Anger as corruption dents faith in South African president, ANC before poll

Struggling farmer Meshack Ncongwane was a life-long supporter of South Africa’s governing African National Congress, but says the party won’t get his vote in parliamentary and provincial elections next week.
Local ANC officials offered him what he thought would be a lucrative stake in a dairy farm in 2013. He was one of 80 people who were to be given an equal portion of a 50 percent share in the venture funded by the local government.
But he says the project set up to help landless black farmers fell victim to fraud, and the venture is being scrutinized by prosecutors.
Losing the support of people like Ncongwane is a worry for the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa, as they struggle to reverse a slide in support for the party caused in part by perceptions that more needs to be done to stamp out corruption.
Prosecutors say 220 million rand ($15 million) in public money invested in the dairy project was siphoned off, some of it into accounts linked to the Guptas, a wealthy and influential family.
Prosecutors say they are building a case after dropping charges last year against three provincial officials and five business associates due to insufficient evidence. All those accused have denied wrongdoing.
The project is among the best-known cases where accusations have been made of what South Africans call the “capture” of the state by rich and powerful interests.
ANC spokesman Dakota Legoete said he could not speak about individual cases, but the party was determined to fight corruption and had taken steps including setting up four separate judicial enquiries to look into alleged graft.
Anger over allegations of widespread corruption during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, from 2009 until 2018, propelled his successor Ramaphosa into office in February last year.
But since he took over, no senior government official has been convicted for looting the public purse, and frustration over the issue is mounting before May 8 elections.
Opposition leaders have zeroed in on corruption, making it a focus of their campaigns.
Opinion polls show the ANC is still backed by a majority of voters, but its support has been deteriorating, and some political analysts predict it could slip further in May.
Allegations in an array of fraud and bribery scandals are surfacing from witnesses at the judicial enquiries, implicating executives at state-run firms, sitting cabinet ministers and high-profile business leaders including three Indian brothers, the Guptas, accused of abusing close links to Zuma.
Ramaphosa has set up a special investigating unit to deal with the allegations emerging at the enquiries and has promised that those implicated in corruption will face the law.
An unspecified number of investigations are already under way, with some awaiting a final go-ahead from prosecutors, according to police.
Africa’s most industrialized country slid to number 73 in Berlin-based Transparency International’s global measure of perceived corruption in 2018, from 38 in 2001.
The ANC, late President Nelson Mandela’s liberation movement, has governed uninterrupted since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Ramaphosa’s ability to appeal to such swing voters will be an important measure of the ANC’s success in the election.

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