zuma. Mr. Ramaphosa remains politically weak within the party.

When he took over from Mr. Zuma, Mr. Ramaphosa, who had been Mr. Zuma’s deputy, promised a “new dawn”—that he would be tough on corruption.

Instead, he retained many of Mr. Zuma’s former cabinet ministers. Many of those ministers likewise face allegations of corruption.

In South Africa, when a political party wins a general election, the party’s internally elected president becomes the country’s president. Mr. Ramaphosa won the A.N.C. presidency in 2017 by a small majority.

Now questions are being asked about why Mr. Ramaphosa had so much money at his private residence. Did he violate currency exchange control regulations? Under South African law foreign currency cannot be used for legal tender—except among agents of the nation’s tourism industry under strict limitations—and it cannot be sold, transferred or disposed of without the permission of the National Treasury.

Regular disruptions of power and water supplies and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure are signs of South Africa’s decay. The transport, education, police and health care services have reached breaking points.

The country’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has approached the American F.B.I. to probe allegations against Mr. Ramaphosa of money laundering. The president claims to have received the money stolen from his game farm through sales of wildlife.

A corruption charge was laid against Mr. Ramaphosa by former spy boss Arthur Fraser, who also stands accused of enabling the diversion of state funds for personal gain. Mr. Fraser is also an ally of Mr. Zuma. He is the official who gave him so-called medical parole after he was incarcerated on contempt of court charges. A court ordered that his parole was unlawful and that he should return to prison. Mr. Zuma has managed to avoid that so far.

One outcome of South Africa’s deepening political crisis has been the breakdown of much of the country’s infrastructure. The ruling party struggles with fierce factional infighting. Distracted by that struggle for political power and survival, many ministers in Mr. Ramaphosa’s cabinet have not done much in the way of governance and oversight.

Regular disruptions of power and water supplies and the nation’s crumbling infrastructure are signs of South Africa’s decay. The transport, education, police and health care services have reached breaking points.

The country’s extensive rail system has been thoroughly vandalized and its resources looted. Millions of South Africa’s poorest citizens rely on rail to get to and from major cities for work, and the system is used to transport goods inland from coastal ports. Now most of the country’s rail network is unusable. Some analysts say privatization may be the only way the network can be restored, but that could mean that many poor people will not be able to afford the service.

Many of the country’s rural schools are also not fit for purpose. Little work has been done to improve the rural facilities. A number of children have died after falling into “pit latrines” in recent years, and over 3,000 schools in some of the country’s most impoverished areas still do not have proper sanitation. The A.N.C.-led government has failed to deliver on the promises it made to ensure that this basic and fundamental right of all children to an education is upheld.

South Africa was a beacon of hope to the world in 1994 when apartheid was defeated and a democratic era ushered in. It is difficult to find much to be hopeful about now.

In mid-June 2022 the Auditor General’s office announced that only 41 of South Africa’s 230 municipalities had received satisfactory audits. The office said that the fiscal condition of 28 percent of these local governments was so deficient that there was “significant doubt” they could continue operating. South Africa’s municipalities are responsible for most of the social services provided to the nation’s poorest. In many municipalities roads are full of potholes, and garbage is not collected. Many small towns are struggling to cope.

Minister of Police Bheki Cele recently reported crime statistics for the first quarter of 2022. Compared with the same period in 2021, South Africa’s murder rate is up 22 percent. The murder rate of women spiked 71 percent, and for children it increased 37 percent. Security services in the country have endured budget cuts and political interference, and inexperienced officers have been placed in key positions, eroding the integrity of the police and its capacity to fight crime.

Health services have also badly degraded. A Johannesburg pediatrician, Tim De Maayer, recently wrote an open letter in which he described the appalling conditions of the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in the country’s financial hub, Johannesburg. Dr. De Maayer described neonatal incubators shutting down because of power outages and surgeons attempting complicated procedures using only the light from mobile phones after power was lost in operating rooms. A few days after he blew the whistle on those conditions he was suspended by hospital administrators. A public outcry led to his reinstatement.

South Africa was a beacon of hope to the world in 1994 when apartheid was defeated and a democratic era ushered in. It is difficult to find much to be hopeful about now.

Despite numerous promises from the party’s leadership, the A.N.C appears unable to reform itself. At the same time there appears to be no viable political alternative to the discredited party.

The church was not a passive onlooker in the struggle against apartheid. Many South Africans say that their social conscience was formed and energized by the church participation in the resistance in those days.

Since 1994, however, the church has also retreated, and today remains silent in the face of endemic political corruption and decay. It is as if the church, too, is not sure what to do to respond to South Africa’s many crises.

South Africa needs to re-imagine itself, Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a prominent political analyst, says. He warns that the government’s many failures “now verge on a humanitarian disaster, so deep are the devastations and depredations on which they rest.”

The democratic liberation in South Africa is under threat today by the very party that achieved that hard-fought victory.




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