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‘The Enemy Within’: How ANC corruption ‘began under Mandela’

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/09/29 Victoria O’Regan

Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis spoke to political analyst and author Mpumelelo Mkhabela about his new book ‘The Enemy Within’ and the veil of corruption that has hung over the ANC over the past two decades.

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‘The incentive to be corrupt is so high, and nobody wants to kill that incentive,” said author and News24 columnist Mpumelelo Mkhabela at the virtual launch of his latest book, The Enemy Within: How the ANC lost the battle against corruption.

ANC corruption didn’t begin under Jacob Zuma — it didn’t even start under Thabo Mbeki. It started under Nelson Mandela, writes Mkhabela.

“The ANC’s promise was; once it had destroyed the system of colonialism and apartheid, it would set up a new morality where corruption would be frowned upon,” said Mkhabela, in conversation with Davis during a Daily Maverick webinar on Wednesday.

However, “It wasn’t long after Mandela came into power that the ANC’s conviction against corruption was tested — and it failed,” he said. 

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Bantu Holomisa and Stella Sigcau

The party was confronted with allegations of corruption when former ANC member Bantu Holomisa accused Cabinet minister Stella Sigcau, in Mandela’s government, of being “on the take” — and of accepting a bribe from Sun International founder Sol Kerzner.

“The ANC didn’t take kindly to that, so what the party did was — Mandela, Mbeki and other high-profile leaders — made a decision that Holomisa was out of order, he was bringing the ANC into disrepute, and he shouldn’t be raising issues of corruption — and they decided to discipline him,” said Mkhabela.

The ANC expelled Holomisa in 1996 after he testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the alleged corruption, while the person against whom the allegations were made (Sigcau) remained in the Cabinet under Mandela’s administration, and under former President Thabo Mbeki’s administration.

This, Mkhabela believes, is the ANC’s first failed test against corruption.

“If this example was taken in isolation, perhaps it wouldn’t mean much. But it means a lot now in hindsight, because you can see the build-up of corruption from that moment where that decision to expel Holomisa was taken and the decision to protect Sigcau was taken,” he said.

‘On the side of the accused’

“From then on, the ANC has always been on the side of the people who have been accused of corruption at the expense of the victims of corruption.”

This understanding, Mkhabela says, informed the book’s “devastating conclusion” that, “There is not a single member of the ANC who was ever expelled for stealing public money.”

In his book, Mkhabela takes a retrospective look at Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma and Ramaphosa’s political rhetoric vis-à-vis their commitment to corruption.

Mkhabela notes that, over the years, there has been a rising concern among ANC presidents over corruption within the party. Interestingly, of all four presidents, “Zuma was the most concerned about corruption”, he said.

“How should we rate [President Ramaphosa] in terms of his record so far — strong again on rhetoric perhaps, but in terms of actions on corruption?” Davis asked Mkhabela.

“Here is a person who became President knowing very well that corruption was the big issue and, specifically, procurement corruption… I think Ramaphosa… has proven himself to be very naive on corruption,” responded Mkhabela.

‘Political insurance’

The book refers to the notion of “political insurance” — which he says is rife in the ANC and makes it difficult for the party to fight corruption. This phenomenon, Mkhabela says, “was summarised by [leader of the ANC Women’s League,] Bathabile Dlamini, who said that in the ANC we don’t disclose or talk about other people’s skeletons because if we start doing that, the skeletons will start tumbling all over the place.”

The ANC has developed two forms of political insurance, Mkhabela says.

The first form refers to, for example, when an ANC leader has information on another comrade’s corruption. Rather than report the wrongdoing, the leader keeps mum — to reveal this information and use it as leverage, if or when the leader becomes embroiled in corruption allegations of their own.

“That cushion is a form of political insurance because it ensures what you might call ‘mutual deterrence’. In other words, both ANC officials have the ammunition, and it is not in either of their interests to expose one another,” Mkhabela explains.

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The second form of political insurance is where business people buy ANC leaders, ANC factions and some structures of the ANC as an investment that, at some point, the business person may want to redeem, he said.

“These are people who buy politicians because they know they have something to hide, or they know they are about to do something wrong. So in the event that they are caught, the politicians will protect them.”

Mkhabela said this problem is not limited to the ANC: “This is why the issue of disclosures by politicians of who’s funding them — individually, as factions, or as organisations — becomes critical,” he said. DM

The Enemy Within: How the ANC lost the battle against corruption is available at the Daily Maverick Shop where Maverick Insiders can use their coupon for a 10% discount.

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