Sweetheart deals sour South Africa corruption battle

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South Africa’s cabinet concluded a meeting on high-level policy but could not escape the taint of ministers battling separate scandals involving a jailed mistress, a convicted drug kingpin and a detailed report on a corrupt property deal.

Despite calls from one of the closest allies of the ruling African National Congress to crush corruption, President Jacob Zuma has done little to address a problem that has eroded confidence in the government ruling the continent’s top economy.

There have been rumblings of a reshuffle in local media, and the longer the tainted officials stay in office, the more questions will be raised about tackling corruption — one of Zuma’s professed top priorities, Reuters reports.

But Zuma, who has also faced corruption allegations, may be willing to overlook a little graft if it helps him win allies in the splintered ANC and remain at the helm of the party when it elects its leaders next year.
“There is a fundamental contradiction between cleaning up corruption and maintaining political alliances,” said Anne Fruhauf, a specialist on Africa for the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

The ANC’s partner in government, the labour federation COSATU, and others have charged the ruling party with using its power to broker sweetheart deals for members and cronies.

Global investors became concerned last year after a high-profile mining deal came to light that benefited one of Zuma’s sons and some of the president’s benefactors.
“Corruption is a political weapon within the ANC,” Fruhauf said.

GRAFT AND ANGER

Even though anger may be growing, the ANC enjoys virtual one-party rule due to its role in bringing down apartheid. Analysts said it may take decades before a credible opposition can challenge it for power.

The public sees corruption as a growing problem, with South Africa sliding 20 spots since Nelson Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 in a list of nations in Transparency International’s respected survey on perceptions of corruption.

The troubled members in Zuma’s cabinet include Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, a long-time Zuma ally who is suspected of spending 335,000 rand in state funds to visit his imprisoned girlfriend overseas.

Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu Nkabinde and police commissioner Bheki Cele, who is not in the cabinet, were named in a government-sanctioned report for suspected illegal conduct in property rental deals.

Also in the spotlight, but for different reasons, is mining minister Susan Shabangu. The ANC’s Youth League has called for her ouster after she refused to heed their calls to nationalise the mining industry.
“His cabinet is a broad representation of the people who brought him into power and he has to be careful how he treads. Eliminating certain members can reduce his chance of re-election,” said Zwelethu Jolobe, University of Cape Town lecturer in political science.

One of the most immediate tests for Zuma is how he responds to the Public Protector’s report that charges the police commissioner and public works minister with maladministration.

Zuma has typically swept troubles under the carpet, sending disgraced allies to plum posts such as ambassadorships, so as not to rile factions within the ANC.

Zuma sees the report as serious, his spokesman Mac Maharaj said.
“How he address it will leave you to draw your own conclusions,” Maharaj told reporters.