Johannesburg, South Africa – Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has delivered a rare scathing critique to current President Cyril Ramaphosa at the memorial service of Jessie Duarte, an African National Congress (ANC) stalwart who died on July 17.
“There is no national plan to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, it doesn’t exist,” Mbeki said at the service on Thursday night. “To serve the people requires that we address these issues.”
He accused Ramaphosa of failing to deliver on his promises to address socioeconomic conditions and curb government corruption in South Africa, predicting that these would cause spontaneous civil unrest triggered by a single event and might “spark our own version of the Arab Spring”, he said.
“A street hawker was abused by the police, and that enraged the country; that’s how that massive uprising happened in Tunisia, the problems were brewing beneath the surface and it needed a little spark,” Mbeki explained.
“One of these days it’s going to happen to us, you can’t have so many people unemployed and poor, one day it is going to trigger an uprising,” he said.
According to a World Bank report, about 30.3 million South African citizens are living in poverty, while 13.8 million people are facing food insecurity that has been worsened by rising food prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mbeki also addressed the issue of corruption, saying citizens are “faced with a leadership in the ANC where they see people, one after another, being accused of corruption”.
Ramaphosa’s campaign in the run-up to the ANC elective conference in 2017, which propelled him to the presidency a year later, focused on fighting corruption under the banner of a “New Dawn”. But a 2021 survey conducted by Afrobarometer found that the public believed corruption was more prevalent under Ramaphosa’s administration than that of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
In a recent report, the state-run Special Investigating Unit (SIU), said it recovered more than $290m in stolen goods from irregular and unlawful government contracts relating to life-saving PPE resources that were meant to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mbeki, who was removed from office in 2008 after a brutal factional war within the ruling ANC, had never previously criticised Ramaphosa publicly. And while the former president was a thorn in the flesh of his former deputy and eventual successor Zuma, he never predicted a revolt.
When contacted for comment, Vincent Magwenya, the spokesperson for Ramaphosa, told Al Jazeera that he would respond to “this issue” on Monday.
Ramaphosa is currently facing dissent from within ANC ranks, with some party members participating in a rally last week calling for his removal.
The president has been accused of corruption in connection with the theft of $4m in cash from his Phala Phala game farm after the former State Security Agency (SSA) director Arthur Fraser filed a criminal complaint against him in June 2022 for alleged money laundering, kidnapping and concealing a crime.
Ramaphosa has been served a subpoena from the Public Protector’s office, a government watchdog, to compel him to answer questions about the alleged theft at Phala Phala Wildlife and has until Friday to comply.
In a statement on Friday, Corruption Watch, a civil organisation said the subpoena “strikes the right chord at a time when the country is badly in need of accountability and transparency from its leaders”.
“The president has an obligation to account to the public and the institutions that are created to hold public officials to account. He must do the right thing and submit himself to the same processes that he demands of others, otherwise he risks eroding trust in government and damaging the ethical standing of his office,” the statement read.