ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. PICTURE: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. PICTURE: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

The decision by the national executive committee of the ANC to request that all its members and officials facing criminal charges step aside has predictably unleashed a furore that has the potential to rip apart a party that is already facing an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy.

Former president Jacob Zuma, secretary-general Ace Magashule and many other officials of the ANC are facing corruption charges.

However, as unpalatable the decision is to those officials who are affected, it was in the best interests of the ANC and its rapidly dwindling public integrity. By sticking to this decision the ANC has a shot at starting to restore its battered public image.

In light of how rampant fraud and corruption have become in the ANC and government, it is important to recognise that the party’s integrity commission had already recommended that Magashule step aside, and this ruling was referred to the national executive committee for its endorsement and ratification. The importance of this recommendation is arguably founded on an explicit anti-corruption ethos, simply because corruption is anathema to the very notion of integrity.

The step-aside guidelines make it clear that it is only those charged with serious crimes such as fraud and corruption who must step down until the courts have dealt with and resolved the cases. This is not only fair from a legal standpoint but is justified politically given the devastating toll corruption has taken on both the ANC and the country.

The most damning consequence of fraud and corruption is the indisputable fact that the stolen funds could and should have been used to address poverty, unemployment and the related social miseries that are so vividly evident in townships across this country. It is in the interests of the ANC that justice be seen to be done, and that a clear message is sent out to discourage corruption.

But there is more to the step-aside debacle than the media has reported. The key to the debacle is desperate attempts by the two main factions inside the ANC to gain the upper hand, because whichever wins this round will be in a stronger position to advance its agenda, especially as local government elections loom large.

The step-aside tussle is not in itself the main factional division in the ANC. It is merely a symptom of the underlying problems in the party. The ANC is beset by intractable problems that go beyond politics and ideological posturing.

On one side stands President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters, who have the upper hand in the step-aside squabble, partly because the integrity commission has already decided that Magashule must step aside until the courts and internal disciplinary processes have run their course.

This faction can correctly be called the constitutionalists or rule-of-law advocates, which is a progressive stance when seen in relation to the opposing faction, led by Zuma and Magashule, who are using radical rhetoric in the name of radical economic transformation to disguise an essentially acquisitive agenda. Their eyes are on the huge resources of the state, as is evident from the charges they and others face.

It is important to note that the hostile internecine rivalry between the factions has not involved the key issue of governance facing the country — the unprecedented socioeconomic crisis, which existed before the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past year and has greatly worsened in recent years.

The dramatic conflict between the factions over the step-aside issue is most unfortunate for reasons other than what is at stake for the factions. As important as this dispute and a proper resolution may be, there are far bigger matters facing the government and the country, such as the host of serious problems around SA’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The months and years ahead could see SA having to confront its worst unemployment crisis, along with deficiencies in health care to deal with Covid-19, widespread and worsening poverty and hunger, especially in black townships, and — perhaps even more seriously — chronic delays in getting the Covid-19 vaccination programme off the ground.

In the latter regard I believe the tardiness, inefficiency and confusion that have marked the government’s approach is a reflection of its gross incompetence since 1994 in numerous instances.

So widely evident are these problems of incompetence that I maintain a separate file of all the press releases drawing attention to problems stemming from ANC misgovernance. Its depth is simply incredible, providing irrefutable evidence at every level of the state and every nook and cranny of the public sector. The party’s 1992 Ready to Govern document looks like a sick joke.

The ANC was not ready to govern then, and it is still not ready to properly govern almost 27 years later. The deep incompetence problem it had then is unchanged. What has not been adequately ventilated in the media is just how much this has contributed to the scourge of corruption.

There is a direct relationship between incompetence and corruption that has been reflected all too often in Africa since states such as Ghana started gaining political independence in 1957.  

• Harvey is a political writer and author whose new book, ‘The Great Pretenders: Race & Class under ANC Rule’, will be published next month.

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