South African corruption probe ensnares ruling party heavyweight
12 Nov 2020

South African prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for the secretary-general of the ruling African National Congress on Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said, making him the highest-profile official to be charged in a corruption scandal that has pitched President Cyril Ramaphosa against powerful members of his own party.

As secretary-general, Ace Magashule manages the day-to-day operations of the ANC, the onetime liberation movement in power since Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first Black president in 1994. He is also the public face of an ANC faction that has defended former President Jacob Zuma, who stepped down in 2018 amid allegations he used government contracts to enrich himself and his allies, making way for Mr. Ramaphosa to replace him.

News of the arrest warrant brings the struggle between Messrs. Magashule and Ramaphosa, two powerful politicians who embody competing visions for Africa’s most industrialized economy, closer to a showdown. Investors say Mr. Ramaphosa must sideline Mr. Magashule and the former president’s allies in order to overhaul the economy and root out corruption.

Over the past two years, government officials and local businessmen testifying at a government-mandated commission of inquiry have set out how Mr. Magashule allegedly funneled millions of dollars in government funds to party allies, other government officials and the ANC. Like Mr. Zuma, he has denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations, which included details on the luxuries enjoyed by prominent politicians and those close to them, have captivated South Africans, many of whom are angry over the economic hardships they suffered even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

One of Mr. Magashule’s alleged associates was shot dead while driving his Bentley through Johannesburg’s upscale Sandton business district last year. Another one was arrested last month, when investigators seized his fleet of high-end cars, including a red Ferrari and a Porsche Cayenne.

A spokeswoman for South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, told radio station 702 that Mr. Magashule would appear Friday in a court in the Free State province, where he was premier until 2018, to hear the charges levied against him. She said the charges relate to a 255 million South African rand ($16.4 million) contract to remove asbestos from low-income housing that was awarded by the provincial government to two companies with ties to Mr. Magashule.

Provincial government officials and former directors of the companies later testified that much of the money ended up in the hands of ANC officials and people close to Mr. Magashule. One Free State official, in his testimony at the commission of inquiry, called Mr. Magashule “a blesser to many,” detailing how the former premier settled the U.S. college tuition fees for the daughter of a provincial judge. The official said no asbestos was ever removed from the affected homes.

By Gabriele Steinhauser, The Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2020

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