Ramaphosa’s ‘step aside’ rule for corrupt ANC leaders ‘not working’ says key ally

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Tuesday, 19 April 2022 18:01

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on a state visit to Ivory Coast
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa's key lieutenant in the African National Congress (ANC) has admitted that the party's rule to force criminally-charged leaders to step aside has not worked.

Ramaphosa’s renewal drive in the ANC has recently suffered a setback after two leaders, charged with murder and corruption respectively, were elected to prominent positions in the party in the space of a week.

Senior party leader Gwen Ramokgopa, who was last month appointed to strengthen the ANC’s top administration, tells The Africa Report “we need a multipronged approach of conscientisation and of education, of training, of workshops, to say we are rebuilding”.

Follow the Chinese way

This is in reference to the ANC’s “renewal” drive, which entails ridding the party of corrupt leaders and instilling ones with integrity. The ANC lost a significant percentage of electoral support in the past few years as the large-scale corruption in former president Jacob Zuma’s administration was exposed.

“If you look at, for instance, the Chinese, they are very harsh [when dealing] with their corruption,” Ramokgopa says. “It also includes capital punishment. However, after so many had to go through that, they decided, let’s have a multipronged approach.”

This involved raising the consciousness of members of society on what is wrong and what is right, she says. They should then be educated about ethics. Only then systems and rules and severe punishment could be put into place, she says.

Re-thinking the rules

Ramokgopa says the views expressed are her own as the ANC’s national working committee – its top national leaders – discussed the matter in its meeting on Monday. It is likely to recommend to the party’s 86-member national executive committee that there should be changes to the rule.

This, after some leaders exploited a loophole in the rule, which says those who have been formally accused of a crime should step aside from their positions. The rule doesn’t prevent such a leader from contesting or being elected to a position.

In Mpumalanga during the first weekend of the month, murder-accused Mandla Msibi – who stepped aside from his position in the party a few months before – was elected the party’s provincial treasurer. He immediately stepped aside again.

In the party’s biggest region, Ethekwini (Durban), the former mayor, Zandile Gumede, was elected the party’s regional chairperson despite facing more than 200 corruption charges.

Amongst those who campaigned for her was ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, who has refused to step down after she was found guilty of perjury at the beginning of this month – for lying under oath while she was a minister.

Also in the camp are suspended corruption-accused ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and former health minister Zweli Mkhize, who resigned after serious allegations that he benefited from a large Covid-19 communications tender awarded by his department. He has still not been criminally charged and is reported to be making a bid to run for president ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December.

Zandile Gumede told SABC News shortly after her election that she would be off the hook soon. “The ANC constitution and that of the country clearly states that a person is innocent until he or she is proven guilty,” she said.

Grassroots revolt?

Some in the ANC say there will be a push from branch delegates to overturn the step-aside rule at the December conference, and that the election of these leaders was only the start of a full-scale revolt by Magashule and his followers against Ramaphosa’s renewal drive.

Ramokgopa admits that the ANC’s national leadership might have been out of touch with what has been happening in the branches, but she denies that Ramaphosa’s efforts could be in any political danger.

“President Ramaphosa said to the Mpumalanga conference that they need to reflect,” she says. “It may be that we have been reflecting on a national level, maybe at a provincial level, but we haven’t gone further to the branch, which is the most important unit of the conference, to reflect,” she says.

She says when Ramaphosa addressed the Mpumalanga conference “some people were saying there was going to be a revolt, and there was no revolt”.

Branch delegates agreed that there should be reflection on the issue, she says.

Societal problems

Ramokgopa says in any society “there are a lot of grey areas in what is good and bad and right and wrong. Ethics is about defining what is right to do, not only for an individual, but for the community, [and] for the society.”

She says the ANC’s renewal is “a process of redefining its values in today’s terms and in making sure that it lives up to its leadership role of society.”

The ANC has been grappling with improving the quality of its leaders since its 2012 conference, when it imposed a minimum term on anyone wanting to run for a leadership position so as to prevent the organisation from being “captured” by outsiders.

The step-aside rule was adopted during its 2017 conference, the same one that elected Ramaphosa.

The party also established an integrity commission aimed at making rulings on the behaviour of leaders which could bring the ANC’s integrity into question.

The commission, for example, recommended to Magashule that he should step down after he was charged with corruption. He was suspended after refusing to do so.

There is also an internal electoral committee in the party which is currently in the process of developing guidelines over who is eligible to run for elections.

“We have also realised that we should do more we should reflect more,” Ramokgopa says. “It’s regrettable for me that we have to come up with rules. It will be best if we reach consensus on what is best for the organisation and our nation. But if we need to come up with rules then let it be as an enabler.”

Ramokgopa formerly served as Tshwane (Pretoria) mayor and a deputy minister of health and is currently chancellor of the Tshwane University of Technology. She is in Ramaphosa’s lobby and is providing support during Magashule’s absence as his deputy, Jessie Duarte, is off work on serious health issues.

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