President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) had decided to retain its rule that anyone charged with corruption or other crimes must step down while they are being investigated.
Members of an ANC faction loyal to former President Jacob Zuma – who is being investigated for corruption but denies wrongdoing – wanted the rule scrapped, arguing that it was being used to persecute political opponents with trumped up charges.
Ramaphosa was speaking at the conclusion of a three-day national policy conference which brought together ANC delegates nationally for the first time in five years.
“The overwhelming view of the policy conference is for the retention of the ‘step-aside’ provisions to enhance the integrity of the movement and its leadership,” he said to loud applause.
Ramaphosa has taken a harder line on corruption since taking over as ANC leader in December 2017.
Scrapping the rule would have allowed potential challengers to vie against him for the ANC ticket in 2024 presidential elections – especially Ace Magashule, who was suspended as party secretary general last year after being charged with corruption.
The party will chose its candidate at the end of this year.
Removing the rule also would have allowed several Zuma allies in various local governments to resume office.
Ramaphosa himself faces a police investigation of his finances after thieves stole $4 million from his farm in June, and his opponents are hoping to use this to unseat him.
If he is charged with any irregularity – such as failing to declare the money to tax authorities or violating exchange controls – then he himself might be forced to step aside.
Ramaphosa says the money was proceeds from sales of game animals on the farm, and has welcomed the investigation.
Opening the conference on Friday, the president scolded the ANC for losing public trust, saying the party was weaker than at any time since it ended white minority rule in 1994.
The ANC has been in power for nearly three decades, but it faces public anger over worsening electricity blackouts, poor or non-existent basic services, a sluggish economy, corrupt procurement tenders and crime-related shootings.
On Sunday, Ramaphosa said the party had resolved to tackle all of these problems and to alleviate widespread poverty in the nation of about 60 million.
He also said the party had reaffirmed its position that the privately-owned central bank should be nationalised.