December’s ANC elective conference proved that money is not always decisive in the movement’s politics. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s victory was a double-edged sword for party modernisers, however. He supports their cause, but his win has relieved pressure for change in how the ANC is run. Activist and former environmental affairs and tourism director-general Crispian Olver’s insightful 2017 book, How to Steal a City, sets out the scale of the reformists’ challenge. While SA watched aghast as state capture unfolded, at provincial and local levels "money-politics" and patronage have become most deeply entrenched. Olver was part of a "regional task team" assembled to render a discredited local ANC electable in Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016. He was also reporting directly to the prominent anticorruption fighter and minister Pravin Gordhan on what had caused the rot in the city. Olver’s diagnosis begins from the insight that factions "are not born out of money". A left-oriented ANC grouping...

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