President Cyril Ramaphosa sought to stamp his authority on the ANC on Monday, saying that party officials must take leave from their positions if charged with corruption and resign if convicted.
The ANC has been buffeted in recent weeks by reports of graft during the coronavirus crisis, putting Ramaphosa under pressure as he has pledged to clean up the party’s reputation after a decade of scandals under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa wrote to ANC members earlier this month saying the party “does stand as accused number one,” prompting a major backlash from Zuma and his supporters that laid bare deep divisions more than two and a half years after Ramaphosa took the reins.
The president took the unusual step of addressing reporters at a media briefing to outline decisions taken at a meeting of the ANC’s national executive at the weekend, saying they were a “line in the sand” against those who steal.
Such briefings are normally led by Secretary General Ace Magashule, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the party and aligned with a faction that opposes Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said he would not be distracted by a “choreographed campaign” against him and that the executive was focused on renewing and rebuilding the party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
The president said the party executive had decided that ANC leaders would make regular declarations of financial interests and there would be guidelines on party officials and their families doing business with government.
Ramaphosa’s supporters were pleased he had asserted himself, but delivering change will be a challenge.
The rand weakened in afternoon trade, reflecting market concern that Ramaphosa’s attempt to assert himself could lead to further infighting in the ANC that would distract the president from pushing through reforms to Africa’s most industrialised economy.
There was no immediate response from Zuma on the new stance on those implicated in corruption, which could affect his allies in the party.
Local media reported that a handful of mid-ranking ANC officials, including lawmaker Bongani Bongo and KwaZulu-Natal provincial official Zandile Gumede, had been asked to vacate their posts for alleged involvement in corruption.
Bongo declined to comment when called by Reuters, and Gumede could not be reached.
Asked how many ANC officials he expected to take leave or resign, Ramaphosa was not able to give a figure. There was no sign that more senior officials implicated in wrongdoing would be made to step aside.
Magashule said on Monday the ANC would presume party officials were innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.