Jacob ZumaBobby Wilcox, a South African socialist who spent seven years in Robben Island under the apartheid regime, explains how the African National Congress has become notorious for its culture of self enrichment and corruption.

In 2007, when accused of profiting handsomely from his facilitation of a certain Black Economic Empowerment deal, Mr Smuts Ngonyama, then head of the ANC presidency notoriously answered: “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor”. This remark, which exposed his crass self-centredness, caused a huge outcry, mostly from hypocritical liberals outside the ranks of the ANC but also from within its ranks as well. But Mr Ngonyama’s statement was not without hidden sympathy and the belief in this idea has manifested itself to an ever increasing degree today. After all, Julius Malema, expelled president of the ANC Youth League also stated, “what the whites have, we also want”.

We are being confronted with a litany of corrupt acts by senior members of the ANC along with questionable appointments to high ranking state positions. We have had the appointment of Menzi Simelane as director of the National Prosecuting Authority, later ruled as improperly appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeal. There is the notorious case of President Zuma’s buddy, Schabir Shaik, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for corruption, only to be released after two years in dubious circumstances for so-called medical reasons. We have the case of Richard Mdluli, member of the heinous “Special Branch” of the South African Police Service in the apartheid years, who was appointed head of Police Crime Intelligence, but later suspended on full pay, facing an investigation of murder, et al. Now there has been the case of former head of police, Jackie Selebi, found guilty of fraud and corruption and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. He too has been released on parole after serving less than two years of his sentence, spent in the convenience of public hospital treatment. The list goes on and on – Julius Malema, who allegedly enriched himself through corrupt political dealings in the Limpopo Province, Tony Yengeni, convicted fraudster who also enjoyed early release on parole and now Head of Political Education in the ANC and the late Sicelo Schiceka, Minister of Cooperative Governance, who, inter alia, utilised state funds to visit his girlfriend imprisoned in Switzerland on drug related charges. Schiceka recently died at the age of 45 “after a long (undeclared) illness”, etc, etc, etc.

The corruption in the ANC is not without precedent. The history books are replete with the acts of the leadership of bourgeois democratic struggles turning to corruption and in many cases, brutal dictatorships to enrich themselves. After all, “we didn’t struggle to be poor”.

The petty bourgeois leadership of the ANC in order to promote its class interests, reached accommodation with the representatives of the bourgeois, the leadership of the National Party and formed a ‘government of national unity’ with them. On assuming power the ANC proceeded to reward Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and its other leaders, who had served long terms of imprisonment under the regime, by sanctioning their unprecedented enrichment. Nobody, least of all the now critical liberals, questioned where this money came from and what its purpose was. Then, the salaries of politicians and high ranking personnel in government offices were dramatically increased, besides the grand salary allocations for those in the employ of ANC itself. This was ostensibly to reward Blacks with the kind of standard of living that they were previously denied. Suddenly, it became highly profitable to be a politician, particularly an ANC politician. For instance, the chairman of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), Andile Lungisa, earns a whopping salary of R790 000 a year. Not to be outdone the chief executive, Steven Ngubeni, earns the magnificent sum of R1.8 million (£141,790 /$222,450) per year. The Chief Operations Officer, Magdalene Moonsamy, earns R1.2 million a year. All are former members of the ANC Youth League – no other qualifications required. Salaries within the Youth League itself do not fall far behind. There have been serious questions about the validity and necessity of the NYDA which has achieved very, very little to promote the interests of the youth of South Africa to date.

All of this has resulted in an unholy scramble for lucrative positions that needed no special qualifications other than being a loud proponent of the ANC. Today the country is paying dearly for grossly inefficient and corruption ridden municipal councils which the ANC now admits is a result of the appointment of persons to senior positions for which they were not qualified. But the problem goes beyond municipal government. It extends to provincial and national government departments in no uncertain terms. We see for example, the tragic case of school text books not being delivered in the Limpopo province after seven months of the school year and the Dept. of Education only responding when challenged in court. The situation in the Eastern Cape is no better. Last year the provincial Dept. of Education overspent its budget with a number of dubious contracts involved and then dismissed 3000 temporary teachers whose salaries could not be paid. A number of schools have no running water and grossly inadequate toilet facilities. In spite of this blatant mismanagement President Zuma drily stated that no action would be taken against Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.

It is becoming clear that the agenda of the corrupt has gained the upper hand in the ANC. This has prompted Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade unions (COSATU) to utter strong warnings, on various occasions, that if something radical is not done to curb this corruption then the country faces the real danger of a general revolt that can be equated to the Arab Spring. But it appears that except for a few, most of the ANC leadership are not heeding this warning. The recent ANC Policy Conference, ostensibly to conclude an intelligent approach to a number of issues troubling South Africa and its economy in particular, turned out to be a farce. There was a day long debate of a wordy document, backed by Zuma and supporters calling for a “second transition”. Others argued that the country was still in its first transition and to speak of a second transition was meaningless. The conclusion was a compromise adoption of what was called the “second phase of the transition”, without much of the original document being altered. Other serious issues, such as the agrarian problem and the call for nationalization of the mines were discussed at length. But all that was achieved were semantic changes in the old interpretation of the ANC’s stance and its commitment to neo-liberalism remains. Indeed, the conference appeared to be more about the leadership struggle in the ANC, in preparation for its elective conference to be held in December this year.

This calamitous state of affairs we find ourselves in South Africa today is rooted in the class interests the ANC leadership is pursuing and its open reliance on cheap populism, by way of which a large number of opportunists were attracted to and welcomed into its ranks. It could bask in its dubious accreditation as the leading organization in the liberatory struggle by the liberal press. Today the country pays the price. Protests at a lack of housing and service delivery continue apace. The ANC appears to be totally incapable of dealing with the country’s dire unemployment problem. The possibility of a major rebellion is indeed growing, while the radical left still struggles to find its feet, to present the nation with a positive alternative. In the meantime the conservative Democratic Alliance continues to gain ground. It is sloughing off its characterisation as a party representing those who quietly benefited under the apartheid regime and is attracting more support at the polls. The future of the country remains in the balance, but the working class was not and has not been defeated and critical battles lie ahead.