South Africa’s national elections will take place on May 8. Looking toward that event, the African national Congress (ANC) and its leader, state president Cyril Ramaphosa, is working to improve the party’s image, much besmirched by corruption and mafia-style assassinations.
In March, a major power broker of the African National Congress (ANC) in Kwazulu-Natal, Mluleki Ndobe, was arrested for the murder of a rival ANC politician and whistleblower. The deceased, Sindiso Magaqa, had spoken out against public corruption in KwaZulu-Natal. Before he was eventually killed in July 2017, two of those who had supported him speaking out were also murdered. Others who have spoken out are sometimes forced into hiding. The former ANC leader and South African president, Jacob Zuma, is associated with corruption, called “state capture,” and general incompetence, for which he was forced out of power.
Why is Ndobe's indictment so late? Some South Africans speculate that other power brokers within the ANC protected him. In any event, Cyril Ramaphosa, is attempting to reform the party and to marginalize those associated with Zuma. The indictment advances that agenda. But thus far, he has enjoyed only limited success: Zuma’s power base is among the poor and the rural, while Ramaphosa’s is urban and includes the small black middle class. If the ANC does well in the upcoming elections, Ramaphosa’s hand will be strengthened. But, if ANC electoral support declines, the Zuma faction may be resurgent.
Though anti-corruption efforts may sometimes dominate politics, the elephant in the living room is that, since apartheid ended, social and economic change for most South Africans has been disappointing. The white minority still largely controls the economy, while the black majority remains poor; though visible, the black middle class remains small. That reality makes the ANC and Ramaphosa vulnerable and provides the basis for Zuma’s enduring support.