The ANC is investigating membership fraud in four provinces – just six months before its crucial national elective conference where factions backing president Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, are likely to go head to head.
It’s alleged that as many as 200 000 membership forms were forged in KwaZulu-Natal alone. Other allegations of fraud include the use of fake names, cloning bank stamps, buying members and banks colluding with ANC members.
In an exclusive interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize confirmed that his office was investigating collusion between bank officials and ANC members, as well as the bulk buying of membership in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
At stake is the credibility of the December election conference.
Delegation sizes will be based on the submission of audited membership figures. The size of each delegation to the conference ultimately influences the outcome of elections.
The audit verification is expected to be completed in September.
An overview of what the investigation has discovered so far will be submitted to officials at Luthuli House by the end of July.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has previously raised concerns about the manipulation of membership numbers to influence delegation sizes to conferences.
Mkhize said the party viewed the allegations in a serious light. “The allegations of membership fraud [are] something we are picking up in a number of areas. What we have asked our members to do is to give us concrete information,” Mkhize told the M&G this week.
In his appeal to the general membership for information on membership fraud, Mkhize called on them to open cases at police stations.
“We’ve actually said to all the members, ‘If you come across fraud, first step, go to the police station, lay a charge, write to us with a complaint and a case number,’ then we act on them,” he said.
Mkhize said his office set up a team to work with the banks, which curate the ANC membership, to identify cloning of bank stamps or bulk buying of membership. Without this co-operation, the investigation would be futile.
“The issue really is that the banks cannot prosecute someone on that and prove fraud unless the ANC is involved. And the ANC can’t act on an individual unless they can get the bank to co-operate – and so we had to deal with that,” he said.
The co-operation has already yielded results. In the Eastern Cape, FNB suspended one of its employees at an East London branch last year, after it emerged that deposit slips from 2015 were doctored and the membership of about 100 people – transferred from an Mdantsane branch to a Duncan Village branch – was faked.
In its recent audit ahead of its provincial conference, that membership was set aside, ANC Eastern Cape secretary Oscar Mabuyane told the M&G on Wednesday.
“In the branch, no one knew who brought the membership – the secretary wasn’t aware. The membership that was fraudulent was [then] put aside because no one even came forward to claim that ‘I am a member, that’s my form’ – so it became difficult to say these are forms of [real members].”
Mabuyane said the province’s upcoming conference to elect new leaders would not be tainted by the ongoing investigation.
“The provincial conference audit has been done already and we actually broke all the barriers for gatekeeping and opened the membership up. It’s the most transparent audit that we’ve ever had.”
Not all the allegations of fraud involved collusion with banks, Mkhize clarified. In some cases, members would simply clone the bank stamps.
“If the bank says it’s not their stamp – like in one instance there would be five tellers and so you end up with a stamp that says teller six – then you know that they probably got information but it’s not a bank that’s directly involved in fraud,” Mkhize said.
The ANC’s branches in Vryheid and Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal’s AbaQulusi region are under investigation after being accused of cloning the bank stamp and providing fake names on membership forms, Mkhize confirmed.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma said his provincial executive committee last year set aside hundreds of members after an investigation revealed that the forms were faked.
“There were allegations last year of defrauding of membership [in the Emalahleni region] and when we investigated we had to set it aside and discipline the people involved,” he told the M&G.
A senior member of the tripartite alliance told the M&G that “close to 200 000 members in KwaZulu-Natal” could have been faked, but this could not be independently verified.
Zuma said the province had not yet established the veracity of the claims about membership being faked this year. “We’ll wait for the investigation to indicate which branches and how many members are alleged to be corrupted,” he said.
“It’s serious and if we find the allegations are correct, we’ll have to refer whoever did that to a disciplinary process. Fraudulent membership is part of creating tensions in the organisation,” he added.
In Limpopo, 21 branches in the Mopani region face similar charges, but the allegations are being disputed, the provincial secretary Knox Seabe said. His office received a report on the alleged fraud from Mantashe’s office two weeks ago, following complaints of fraud in Giyani.
“Because we were preparing for the [policy conference] we didn’t have enough time to process [the report,” Seabe told the M&G, before suggesting that the province may query Mantashe’s findings.
“Our preliminary observations is that there are some areas where the members don’t agree; they think their membership is authentic. But we are still engaging the national office on how they arrived at these decisions,” he said.
Mpumalanga secretary Mandla Ndlovu told the M&G that he had no idea Mkhize’s office was investigating complaints of faked membership.
“It’s news to me. There is an audit that is being conducted currently but I don’t know of any membership being disputed, unless they reported directly to national.”
He said there were no complaints about membership fraud from his province’s branches or regions, but said his office would not impede any such probe.
“But we don’t have any problem, if they want to investigate it’s fine. Let them come to investigate,” Ndlovu added.
Two months before the ANC’s 2012 conference, Zuma’s detractors in Mpumalanga accused regional and provincial leaders of colluding with the audit verification committee to inflate their numbers in a bid to boost their campaign to get Zuma re-elected.
The M&G revealed that aggrieved ANC members in Mpumalanga’s Bohlabela region claimed 2 000 “ghost members” were approved in the provincial audit.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa explained that if the queries were not resolved, the outcome of the national conference could be questioned.
“Politically, we must teach others that are implicated in bulk buying that they will be held accountable. We don’t want any questions about credibility of our process and the integrity of the outcomes of the elections of leadership,” he told the M&G.
Mabuyane agreed, calling for Mkhize to “urgently” wrap up his investigation. “When there are grey areas on membership, it paints everything dark. It’s important that it’s attended to and sorted out. Any fraudulent membership must be attended to or else the conference will be discredited.”
Kodwa said the scope of the investigation was the first of its kind for the ANC. In 2008, a similar probe in the Western Cape recommended that the provincial executive committee be dissolved after rampant corruption and fraud was discovered in a membership audit.
This time, the entire organisation’s membership is being placed under the microscope, Kodwa said.
“When we took a resolution as NEC [national executive committee] that we need to clean up membership system [last year] … we thought, let’s widen our investigation, [because] in the end these things are a deterrent to electing leadership that is trusted for people to have confidence [in them],” Kodwa said.
He added that the preliminary probe uncovered branches that were only activated for elections and conferences: “All branches are active now and meet the quorum, but it’s difficult for most branches to meet quorum in between conferences. It’s because there is money involved towards conferences. So to deal with that phenomenon, we’ve got to ensure we’ve got real membership, not fake.”
Seabe said although Limpopo had never faced such allegations of membership fraud, the allegations had surfaced as a result of heightened contestation ahead of the national conference.
“It’s happening in the context of conferences. We are going to conferences and people want to get whatever that will give them numbers to contest the conference,” he said.
Mkhize could not place a deadline on when the cases would be resolved, describing the probe as a “tedious process”.
“We don’t have timeframes. Because there are specific branches involved, it’s not like everybody in the region [is under investigation], so we treat them [investigate cases] on an individual basis,” he said.
Claims of fraudulent ANC members attending the party’s gatherings and being allowed to speak and vote also surfaced at the policy conference this week.
A group of 30 men who were not ANC members or invited delegates represented the ANC Women’s League during debates on how the party should change its structure or government policy.
Women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini reportedly justified their attendance as the league’s representatives by saying that “women get too emotional” when debating issues in conference.