ANC will not protect leaders implicated in corruption, Ramaphosa tells Zondo commission

Members of the ANC implicated in corruption will find themselves out in the cold without support from the party because it had never condoned or encouraged graft, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa told the Zondo inquiry into state capture on Wednesday.

“The position of the ANC on leaders or other members who have been complicit in acts of corruption or other crimes is clear,” Ramaphosa said towards the end of a long opening statement in his first appearance before the commission. 

Ramaphosa went on to say that corruption was not only against the law of the land, but against the values and principles of the ruling party. 

“Such members must face the full legal consequences of their actions. They cannot rely on the ANC for support or protection, nor may they appeal to the principle of collective responsibility.

“In accounting for their actions, they must be accountable for their actions themselves, because the ANC did not and could never direct its members or leaders to commit acts of corruption.”

His testimony comes at a delicate time as he tries to consolidate his grip on the divided party while ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and others accused of serious crimes continue to resist instructions to step down from their positions by Friday.

Ramaphosa said the ANC accepted that it needed to account for grand corruption that eroded the state, but his opening remarks only went as far as conceding that internal weaknesses and infighting in the ruling party had enabled state capture.

“While the ANC distances itself from those within its ranks who have been involved in corruption or who are complicit in state capture, the organisation must — and does — acknowledge that it must provide explanations for the matters currently under investigation by the commission. 

“State capture took place under our watch as the governing party. It involved some 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.”

He insisted that the majority of ANC members abhorred corruption in all its forms.

But he accepted that during the period under review — the nine-year tenure of Jacob Zuma — the party should have done more to prevent the abuse of power and looting of state resources.

Ramaphosa is under pressure to explain his own actions or lack thereof during the so-called state capture era, when he was deputy president of the party and state. 

In testifying, Ramaphosa is filling the void left by Zuma’s refusal to account to the commission the former president was compelled to create. Ramaphosa is also clarifying the often obtuse answers Gwede Mantashe, the then ANC secretary general and now its chairperson, gave when asked by the commission about party policies, ranging from cadre deployment to parliamentary oversight.

In his statement Ramaphosa rejected the notion that cadre deployment, by definition, opened the door to grand corruption. Rather it was lapses in upholding rules and requirements for minimum qualifications that had compromised the state, he said.

“It should be noted that the deployment of cadres to strategic positions is not unique to the ANC. It is practiced in various forms and through various mechanisms — even if not always acknowledged as such — by other political parties in South Africa and in other countries,” said Ramaphosa. 

Evidence leader Paul Pretorius turned straight to deployment with his first questions to the president, who for some time served as the head of the ANC’s deployment committee.

Ramaphosa justified appointing candidates that would seek to advance the political mandate of the ANC in certain key positions but added that the party was in the process of self-correcting from a past where considerations of merit were at times thrown to the wind.

“The process of selection of deployment of people has evolved, has been evolving … In recent times [at the party’s] last conference the issue of civil service and getting people who are fit for purpose has become accepted and has become more current.

“We now have a new era that is going to see to it that we have people who are fit for purpose … it has to use that as a filter.”

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo stepped in to ask if the appointment process was not inherently skewed by candidates getting the nod from the committee for political reasons.

Ramaphosa replied that seeking candidates who would advance the political mandate of the ANC was not inconsistent with appointing properly qualified people. He added that in practice, the minister in a particular portfolio was, rightly in his view, more influential in appointments.

“The deployment committee plays a recommendation role but it also plays more of a reactive role … it should serve as a filter … but it should be a type of quality assurance.”

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