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South Africa’s ruling African National Congress faces upheaval after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s deputy declined to take a post in the country’s new parliament in order to fight allegations of wrongdoing.
David Mabuza, who had served as deputy since Mr Ramaphosa unseated Jacob Zuma as the president last year, bowed to the demands of a party integrity commission by postponing his swearing-in as an MP on Tuesday hours before it was due to take place.
Mr Mabuza, a powerful party boss who has often been accused of running a corruption racket, decided “to follow the dictates of his conscience” and request the postponement, Mr Ramaphosa said in a statement as ANC leader.
Mr Mabuza’s bowing-out has come as a surprise even after Mr Ramaphosa helped the ANC to victory in elections this month with a pledge to stamp out wrongdoing in government.
The postponement effectively means Mr Ramaphosa must appoint a new deputy. Mr Mabuza is unlikely to answer the allegations against him and retake his seat before the president appoints his post-election cabinet this weekend.
The party that has ruled South Africa since 1994 won its lowest ever majority in the election, after a decade-long descent into corruption under Mr Zuma, who was forced from office in a power struggle after Mr Ramaphosa became party leader.
Mr Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that “the deputy president believes that the ANC as a governing party should advance the electoral mandate in an environment of public trust”.
Mr Mabuza is a big powerbroker in the party, who as a provincial premier was an influential ally of Mr Zuma. He switched support at a critical moment to push Mr Ramaphosa over the line in a tight race to succeed Mr Zuma as the ANC’s leader.
He later became the party’s deputy president, a powerful position that he will retain even without serving in the government.
During the election Mr Ramaphosa pledged to voters that ANC members implicated in graft would not be allowed to take up state positions.
Until now he has had to move cautiously since allies of Mr Zuma occupy powerful positions within the party.
The president’s allies wield influence in the ANC integrity commission, which called for several individuals including Mr Mabuza to remove themselves from the party’s list of MPs before the election.
“Cyril is using the few instruments at his disposal to make a move,” Khaya Sithole, a political analyst, said.
The party’s integrity commission “is seen as an autonomous structure which insulates him from being directly accused of conducting a purge”, he added.
But the ANC has rarely broken with an entrenched party tradition that its deputy leaders simultaneously occupy the same position in the government.
Under Thabo Mbeki, Mr Zuma stepped down as state deputy president, also under a cloud of corruption allegations — thereby igniting factional conflict in the party