By Alexander Winning
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) has included two prominent politicians linked to corruption under former President Jacob Zuma in its list of candidates for parliament ahead of an election in May.
The inclusion of figures like former finance minister Malusi Gigaba and ex-mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane calls into question the ANC’s pledge to distance itself from people who have tarnished the reputation of the party, analysts said.
“The ANC list is very revealing,” said political analyst Ralph Mathekga. “It says that despite what went on under Zuma, ANC branch members do not see any crisis. They are rejecting (President Cyril) Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption message by choosing Zuma allies.”
Ramaphosa, whose pledge to tackle corruption is a centrepiece of the ANC’s election campaign, is first on a list of the party’s parliamentary candidates submitted to the country’s election commission. Deputy President David Mabuza and ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe are in second and third places.
Gigaba and Zwane are lower down the list, which shows the candidates the ANC’s branches want to see in parliament and also includes Ramaphosa allies like Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.
An ongoing presidential inquiry into state corruption – called “state capture” in South Africa – under Zuma’s tenure has heard evidence that Gigaba and Zwane helped the Gupta family, friends of Zuma, enrich themselves. Gigaba and Zwane deny wrongdoing. They were not available for comment on Friday.
A spokesman for Zuma directed a request for comment to the ANC. The ANC said it had chosen its candidates by a “rigorous, thorough and fair process”.
“There are concerns raised in the media about some of the candidates on our lists. Like all political parties our members are subjected to the law of the land. … The mere public mention of wrongdoing and corruption by an individual does not make that person guilty,” the ANC said in a statement.
A senior ANC source allied to Ramaphosa dismissed concerns that tainted former officials from the parliamentary list would make it into Ramaphosa’s cabinet if the ANC wins in May. The majority of the president’s cabinet is comprised of lawmakers.
“This list says nothing about the next cabinet, that is the prerogative of the president. My sense is the cabinet will be lean and credible,” the source said.
Ramaphosa is trying to reverse a slide in voter support for the ANC, which has won every election since the end of white minority rule in 1994. Analysts predict the ANC will win more than 50 percent of this year’s vote, but they differ over the expected margin of victory.
Investors want to see evidence that Ramaphosa is following through on his pledge to root out corruption, as it hurts business confidence and acts as a brake on economic growth.
“Ramaphosa’s strategy is to turn a blind eye to state capture when it comes to the election list and allow the criminal justice system to take people out after the election,” said Peter Attard Montalto, head of capital markets research at Intellidex. “However such a strategy is high-risk.”
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Frances Kerry)