South Africa’s ANC party opens key conference amid scandal

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African National Congress delegates cheer as they wait for the delayed start of the ANC national conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Dec. 16, 2022. The conference will elect the party’s leadership and adopt key policies for governing the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking re-election as the party’s leader at the national conference which is held every five years and is the ANC’s highest decision-making body. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has started its crucial national conference amid scandal and bitter divisions.

South Africa’s crippling power cuts of more than 7 hours a day, an unemployment rate of 35% and corruption will be key issues debated, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on opening the conference Friday evening.

Addressing delegates, Ramaphosa admitted that his government was partly to blame for the country’s electricity crisis.

“Poor policy decisions in the past, together with inadequate maintenance, mismanagement, … and widespread corruption, have left our electricity system in a critical state,” said Ramaphosa.

He said that more than 3 billion rand ($170 million) had been recovered from corrupt contracts at the state power company Eskom and a further 5 billion rand ($282 million) would be recovered through ongoing court action.

According to Ramaphosa, the government would ensure an adequate supply of electricity by purchasing more renewable energy over the next few years.

Ramaphosa vowed that his government would continue to fight corruption.

“We must ensure that … those responsible – wherever they may be located – face the full might of the law,” said Ramaphosa.

The conference opened several hours late because of difficulties in registering the more than 4,000 delegates from across South Africa.

The five-day conference is to elect the party’s leadership and adopt key policies for governing the country. Ramaphosa is seeking re-election as the party’s leader at the national conference which is held every five years and is the ANC’s highest decision-making body.

The scandal surrounding Ramaphosa and the factional rivalries within the ANC are expected to dominate the conference.

While much focus will be on the election of the party’s leader and the ANC’s top five leadership positions, 80 members of the party’s National Executive Committee will also be elected.

Key policy issues will be debated by delegates during commission sessions that will be closed to the media. These are expected to focus on policies to promote social and economic development of sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed economy.

The policies adopted are to be implemented by the country’s president, Cabinet and legislature, as the ANC controls all those wings of the government.

However, debates on these policies are expected to be overshadowed by the angry factional battles within the ANC which will see Ramaphosa challenged by his political rivals.

Ramaphosa has been facing calls to step down from his position over a damning parliamentary report that said he may have broken anti-corruption laws by hiding undeclared dollars in cash at his Phala Phala farm. The report questioned the source of the funds and why did not report it to the police.

This week Ramaphosa received a boost when parliament voted against moves to start impeachment proceedings against him over the Phala Phala scandal. However, some lawmakers from the ANC voted in favor of his impeachment, highlighting their opposition to Ramaphosa.

At the conference, Ramaphosa is expected to be challenged for the leadership of the party by Zweli Mkhize, the country’s former health minister who was forced to resign from Ramaphosa’s Cabinet over corruption allegations relating to COVID-19 procurement contracts.

Other leaders may be nominated for the position at the conference, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who lost to Ramaphosa in the leadership race at the previous national conference in 2017.

The sharp divisions within the ANC were shown on the eve of the conference by former President Jacob Zuma’s announcement that he will launch a private prosecution against Ramaphosa for unspecified crimes. Ramaphosa quickly responded Friday saying he “rejects with the utmost contempt Mr. Jacob Zuma’s abuse of legal processes and perversion of the ‘nolle prosequi’ (private prosecution) provision.” Ramaphosa’s statement said that a private prosecution can only take place after the National Prosecution Authority states it will not prosecute a person and that has not happened.

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