South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s tenuous control of the ruling party was laid bare at the weekend when its leaders rebuffed his proposal to probe allegedly tainted state contracts for health equipment.
Ramaphosa called for a panel led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe to scrutinize deals secured by African National Congress officials but was spurned at a meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee, according to three people who attended the gathering and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Instead, they accepted secretary-general Ace Magashule’s suggestion that the ANC’s integrity commission handle the matter, the people said.
Ramaphosa, 67, replaced Jacob Zuma as the ANC’s leader in December 2017, after narrowly winning an election against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and favoured successor.
Members of a party faction who were allied to Zuma and have loosely coalesced around Magashule won several other top party posts and seats on the NEC, leaving it deeply divided.
The ANC forced Zuma to quit as president in February 2018, after his scandal-marred nine-year tenure caused it to hemorrhage support, and replaced him with Ramaphosa.
His tenure as party leader runs until 2022 and as president until 2024, but he may seek re-election to both posts.
While Ramaphosa has pledged to clamp down on endemic corruption, his efforts have been stymied by a lack of support from his party and a dearth of capacity within law-enforcement agencies.
Not a single high-profile politician has been convicted in connection with the theft of more than R500 billion ($29 billion) from the state during Zuma’s rule, and the ANC hasn’t expelled any members that were implicated.
Tyrone Seale, Ramaphosa’s acting spokesman, referred requests for comment to the ANC. Pule Mabe, the party’s spokesman, didn’t answer his phone or respond to queries sent by text message.
Allegations of officials abusing their positions have continued under Ramaphosa’s administration.
Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, and Bandile Masuku, the political head of the health department in the central Gauteng province, were both forced to vacate their positions after it emerged they stood to benefit from contracts to supply the state with equipment to protect heathcare workers against Covid-19.
Two of Magashule’s sons also won contracts worth 2.7 million rand to supply virus-related goods and services in the central Free State province, the Daily Maverick reported on 31 July.
Magashule, a former premier of the region, said he exerted no influence over the tenders, the news website said.
Ramaphosa has instructed nine government agencies to investigate possible impropriety around the Covid-19 contracts.
And last week, he urged the ANC to follow through on a resolution that it took in 2017 – but never implemented – to suspend members who were facing investigation or disciplinary proceedings.
“We have an obligation to combat, root out and isolate the corrupt elements amongst us,” he said in an ANC memorial lecture that was delivered on his behalf.
In his weekly letter to the nation on Monday, the president likened those who stole food parcels, unemployment benefits and other Covid-related aid to hyenas and said they would be dealt with decisively.