JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, facing trial for graft, lashed out at his successor Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday, accusing him of betraying the ruling African National Congress (ANC) with his stance against corruption.
In an unprecedented attack, Zuma, whose decade in power was marked by multiple corruption scandals that are still being investigated, accused Ramaphosa of bringing the party into disrepute – a sign of growing divisions within the ANC ahead of its national executive committee conference this weekend.
Zuma himself faces multiple investigations for corruption, including a trial relating to a $2 billion arms deal before he took office in 2009, but he retains considerable support from a powerful faction within the ANC. He denies all charges.
Ramaphosa has ordered investigations into reports of corruption in the government’s COVID-19 response, including the diversion of funds meant for protective equipment for COVID-19 medics, as well as food handouts.
Many scandals have involved junior ANC members conspiring with family-owned businesses to defraud COVID-19 funds.
This week Ramaphosa wrote a letter to ANC members saying its “leaders stand accused of corruption” and that the ANC “does stand as accused number one.”
Zuma, who has so far desisted from making explicit public attacks on his successor, said in response:
“You are the first president of the ANC to stand in public and accuse the ANC of criminality …. This is a devastating statement … I view your letter as a diversion by which you accuse the entire ANC in order to save your own skin.”
Divisions within the ANC could make it harder for Ramaphosa – whose presidency has been dogged by opposition from factions in the party since he took office 2-1/2 years ago – to push through economic reforms needed to revive South Africa’s struggling economy.
Since taking power after winning its struggle against white minority rule in 1994, the ANC has been a broad coalition of groups whose disagreements often make it impossible to push through policies.