South Africa’s ANC faces corruption allegations

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All Nations Christian Church, Swazi rituals, Eswatini Financial Intelligence, ANC, African National Congress

On a cloudy Sunday morning in March 2024, congregants of All Nations Christian Church in Zion gathered in a large, unadorned building situated between Mbabane and Manzini, the two largest cities in the kingdom of Eswatini. The atmosphere was charged with fervent prayer and animated worship as church members, dressed in their signature purple outfits, swayed and spoke in tongues. Presiding over this spirited assembly was Archbishop Bheki Lukhele, a prominent religious figure surrounded by bodyguards, his hands raised towards the heavens.

Lukhele, whose full name is Rebios Bheki Sigaca Lukhele, is a significant figure in Eswatini, a country where approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian. As a leader in the Zionist Christian community, which combines elements of Christianity with traditional Swazi rituals, Lukhele commands a substantial following. However, his influence extends beyond the religious sphere. As president of the Mbabane Swallows, one of Eswatini’s premier soccer clubs, he has become a notable figure in both religion and sports.

Despite his high standing, Lukhele’s life is fraught with controversy. Known for his lavish lifestyle, Lukhele has frequently been the subject of media scrutiny. His polygamous marriages have drawn public criticism, particularly from the League of Churches in Eswatini, which opposes church leaders having multiple wives. In 2019, allegations of sex abuse surfaced, and a Swazi journalist investigating these claims was allegedly assaulted by Lukhele’s supporters. Although a police complaint was filed, the case never progressed, adding to the cloud of suspicion surrounding him.

A significant scandal has recently emerged, revealing that Lukhele is at the center of a complex network of suspicious financial transactions involving millions of dollars. These transactions have linked South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), to Lukhele through a series of leaked financial records. This investigation, known as the Swazi Secrets, was spearheaded by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and is based on a trove of documents leaked from the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit (EFIU).

The EFIU, an independent oversight body tasked with preventing money laundering and other illicit financial activities, identified a series of suspicious transactions flowing through politically connected networks in South Africa and into Lukhele’s accounts. The leaked documents show that these transactions, spanning several years, involve money originating from the ANC. Once these funds reached Lukhele’s accounts, they were used to purchase properties, vehicles, and other assets. Beneficiaries of these transactions included not only gospel artists but also members of Eswatini’s Parliament, the then-mayor of Mbabane, and former deputy prime minister Themba Masuku.

The ANC’s historical relationship with Eswatini dates back to the apartheid era when Swaziland, as it was known then, served as a refuge for ANC members in exile. Former South African president Jacob Zuma, a key figure in the ANC, was among those who sought refuge in Swaziland. Zuma’s deep connections with the Swazi royal family, including negotiations to marry a Swazi princess, illustrate the intertwined political and personal ties between the two countries.

Economically, Eswatini is heavily reliant on South Africa, its neighbor and regional powerhouse. Of the four commercial banks operating in Eswatini, three are South African. Lukhele held accounts at the Eswatini arm of First National Bank (FNB), a major South African bank, through which significant funds were funneled.

Lukhele’s rise to prominence in 2019 coincided with his presidency of the Mbabane Swallows and the construction of his large church. Questions about the source of his sudden wealth began to surface, with Lukhele attributing his financial status to shares in various companies and rental properties in Eswatini and South Africa. However, EFIU documents reveal that Lukhele’s accounts had been flagged for suspicious activity as early as 2017, during Zuma’s presidency.

The EFIU noted that between April 2017 and February 2018, Lukhele’s personal checking account received over $3.9 million from various sources. These funds included $3.1 million from payments labeled with the names of six South African companies. The pattern of transactions, where money was quickly transferred from these companies to Lukhele’s account, raised suspicions of money laundering. Further analysis showed that some of the transactions were labeled “ANC” and “Bongani Mahlalela,” the ANC’s chief financial officer, indicating a potential link to the political party’s finances.

As South Africa’s ruling party prepares for a critical election on May 29, 2024, the timing of these revelations could not be more consequential. The ANC, which has seen a steady decline in support since its peak in 2004, now faces the real prospect of losing its majority. Opposition parties have focused their campaigns on the ANC’s alleged corruption, accusing the party of failing to address systemic issues. Current ANC leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to combat corruption, but many voters remain skeptical about the effectiveness of his efforts.

In response to the Swazi Secrets investigation, the ANC has denied any awareness of investigations by South Africa’s Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) or the EFIU into the suspicious transactions involving Lukhele. Nevertheless, the party has promised to conduct a thorough internal investigation to determine the veracity of these claims. A spokesperson for the ANC emphasized the party’s commitment to transparency and accountability, asserting that appropriate actions will be taken if any wrongdoing is confirmed.

The implications of this scandal are far-reaching. The ANC’s historical legacy as a liberation movement and its future political prospects are at stake as it faces one of its most challenging elections. The opposition has effectively used the narrative of corruption to galvanize support, potentially eroding the ANC’s voter base even further. For many South Africans, these new details of potentially illicit transactions involving the ANC reinforce concerns about systemic corruption within the party.

The revelations from the Swazi Secrets investigation shed light on the intricate and troubling connections between South Africa’s ruling party and a controversial religious figure in Eswatini. As voters prepare to cast their ballots, the issue of corruption looms large, threatening to overshadow other campaign issues. The ANC’s commitment to addressing these allegations and restoring public trust will be critical in determining its future. Meanwhile,

Archbishop Lukhele’s involvement in these suspicious transactions adds a new layer of complexity to his already controversial public persona, highlighting the deep entanglement of religion, politics, and finance in the region.

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