The ANC is putting its MPs through a strict vetting process in the run-up to elections, much to the chagrin of some in Parliament.
The ANC has subjected its prospective MPs to stringent vetting, with demands for personal information – including who their extramarital lovers are, whether they have children out of wedlock, and whether they have ever leaked party information to outsiders.
Though the rigorous screening process has been hailed by some candidates as a positive step towards eliminating shady characters or crooks, there are real fears that the sensitive information could be used by factions to settle scores.
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After eight general and local elections, the party – facing a tough electoral battles – is requiring candidates for Parliament and provincial legislatures to provide proof that they do not have criminal records, and to produce original copies of their academic qualifications.
The ANC's head of communications, Lindiwe Zulu, has warned candidates that tough action will be taken against anyone withholding damning information about their past. She said everyone who made it to its candidate lists for legislatures would be subjected to this vetting process, including President Jacob Zuma and his party deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
According to one provincial legislator, candidates are requested to sign confirmations that they accept the party will remove them without following "due process" should it be discovered that part of the information provided is incorrect.
Zulu disputed this. But she cautioned that, instead of going to court, those unhappy with the outcome should exhaust internal processes.
The vetting system is in the form of a questionnaire that all ANC candidates are required to fill in and sign before they may be accepted as prospective MPs and MPLs. The candidates submit the questionnaires to the ANC's headquarters.
The ANC decided on the vetting process when it resolved at its 2012 national conference in Mangaung to establish an integrity committee – an internal watchdog body.
The committee, made up of veterans of the struggle, was set up last winter after the party's delegates resolved that urgent steps be taken to protect the party's image by dealing "with public officials, leaders and members of the ANC who face damaging allegations and improper conduct".
But the committee's deputy chairperson and former National Assembly speaker Frene Ginwala said the committee was not doing the vetting itself. "We [the integrity committee] don't have the capacity to do that," Ginwala said.
The Mail & Guardian has spoken to seven senior ANC leaders – three national executive committee (NEC) members, two ministers and two provincial leaders – who confirmed the existence of the vetting questionnaires (they all spoke on condition of anonymity).
Of all the questions put to candidates, those regarding the declaration of the numbers and details of spouses, lovers, children born out of wedlock and names of all their in-laws seems to have irked several candidates.
Little black books
One minister described the question about the details of lovers as "deep intelligence screening" – and inappropriate.
"I have been a minister and MP for years and I have never before been asked this question. This is odd and disturbing … Imagine if such information lands in your opponent's hands," the minister said.
"What do they want to do with the information regarding concubines? It's neither corruption [nor] a violation of party policy. Our worry is that this could be used by factions to deal with you. It's unheard of."
But another member of the Cabinet defended the ANC's questionnaire, explaining that the question about extramarital affairs was to ensure that "our MPs are not married to or in love with criminals".
The minister cited the example of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, whose ex-wife Sheryl was convicted of dealing in drugs in May 2011.
"You also do not want our MPs to be in love with foreign spies. But also, we need to know if one of us was hiding proceeds of corruption in his or her lover's bank account," the minister and NEC member said.
She was supported by another NEC member, who said: "Some people register their [financial] interests in these partners' names. I think the question should have been direct and said: 'Are there any people that you have used to register companies?' – because that's what it means.
"[Sometimes] people are not clean; they're dishonest. Part of the objective is that when you know that you're not clean you must confess so that the party can see how to help you. If people know they have got nothing to hide, why are they worried?"
According to the NEC member, the details of the in-laws are also required to check whether the candidates used their bank accounts for corrupt activities.
But their colleague, who had expressed unhappiness, was taken aback when he was asked about his bank accounts.
"This means they want to go through our accounts. The ANC doesn't have the capacity to do such intelligence investigations. Who is going to do it? That's our worry. People are afraid," he said, suspecting that state intelligence agencies would be used. But his suspicions could not be confirmed.
Criminal clearance certificates
He said the ANC required the candidates to get a clearance certificate from the nearest police station, a process that was described by one Gauteng leader as "standard procedure".
The provincial leader said, in terms of the law, no one was allowed to serve as a public representative if he or she has had a year's prison sentence without the option of a fine, "so we don't want to get embarrassed for sending a criminal to Parliament".
ANC MP Winnie Madikizela-Mandela triggered a storm when she rejoined Parliament in 2009. She had been sentenced to a five-year prison term in 2003 for fraud but the sentence was suspended.
The Constitution is silent on the eligibility of a candidate whose prison sentence is suspended.
The ANC and legal experts argued that the suspension of the sentence meant she was eligible for public office.
An MPL and NEC member said it seemed the organisation also wanted to clamp down on internal leaks.
"There's a question that says, 'In the past five years, is there someone you have shared party secrets with? If so, give us that person's name and number'," the candidate said. "The likelihood is that the party already has some of this information and wants to see if you'll tell lies."
This has rattled some candidates in the party. The bitter internal infighting in the ANC has spilled into the public through damaging media leaks since the party was unbanned in 1990.
The MPL feared that the information about leaks could be used by "a strong faction" to eliminate rivals.
"The danger is that if you fall out politically with the leadership, a few years down the line this can be used against you. You'll have nothing to fight with because you signed in agreement with these conditions."
Nondisclosure of private info
However, Zulu said the party was aware of the concerns. She reassured the candidates that the party would not publicly disclose private information.
"There is sensitivity in how much information should be in people's hands. It is normal that people would be worried … [Even] at the bank, you need to make sure the bank is not giving your personal information to everyone. We need to know people's background," Zulu said.
The minister who defended the party's vetting system also questioned her comrades' concerns regarding the vetting process because "they were part of the decision in Mangaung. Why did they take the decision?"
The decision was prompted by several internal reports and members raising concerns regarding the impact of scandals and leaders' corruption cases on the party's credibility and image.
Former ANC MP Tony Yengeni, who is on the party's second highest decision-making body, served a jail term following a criminal charge related to the arms deal.
The criminal cases against NEC member Pule Mabe and Northern Cape party strongman John Block are still pending.
On the other hand, the factional infighting has sparked accusations from some leaders that their political opponents in the party used state institutions to settle political scores.
The leaders include former ANC youth league president Julius Malema, Correctional Services Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Zuma and his spokesperson Mac Maharaj. – Additional reporting by politics staff