Editorial: Arrests expose the rot in the ANC

Life for the ANC must be a bit difficult right now. 

Before 1994, the party had a simple goal — topple the apartheid regime so South Africa could be governed on behalf of its entire population. For this it got funding from around the world.     

Since then, though, it has had to scramble to bring in sufficient cash to keep going. 

In the week when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated, the Mail & Guardian reported on Cyril Ramaphosa taking on the secretary general position at the ANC, saying he “will have his hands full reorganising and streamlining Shell House [the ANC’s then headquarters], which is renowned for its inefficiency and has run up huge debts since the organisation was unbanned in 1990”.

In the years after, the party used its power to create networks of patronage. Give someone a tender, or a premiership that they can then leverage to loot, and they owe you. They fund your election campaigns and pay salaries. 

This isn’t unique — parties around the world trade power and access in exchange for “donations” from those who benefit. There’s a reason our parties don’t like the Political Party Funding Bill

During the so-called lost decade under former president Jacob Zuma, the ANC became so good at turning power into patronage that it seems many of its structures became reliant on corruption.

In rolling blackouts, water shortages, a broken healthcare system and myriad other state failures people saw the cost of this corruption and negligent leadership. This sentiment cost the ANC in local government elections, as it lost absolute control over several metros. 

President Ramaphosa then came in, tasked with saving the party. 

To regain the public’s trust, he has promised that there will be consequences for the corrupt. The National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and other state enforcement arms have been slowly rebuilt from the damage done under Zuma. This week the arrests started.  

More need to follow, as well as convictions. 

But, for Ramaphosa’s party, this now presents a problem. When your income is based on your control over a kleptocratic state, consequences for corruption come at a cost. 

On Tuesday, the ANC sent a note to its staff, saying they wouldn’t be paid on time. The party suggested that employees “make the necessary arrangements with their banks” and went on to “sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused”. In the same week, the South African National Defence Force sent in a more than R100 000 bill for using a state jet to send party officials to Zimbabwe.

If the ANC is as rotten as we all think it is, putting the corrupt in jail could very well break the party financially.  

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