Zuma ally Nathi Nheko resigns from governing ANC

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A former senior government minister in South Africa has left the governing African National Congress (ANC), with a blistering attack on the party.

Nathi Nhleko said it was “painful” to see the ANC turn into a party he no longer recognised, accusing it of introducing austerity measures and dismantling state-owned companies.

Mr Nhleko was close to the scandal-hit ex-President Jacob Zuma.

Earlier this year, the ANC suspended Mr Zuma for backing a rival party.

An ANC official responded to Mr Nhleko’s resignation by saying “good riddance”.

Mr Zuma joined the new uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party in December, and is spearheading its campaign for votes in the build-up to the 29 May general election.

It is unclear whether Mr Nhleko intends to do likewise, but some of the rhetoric in his resignation letter was similar to that used by Mr Zuma when he announced in December that he was throwing his weight behind MK.

That party is named after the armed wing that the ANC formed when it was fighting white-minority rule in South Africa.

As the police minister in Mr Zuma’s cabinet, Mr Nhleko gained infamy for defending the use of $23m (£15m) of government money to upgrade the-then president’s private residence in the village of Nkandla.

At the time, Mr Nhleko was widely mocked for saying the expenditure was part of necessary security upgrades.

Nathi Nhleko gained notoriety for defending the use of government money to upgrade the private home of ex-President Jacob Zuma

This included the building of a swimming pool which he described as a fire pool that could be used in the event a fire broke out at the residence in Mr Zuma’s home village of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

An amphitheatre, cattle enclosure and chicken run were also built.

On the campaign trail in January, ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula said Mr Nhleko was “sweating” at the time as he was forced to defend “lies” in parliament.

Mr Nhleko suggested that these comments triggered his decision to quit the party.

“In the past few years, I have observed that I no longer recognise this ANC that I joined, the ANC whose only aspiration was to liberate our people,” he said, in the resignation letter quoted by the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

This included handing control of key sectors of the economy to the “white-dominated private sector”, and reducing “social spending” to the detriment of the financially needy, Mr Nhleko added.

In his response, ANC KwaZulu-Natal Secretary Bheki Mtolo said that Mr Nhleko had destroyed his political career when he described the swimming pool as a “fire pool”.

“It’s good riddance, it’s long overdue,” Mr Mtolo was quoted as saying by the privately owned Eyewitness News.

Mr Nhleko served as police minister from 2014 to 2017, and then as public works minister until Mr Zuma was removed as president by the incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa.

In December, Mr Zuma said it “would be a betrayal” to campaign for the Ramaphosa-led ANC in the May election.

He accused Mr Ramaphosa of being a “proxy of white monopoly capital”, a charge the ANC has denied.

An opinion poll released last month gave MK around 10% of the national vote and a quarter of the vote in Mr Zuma’s political heartland of KwaZulu-Natal.

The election is expected to be the toughest for the ANC, with several opinion polls suggesting that it could lose its outright majority for the first time since it took power in 1994.

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