Many South Africans Are Disenchanted With Governing Of African National Congress

Dec 13, 2017
Originally published on December 13, 2017 8:14 pm
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In South Africa, the governing African National Congress is gearing up to choose a new leader this weekend. It's been more than 20 years since the nation officially ended apartheid and embraced democracy. But inequality and poverty run deep. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that many South Africans are deeply disenchanted with the ANC and say it has become a corrupt machine for self-enrichment.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Eyewitness News in touch...

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: South Africa is abuzz with allegations of graft and financial impropriety linked to President Jacob Zuma and the governing ANC. The president stands accused of patronage and allowing state capture, as it's called here - letting powerful outside interests buy influence in government and even appoint and fire ministers, charges he denies.

CLAUDE KABEMBA: The problem South Africa's facing is now beyond President Jacob Zuma. It has become even institutional, and the problem with corruption is that it does not stop.

QUIST-ARCTON: Political analyst Claude Kabemba says the leadership structure of the ANC has been undermined.

KABEMBA: When you lead and you don't have strong values, the temptation to misuse is there. And those type of behaviors spill over into the public sphere, and that's dangerous.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Singing) We are ready. We are ready for Nkosazana.

QUIST-ARCTON: Campaigning has been intense ahead of this month's election for the ANC's new leader. That person will likely succeed Zuma as the next president if the party wins elections in 2019. Top contenders include Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She's 68, a veteran of the ANC's armed wing, outgoing head of the African Union Commission and an ex-wife of the president. This year, her name has again been linked to corruption she denies. At a recent campaign rally, Dlamini-Zuma told NPR the party will weigh her worth.

NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA: In the ANC, it's not the person who decides that they want to be president. The branches look at their track record. They look at their integrity. And then they decide who is the best person to lead the organization.

QUIST-ARCTON: Dlamini-Zuma's main rival is another front-runner for the ANC leadership, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. He's a charismatic liberation struggle-era labor leader-turned businessman with a reputation as a reformer. Market-oriented Ramaphosa made his money in mining and industry after apartheid, and he lashes out at those in and outside the ANC he says have allowed corruption to flourish.

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CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: Those who have stolen money must return the money. And we want that money back. We want our money back.

QUIST-ARCTON: Whoever wins the ANC leadership battle will face huge problems, including high youth unemployment, economic inequality and inadequate housing in South Africa. Ostentatious lifestyles and the potential wealth linked to President Zuma and other officials, albeit tainted by corruption scandals, are seen as leadership perks.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Singing, unintelligible).

QUIST-ARCTON: In his keynote speech at a celebration marking the recent centenary of the late ANC leader in exile, Oliver Tambo, former president Thabo Mbeki took a swipe at some party members.

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THABO MBEKI: People only see the ANC as a step ladder to enable them unprincipled access to political power and the related corrupt self-enrichment.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mbeki warns the very quality of the leadership of South Africa's governing party is being called into question.

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MBEKI: The historic value system of the ANC has become so corrupted that its replacement, the entrenchment of a rapacious and predatory value system, have in fact become the norm.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mbeki said it's time for South Africa's leaders to put their country and not themselves first. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.