Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is meeting this week to choose its leaders and set policy amid criticism by its own members that the party is riven by corruption and power struggles.
Once inspired by the vision of former president Nelson Mandela to build a non-racial democracy after white-minority rule, the ANC is increasingly paralyzed by the battle for the spoils of office, according to branch members such as Noncedo Cwecwe.
“Long ago there was no money in the ANC, but now there is, so people are fighting about that,” Cwecwe, 46, said in an interview in the Eastern Cape province town of Alice. “You can make money out of any position.”
President Jacob Zuma, 70, is set to retain leadership of the party at the national conference that ends on Dec. 20, positioning him to remain South Africa’s leader until 2019. Criticized for failing to tackle corruption, cut a 26 percent unemployment rate and improve education, the ANC faces the prospect of losing the support of workers and the poor who propelled its rise to power in Africa’s biggest economy.
A wave of labor strikes this year hit the agricultural and transportation industries and shut shafts owned by Gold Fields Ltd., the fourth-largest producer of the metal, and platinum miners Anglo American Platinum Ltd. and Lonmin Plc. That slowed economic growth and prompted two credit-ratings downgrades.
The cost of protecting South African government debt against non-payment using credit default swaps over five years has jumped 17 basis points since the start of the mining strikes on Aug. 10, signaling a deterioration in risk perception. The rand has dropped 6.7 percent against the dollar during the same period, the worst performer of the 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
The only challenger to Zuma, who won about 70 percent of the vote during the party’s non-binding nomination process, is his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, who’s criticized the way the party is run.
“We should stop the culture of corruption that is creeping in within our ranks, corroding our value system and undermining the memory of thousands of leaders,” Motlanthe said in a Dec. 12 speech.
Motlanthe today declined the nomination to run as deputy president, paving the way for Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the nation’s richest black businessmen, to be appointed to the post. Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa are also contesting the position.
Allegations of graft have undercut the ANC’s credibility. Julius Malema, the former head of the party’s youth wing, was charged in September with money laundering, claims that he denies. Zuma has been accused by opposition political parties of using more than 200 million rand ($23 million) in state funds to refurbish his private home in KwaZulu-Natal. The president told lawmakers last month his family paid for the upgrades on his home and the government covered the costs of security measures he hadn’t ordered.
A turning point for many party supporters came on Aug. 16, when police shot dead 34 miners during a strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.
“There were policemen there in full uniform killing innocent people; this administration has to be blamed,” Mlamli Ndabeni, another ANC member in the Eastern Cape, where many of the victims came from, said in an interview. “It’s very likely that people will turn away from the ANC and this will give opposition parties the opportunity to come closer or even take over.”
Widespread resentment about poor living conditions means the ANC must take action to increase mining taxes and use greater state intervention in the economy, Enoch Godongwana, the head of the party’s economic policy committee, said in a Dec. 4 interview.
“Unless we do some radical transformation, we’ll create fertile ground for an uncontrollable revolution,” he said.
While incomes for black households increased an average 169 percent over the past 10 years, their annual earnings remain at a sixth of that for whites, according to a census published on Oct. 30.
The contest for positions in the ANC has often become violent, with several provincial ANC officials being killed in the past year. Obuti Chika, the ANC’s regional secretary in North West province, was shot dead on Dec. 14, according to police spokesman Thulani Ngubane.
“The state is being used as a point of enrichment, and because of that there are a series of fights,” Adam Habib, a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, said in an interview. “It’s like gang warfare. People’s lives are dependent on it.”
Zuma told ANC members at the start of the conference yesterday to reject factionalism and vote-buying.
“All these tendencies have been creeping into the movement gradually, and need to be dealt with,” he said.
Internal party disputes are increasingly leading to court cases. The ANC’s National Executive Committee on Dec. 15 dissolved the party leadership in Bloemfontein’s Free State province after the Constitutional Court ruled it was unlawfully elected in June. Some ANC members in the North West province last week sought a court interdict to block the region’s delegates from attending the conference because they weren’t elected as representatives by the party branches.
“Poverty, unemployment, pervasive corruption, and failures in our education system and the rule of law remain serious challenges for our young democracy,” 33 business leaders, including Anglo American Platinum Chief Executive Officer Chris Griffith, said in a Dec. 9 advertisement in the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times newspaper “Left unchecked, our country is in danger of unraveling.”
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