The fight against corruption in the ANC

Paul Trewhela on the significance of recent attacks on ANCVL President Sandi Sejake

There is a significant break in the political spectrum in South Africa - a determined, broadly-based grouping has emerged within the African National Congress in conflict with institutionalised corruption, which is perceived to have captured the organisation from the top down. Of the current fractures within black political life in the country, this conflict is potentially by far the most important.

It was given sharp expression this week by retired General Sandi Sejake, the president of the ANC Veterans League, in a statement directly attacking the ANC's culture of corruption. Former General Sejake was a member of the Luthuli Detachment of Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile, which organised members of the 1960s generation, who include President Jacob Zuma.

"I am not part of those who are corrupt," he said this week. "There should be a lifestyle audit to distinguish the corrupt members from those of us who are genuine members who love the ANC. We will not live with this corrupt label because of some individuals who are perpetrating anti-ANC behaviour."

In an article by Sue Segar in the Pretoria News on 4 July, in which this was reported, President Zuma was stated to have "made a veiled attack on Sejake" during the ANC policy conference at Mid Rand last week.

In the same spirit, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday that members of the executive of the Veterans League (however not including Sejake) had met with Luthuli House officials and had "expressed their disappointment" at Sejake's pronouncements. Sejake stated later that as president of the Veterans League, he had not been provided with advance knowledge of any such meeting.

Gwede Mantashe's statement accompanied an implied threat to Sejake's position in the Veterans' League from the ANC's head of policy, Jeff Radebe (Minister of Justice, trained in International Law at Karl Marx University in the former German Democratic Republic), who said the League was meant to be "beyond reproach" and should not be involved in "any contestation" in the party.

Sejake was unabashed, however.

In January he said that "syndicates" had taken over the election of the leadership in the ANC at all levels. Immediately ahead of the ANC's policy conference last month, he called for Zuma to be replaced as party president at its elective conference in Mangaung in December, on account of his ties with the financial and industrial interests of the Gupta family.

Speaking at the Limpopo Agriculture Department farmers' awards ceremony in Polokwane, Sejake said: "Our cabinet members are actually appointed by the Guptas. I have never seen the membership of the Guptas in the ANC."

In response, Zuma warned in his address at the ANC policy conference against ill-discipline, and suggested that those who defy the party leadership face serious consequences and risk expulsion. He specifically cautioned elders in the party who defended the ill discipline of the ANC Youth League, saying their role was to help the organisation and not to deepen controversies.

Defiantly, Sejake said in response: "Discipline must have grounds. It would be interesting to be disciplined - and to see on what grounds this would be done.

"I am very clear about what is happening in the ANC. Many people in the ANC are bought. They are not volunteers like we were. Nobody came to me with money promising me tenders and government positions. For me it was about getting rid of apartheid and building a non-racial democracy.

"Discipline or no discipline, it will be interesting to hear the conditions under which disciplinary action is instituted."

Here, former General Sejake was echoing the acute concerns of a fellow veteran of the Luthuli Detachment, Thula Bopela, in an article, "Something greater than oneself" (Politicsweb, 25 November). In this article, Bopela posed a sharp question as a soldier of Umkhonto we Sizwe who had fought in the Wankie campaign in Zimbabwe in 1967, was captured in battle and sentenced to death, was reprieved and served more than ten years in prison, and many years later played a crucial role in helping to end the civil war in KwaZulu-Natal, a vital precondition of the first democratic elections in April 1994.

His book, Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a Divided People (Galago, Alberton, 2005), co-authored with his comrade from the Wankie campaign, Daluxolo Luthuli, is one of the essential first-hand sources in modern South African history.

Mr Bopela's question was this: "Joining the ANC in the 60s demanded service and sacrifice. It was something far greater than the people who joined it. This ANC now has become a vehicle to power and wealth....Can the ANC redeem itself from the malady that afflicts it today, the malady of self-aggrandizement?"

The most acute expression of this moral conflict in the ANC is the legal action instituted against four executive members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) - representing former members of the military wing of the ANC and the SACP, of which Sejake and Bopela are both members - brought in the South Gauteng High Court on 1 June by the Commissariat, a sub-grouping within MKMVA, in the action Makgoale v Khoza et al.

Given the former military discipline within the ANC in exile, there is no precedent of this kind, in which an official body of relatively junior members of the ANC bring a civil action to the courts against highly placed, more high profile executive members, on such an explosive issue as corruption.

Relations bertween Sejake and the Commissariat are close, just as they are between the Commissariat and another prominent member of MKMVA, the former director of the National Prosecuting Authority, Advocate Vusi Pikoli. Removed from his position in a process of attrition by three successive State Presidents (Mbeki, Motlanthe and Zuma), Pikoli has been vocal on the subject of corruption within the ANC, government and the state apparatus.

Five elected members of the Commissariat were refused accreditation by ANC top brass when they arrived to press their case at the ANC policy conference at Mid Rand last week. It was then announced in the press by the chairperson of MKMVA, Kebby Maphatsoe (one of the respondents in the civil action on corruption), that two of five - one of them its secretary, Omry Mathabatha Makgoale, in whose name the action Makgoale v Khoza is being brought - had been expelled from MKMVA. Having failed to appear in court along with his co-respondents to answer the allegations presented against them, executive action against the applicant replaced an explanation before the judge. With Mr Maphatsoe having described his accusers in the press as "renegades", it appeared as if legal process might be in the process of being side-stepped. 

The applicant, Mr Makgoale, and his colleagues are from the 1970s generation which went into exile around the time of the 1976 Soweto school students' rebellion, and were grouped in MK in the June 16 and Moncada Detachments. Representing the more senior intake as a former member of the Luthuli Detachment from the 1960s, Sandi Sejake helped organise a "cleansing ceremony" on behalf of the Commissariat last December.

Following Gwede Mantashe's statement accusing him of "reckless and unwarranted" attacks on the ANC leadership, Sejake accused the leadership in turn of trying to divide the Veterans League before the ANC elections, so as to suppress responsible criticism.

"One of the functions of the Veterans League is that they are custodians of the ANC and our job is to speak out about what is wrong," he said. "If you can't speak out on what's wrong in the ANC, then you are not correcting anything."

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