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World News

COVID-19 graft scandals fuel South Africans' anger with ruling ANC

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A spate of corruption scandals during the COVID-19 pandemic has further fuelled some South Africans’ frustration with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and its failure to tackle graft despite renewed promises from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Reports of suspect deals between state officials and businesses providing medical equipment, as well as food aid parcels to the poor, have sparked outrage in a country which has recorded some 650,000 coronavirus cases, the highest number in Africa, and is also in the grip of a deepening recession.

“In the coronavirus pandemic, we thought ... things will be better, but they are still stealing from people who have nothing,” unemployed Mamologadi Maponya, 53, told Reuters in Johannesburg’s Soweto township.

Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, Khusela Diko, took a leave of absence in July after news reports that her husband had won contracts to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) spurred concerns that politically connected individuals were profiting from the pandemic. Both Diko and her husband deny doing anything illegal.

Separately, South African authorities are investigating government departments over irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders worth more than 5 billion rand ($300 million).

Ramaphosa, who promised to clean up his party’s reputation after a decade of scandals under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, said last month ANC officials must quit their positions if charged with corruption and resign if convicted.

“NOT WHAT WE FOUGHT FOR”

But for some South Africans his comments amount to little more than empty rhetoric.

“When we see top guns having fun with our tax monies, we cry,” said pensioner Jacob Serane. “This ANC government, they must do things right. ... this is not what we fought for.”

An ANC spokesman did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

Ramaphosa’s acting spokesman Tyrone Seale said the government shared citizens’ outrage about corruption and was working to strengthen the institutions dealing with the issue.

South Africa’s economy shrank by a record 51% in the second quarter and unemployment stood at a record 30% even before the pandemic prompted the government to impose a strict lockdown that pushed millions deeper into extreme poverty.

Although many South Africans are fed up, there is little prospect of the ANC -- in power since 1994 -- losing power. The next national election is only in 2024, and the biggest opposition party is in disarray.

Meanwhile, political satirists are having a field day.

Chester Missing, a puppet performing in a show outside parliament in Cape Town, joked that the government had paid prices for PPE “that make you think you’re getting a Rolex with your face mask, (and that) your hand sanitiser comes with stock options”.

Additional reporting by Shafiek Tassiem and Sisipho Skweyiya; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Gareth Jones

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