South Africa's ANC struggles with corruption scandals ahead of key elections

By Melissa Chemam with RFI

As South Africa heads toward general elections set for 29 May, the country's dominant political party, the African National Congress (ANC), finds itself dogged by allegations of deep-rooted corruption.

Historically, the ANC was associated with Nelson Mandela and the liberation of black people in the "Rainbow Nation".

But the party's name has since been tarred by a string of corruption cases.

In his book The Enemy Within: How the ANC lost the battle against corruption, journalist and political commentator Mpumelelo Mkhabela argues that the ANC is "consumed by corrupt cadres with the party".

According to him, the story started with Mandela and went all the way to former president Jacob Zuma.

Mkhabela says that ANC, which has governed South Africa since the formal end of Apartheid in 1994, has tolerated corrupt practices and failed to hold wrongdoers to account – even going so far as to shield them.

Zuma's return

Former president Zuma, 81, was forced out of office in 2018 under a cloud of corruption allegations, but he continues to hold sway in South African politics.

He declared in December that he would campaign for the opposition uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party – a blow for the ANC, as Zuma remains popular with Zulu voters, a key bloc in the upcoming polls.

Then a court ruled on 9 April that he would be able to stand in next month's general elections, overturning a decision by electoral authorities to bar him over a criminal conviction.

Fresh scandal

Earlier in April, prosecutors in charged former parliament speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula with corruption and money laundering.

She was granted bail by a court in the capital Pretoria shortly after the charges were made public, and denied any wrongdoing.

An ANC veteran and former defence minister from 2012 to 2021, Mapisa-Nqakula is accused of receiving millions of rand in cash as bribes from a former military contractor.

She resigned the day before the charges were filed.

"My resignation is in no way an indication or admission of guilt regarding the allegations being levelled against me," she insisted.

The next hearing in her case is scheduled on 4 June, a few days after the general elections.

Suspicions ignored?

"We are against any form of corruption or criminality," insisted Zama Khanyase, a spokesperson for the ANC's youth wing, "so we welcome the fact that the former speaker has surrendered, so that she can be judged guilty or innocent."

But opposition MP Bantu Holomisa, who alerted parliament to suspicions of wrongdoing in March 2021, said the party should have acted sooner.

"The arrogance of power led the ANC to appoint her speaker of the National Assembly while knowing that she was under serious suspicion," he told RFI.

Karam Singh, director of the South African NGO Corruption Watch, agreed. "It does not reflect well on the ANC that an eminent figure is facing such charges when the party has not taken any sanctions against her," he said.

Meanwhile the Anti-Corruption Trust for Southern Africa said that it was "gravely concerned" by the case.


A 2022 inquiry into corruption during Zuma's presidency exposed massive government graft by leaders of the ANC, as well as attempts by wealthy business owners to buy political and economic influence.

Since then, experts say, the party – now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma's former deputy – has failed to root out the problem.

In March, six ANC officials facing accusations of corruption were included on its list of candidates for this year's elections.

Ramaphosa "has betrayed Nelson Mandela's legacy of human rights and social justice", declared law professor Orde Kittrie in a recent opinion piece for US-based politics website The Hill.

"South Africa's citizens suffer through daily power blackouts of up to 12 hours, days at a time without running water and one of the world's worst-performing school systems. This is all credibly alleged to be caused by corruption," Kittrie wrote, urging the US government to impose sanctions.

How the scandals will affect South African voters remains to be seen at the ballot boxes next month.

(with Reuters)