ANC tainted by graft claims - Robinson

2012-08-05 22:44
Mary Robinson. (File)

Mary Robinson. (File)

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Cape Town - Ex-UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson on Sunday warned that the ANC was tainted by graft smears and had shifted from its roots.

Speaking from the Cape Town city hall where icon Nelson Mandela in 1990 gave his first public speech as a free man after 27 years of imprisonment, Robinson said the achievements by the 100-year-old African National Congress (ANC) were "remarkable".

"Sadly, though, in recent years my South African friends tell me the ANC's moral authority has been eroded, tainted by allegations of corruption; a temporary betrayal of its history," she said.

Robinson said she was concerned by a state secrecy bill, which the ANC is pushing to be passed into law despite fears that it will muzzle whistleblowers and investigative journalists with heavy jail penalties.

"Perhaps it is not my place to pronounce on the levels of corruption at play in today's South Africa," she said in the 10th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

"But, from my experience as a human rights lawyer, I can give you a certainty: if you enact a law that cloaks the workings of state actors, that interferes with press freedom to investigate corruption, that stifles efforts by whistleblowers ... you are sure to increase those levels of corruption tomorrow."

Eighteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is facing high poverty levels, "shocking disparity" between rich and poor, and high crime and violence rates in some areas, where school pupils often have to duck on the floors to avoid gun crossfire.

"It is hard to address all the structural problems and inequalities in such a short time. Still you need to ask yourselves some uncomfortable questions," said Robinson, also a former Irish president, pointing to the underperforming education system and high illiteracy.

"Those questions need to be addressed if South Africa's hard-fought democracy is to be sustained for generations to come," she added.

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary since former ANC chief Mandela, now 94, was arrested as a liberation fighter on 5 August 1962, near Howick.

He was released from 27 years in jail in 1990 and become South Africa's first black president in 1994, a unifying force after decades of white minority rule.

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