Corruption was rife in South Africa’s ANC, Ramaphosa tells inquiry

President says ruling party determined to root out the malaise

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa appears on behalf of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Photograph: EPA/Kim Ludbrook / Pool

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa appears on behalf of the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Photograph: EPA/Kim Ludbrook / Pool

 

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has admitted to a high-level inquiry that corruption was rampant in the African National Congress (ANC) under his predecessor, but insisted the ruling party is determined to root out the malaise.

Appearing on Wednesday and Thursday at the public sector inquiry taking place in Johannesburg, Mr Ramaphosa sought to explain how corruption took hold in the ANC during former president Jacob Zuma’s nine years in office, and what the party did to tackle it.

“State capture took place under our watch as the governing party,” said Mr Ramaphosa, who was appearing in his capacity as ANC president, in his opening statement.

He added: “It involved members and leaders of our organisation and it found fertile ground in the divisions, weaknesses and tendencies that have developed in our organisation since 1994 [when the ANC won its first general election].”

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector has heard from dozens of witnesses since it got under way in 2018, and many of them have implicated Mr Zuma and his ruling party allies in graft and tender fraud.

Mr Zuma, who was removed from South Africa’s presidency by the ANC in the same year, has refused to co-operate with the investigation. He says the inquiry led by Justice Raymond Zondo is biased against him, and that he is a target of factional battles raging in the ruling party.

One area of questioning that arose repeatedly for Mr Ramaphosa related to the ANC’s cadre deployment policy, and how the party appointed members to senior positions in state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Many of South Africa’s SOEs have been left on the verge of financial collapse because of tender fraud linked to ANC members who were deployed to senior positions.

Mr Ramaphosa said that in the Zuma era there was a “massive systems failure” in the ANC when it came to the appointment of SOE boards.

“Some of this [failure] may have been inadvertent, and some may have been purposeful,” he said. Mr Ramaphosa added that some appointments were not even endorsed by the ANC’s deployment committee, which he chaired.

Individual members

Mr Ramaphosa also said that patronage was a factor in some government appointments, and to tackle the problem he was going to establish an SOE council to improve the governance and oversight of this area.

As to why it took the ANC so long to act against corruption within its ranks – reports of tender fraud involving the controversial Gupta business family first emerged in 2011 – Mr Ramaphosa said the ANC dismissed the initial allegations believing the media was racist.

Mr Ramaphosa went to great lengths to protect the integrity of the ANC during his answers, insisting it was individual members who were corrupt, and that the party was not responsible for their actions.

“The ANC did not and could never direct its members or leaders to commit acts of corruption,” he insisted.

Mr Ramaphosa will appear at the Zondo inquiry to face a second stint of questioning next month in his capacity as South Africa’s president.