South African President Jacob Zuma’s decision to appoint a panel to investigate a decade-old
arms deal mired in corruption could mark a turning point in a bruising political battle in his ruling African National Congress.
The knives have been coming out for Zuma ahead of an ANC meeting next year when the party elects its leaders, with foes who are trying to oust him looking to expose as many embarrassing secrets as possible to tarnish him and his allies.
Zuma, implicated but not convicted in the arms deal, may have asked for the panel so that he can dictate the terms of the investigation and fend off his rivals, analysts said.
Zuma’s biggest political fight now is with ANC Youth League leader and party power-broker Julius Malema. The two appear to have already had a tit for tat exchange of corruption allegations, and are squaring off in an ANC disciplinary hearing that could derail Malema’s political career.
Youth League officials in Malema’s home-base stronghold of Limpopo told financial daily Business Day they would press for an investigation into the arms deal to gain leverage for the league’s leader at his ANC hearing.
“In a sense, the president’s hand was forced,” said Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC member of parliament who has long called for more investigations into the deal.
Feinstein told Talk Radio 702 that Zuma was staring down a court deadline to produce papers relating to the arms deal and the likely charge from Malema’s supporters.
“When politicians’ hands are forced in this way, they sometimes do things they hope they can control after the fact.”
Zuma’s two years in office have been criticised for ineffectual leadership. His support rate has slipped with the public seeing him as more focussed on domestic political fights than fixing problems plaguing Africa’s largest economy.
Zuma’s main policy initiatives to improve education, create jobs and stamp out corruption have been met by South Africa slipping in international rankings in the quality of its schools, increased joblessness and concerns of growing cronyism in his government.
TAINTED ARMS DEAL
The 30 billion rand (2.5 billion pound) deal to buy European military equipment from about a decade ago has clouded South Africa’s politics, and Zuma, for years.
It has led to a few convictions of officials who took bribes to help land contracts but critics said investigations did not go far enough, letting several others off the hook.
Zuma — then deputy president — was linked to the deal through his former financial adviser, who was jailed for corruption. This almost torpedoed Zuma’s bid for high office but all charges against him were dropped in 2009.