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South Africa Political Parties Make Corruption Top 2019 Election Issue


Newly-elected ruling African National Congress (ANC) party president, Cyril Ramaphosa, right, and former ANC president and South African President Jacob Zuma, left, attend the party's 106th birthday celebrations in East London, South Africa, Jan. 13, 2018.

South Africa's two top political parties began the year by pledging to restore credibility, amid corruption allegations against key leaders. And with next year's elections drawing closer, they are driving home the message that corruption is their main target.

The ruling African National Congress and embattled President Jacob Zuma, have long been accused of corruption. Critics of the government say this has left the state unable to carry out basic duties.

But deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma as the ANC's top leader last month, said that will change. While at the coastal city of East London over the weekend, he took several not-so-subtle jabs at Zuma, who is accused of siphoning off tens millions of dollars and letting a wealthy Indian family have undue influence over the government.

"These challenges have been exacerbated by state capture through which through billions of rands have been illegally diverted to individuals," he said. "Corruption in state owned enterprises and other public institutions have undermined our government's programs to address poverty and unemployment and they have weakened those institutions."

The ANC has dominated national politics for a quarter-century, but has lost ground in recent years to the opposition Democratic Alliance, which captured three major cities in 2016's municipal polls.

Meanwhile, the DA is having its own reckoning, charging Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille with corruption under the party's own disciplinary process. De Lille reported to work Monday, but her party relegated many key functions — like the city's dire water crisis — to other officials.

In Johannesburg, the city's mayor said Monday he was firing a top city finance official amid allegations of nepotism and undue influence.

Party leader Mmusi Maimane spoke to reporters Sunday in Cape Town.

FILE - Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader Mmusi Maimane speaks during the motion of no confidence against South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 8, 2017.
FILE - Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader Mmusi Maimane speaks during the motion of no confidence against South African president Jacob Zuma in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 8, 2017.

​"The true test of any political party is what it does when confronted with serious allegation of political dysfunction, maladministration and governance failures," said Maimane. "The DA, unlike many of our political competitors, stands largely alone in acting with resolve in confronting such issues, even when those decisions, in fact, come at a very serious political cost."

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said these events may indicate that the two parties, which often try to cast themselves as each other's antithesis, may not be so different after all. He said he believes both leaders' words are sincere, but notes that they both face challenges in bringing their own parties into line.

He said the challenge the DA is facing is "not so different from that of the ANC."

"If you look at the allegations of corruption within the DA in the city of Johannesburg, you have the MMC [member of the mayoral committee] of finance being suspended, and you have De Lille as well, allegations coming out against her regarding impropriety — what that shows is that the DA is also battling with corruption within its ranks," he said. "And also, the problem seems to be emerging regarding the integrity of internal processes in dealing with this."

But he said one thing is clear: South Africa's parties need to scrub themselves thoroughly within before they can show their shiny new faces to voters next year.

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