Desmond Tutu, Whose Voice Helped Slay Apartheid, Dies at 90

His words seemed prophetic when, in 2016, an alliance of religious leaders in South Africa joined other critics in urging Mr. Zuma to quit. In early 2018, Mr. Zuma was ousted after a power struggle with his deputy, Mr. Ramaphosa, who took over the presidency in February of that year.

By then, Archbishop Tutu had largely stopped giving interviews because of failing health and rarely appeared in public. But a few months after Mr. Ramaphosa was sworn in as the new president with the promise of a “new dawn” for the nation, the archbishop welcomed him at his home.

“Know that we pray regularly for you and your colleagues that this must not be a false dawn,” Archbishop Tutu warned Mr. Ramaphosa.

At that time, support for the African National Congress had declined, even though it remained the country’s biggest political party. In elections in 2016, while still under the leadership of Mr. Zuma, the party’s share of the vote slipped to its lowest level since the end of apartheid. Mr. Ramaphosa struggled to reverse that trend, but earned some praise later for his robust handling of the coronavirus crisis.

For much of his life, Archbishop Tutu was a spellbinding preacher, his voice by turns sonorous and high-pitched. He often descended from the pulpit to embrace his parishioners. Occasionally he would break into a pixielike dance in the aisles, punctuating his message with the wit and the chuckling that became his hallmark, inviting his audience into a jubilant bond of fellowship. While assuring his parishioners of God’s love, he exhorted them to follow the path of nonviolence in their struggle.

Politics were inherent in his religious teachings. “We had the land, and they had the Bible,” he said in one of his parables. “Then they said, ‘Let us pray,’ and we closed our eyes. When we opened them again, they had the land and we had the Bible. Maybe we got the better end of the deal.”

His moral leadership, combined with his winning effervescence, made him something of a global celebrity. He was photographed at glittering social functions, appeared in documentaries and chatted with talk-show hosts. Even in late 2015, when his health seemed poor, he met with Prince Harry of Britain, who presented him with an honor on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

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A.N.C. Suffers Worst Election Setback Since End of Apartheid

JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress, South Africa’s once-vaunted liberation movement, suffered its worst election showing since coming to power in 1994, according to the results of municipal elections released Thursday.

Facing widespread anger over corruption and collapsing services, the party won less than 50 percent of the vote nationally on Monday, the first time in its history that it has failed to cross that threshold.

Voters went to the polls on Monday to choose councilors and mayors to govern towns and cities, but they used the opportunity to vent their grievances over national issues, including record unemployment and anger over the handling of Covid. The result was a resounding rebuke for the A.N.C., particularly in urban areas. Significantly low voter turnout was a further indictment of the A.N.C. and of the main opposition parties, with voters choosing smaller, identity-driven parties.

After municipal setbacks in 2016, A.N.C. leaders promised to “learn from our mistakes,” and they staked their hopes this year on polling that found President Cyril Ramaphosa with a higher approval rating than that of his party.

South Africans may feel toward their president, they see a disconnect between his message of national renewal and the corruption that has sullied his party and crippled municipalities.

“They listen to him, they like him,” said Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg. “But when they lower their eyes to the local leaders that are there, they see mediocrity.”

Not since the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela was the face of the party, has the A.N.C. so heavily relied on the personality of its leader in a local election, said William Gumede, chair of the Democracy Works Foundation. It was not enough to convince voters, but the A.N.C. may have dipped below 40 percent if Mr. Ramaphosa were not at the center of the campaign, Mr. Gumede said.

In the aftermath of the embarrassing showing this week, Mr. Ramaphosa is likely to face leadership challenges from within his party. To replace him, his opponents will have to find a unifying candidate. Mr. Ramaphosa, in turn, may have to fire tainted but popular leaders, Mr. Gumede said.

This fallout could lead to a split in the ruling party but prove to be good for South African voters.

“It’s really energized the country again. There was a sense of despair and hopelessness in the country because the A.N.C. was this dominant force,” Mr. Gumede said.

Even with its losses Monday, the A.N.C. remains South Africa’s dominant party, having secured 46 percent of the vote.

But the modest victory means it will now be forced to enter coalitions with smaller parties in cities it once comfortably controlled. It will also have to pursue political compromises in Gauteng Province, home to the economic capital, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, the seat of government.

A.N.C. officials tried to cast the results in the best light.

“We’re not a loser here,” Jessie Duarte, the party’s deputy secretary general, said at a news briefing on the floor of the results center in Pretoria. “As far as we’re concerned, we are the winning party on that board.”

But Ms. Duarte acknowledged that voters had sent a message.

“We do not disrespect the electorate,” she said. “They’ve spoken.” She said the party would be “pragmatic” in analyzing its losses.

Yet it was not simply the losses that unsettled A.N.C. leaders. Many South Africans appeared to be sending a message by not casting ballots at all. Voter turnout was 47 percent, an 11 percentage point drop from the last election.

While political parties sought to blame the low turnout on a campaign season compressed by Covid-19 regulations and poor weather in some parts of the country, many observers attributed it to a dispiriting political landscape. Inaction at the polls, one analyst suggested, was a form of action.

“We need to start analyzing and speaking about not voting as a political activity in itself,” said Tasneem Essop, a researcher at the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Lungisile Dlamini, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who lives in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, was among those South Africans who did not go to the polls.

“I didn’t see the need,” she said. “They’re not doing anything, so what’s the point of voting?”

Daniel Vinokur, 27, worked as an auditor during the ballot count — but none of the ballots counted was his, he said.

“I just don’t have a political party I identify with,” he said.

Many of those who did vote said they were motivated by national issues, like South Africa’s stagnant economy and record unemployment, which have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures.

“I’m thinking about the youth,” said Bongile Gramany, a 62-year-old A.N.C. supporter who voted at a church in Alexandra township. “If they can help the youth to get jobs, to get skills, I’ll be happy.”

Like many of the party’s backers, Ms. Gramany pointed to the A.N.C.’s governing experience and said she believed that “they can change.”

The party still plays an outsize role in South Africa’s political landscape and in voters’ psyches, said Ms. Essop, the political analyst. For some South Africans, the decision not to vote, or to vote for a smaller party, may have partly been meant to punish a party that has fallen short of the ideals of Mandela, its famed leader, she said.

Still, despite a record 95,427 candidates running for 10,468 council seats, the main opposition parties struggled for traction. The Democratic Alliance, which is the leading opposition, failed to make gains, instead, losing support by 5 percentage points since 2016.

Opposition parties that did attract voters drew on issues of identity in communities where people felt let down by the governing party.

In KwaZulu-Natal Province, once an A.N.C. stronghold, the Inkatha Freedom Party leaned on a history of Zulu nationalism to help it win nearly a quarter of the vote in the largely rural province.

Similarly, the Freedom Front Plus, a historically Afrikaner nationalist party that repositioned itself as a bulwark for all minorities against the A.N.C., increased its support across the country.

These gains may be a sign that South African voters are shifting to the political right. Instead of the “big ideologies” of left-wing parties, said Susan Booysen, head of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection in Johannesburg, some voters may want parties and civic organizations they believe “can get things done.”

“I think it is relatively easy for a community to turn to that direction,” she said, “when they are exposed to such harsh conditions, and when national government does not lend a helping hand.”

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South African President Appears Before Corruption Investigators

JOHANNESBURG — Three years ago, amid a flurry of corruption scandals that rocked South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa assumed power on promises to root out graft and restore public confidence in the governing party, the African National Congress.

But over the past year, those efforts have been threatened by a brazen show of defiance from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who has snubbed a commission investigating graft during his tenure, refused to appear before the country’s highest court and lobbed attacks on its judges.

Mr. Ramaphosa appeared before corruption investigators himself on Wednesday to account for his party’s scandals and sought to reinforce his vision for a corruption-free A.N.C. His appearance sent a message to a disillusioned nation: No one in South Africa — even a sitting president — is above the law.

“When I was confirming that I would be appearing, I happened to be talking to one of my colleagues who is also a head of state,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in his opening statement. “His reaction was, ‘Ah, how can you do that as head of state?’ I said: ‘This is how our democracy works.’”

from state coffers during Mr. Zuma’s tenure, according to government estimates.

Mr. Ramaphosa’s testimony on Wednesday is the first in four days of questioning at the South African Commission on State Capture, an inquiry into the endemic graft during that period. He was called to answer questions both in his role as the current leader of the A.N.C. and as Mr. Zuma’s former deputy.

As part of its broad probe, the panel is investigating whether the current president was directly involved in corruption in his previous role overseeing the A.N.C.’s deployment of often unqualified loyalists to key government positions. Those appointments, according to testimony to the commission, contributed to the hollowing out of the state and led to backdoor deals that drained public funds.

His testimony comes as the inquiry prepares to deliver its final report in June and as Mr. Zuma — the center of the investigation — has staunchly resisted calls to appear before investigators.

In recent months, the former president defied a court order to appear before the commission, prompting its chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for contempt of court. When the country’s top court heard that case last month, Mr. Zuma again refused to appear — a move that many saw as an open challenge to the country’s democratic institutions.

Mr. Zuma, who denies all accusations against him, has accused the corruption inquiry’s leader, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of harboring a personal vendetta, and has attacked the investigation itself.

“What we’ve seen the last couple of months is an attack led by Jacob Zuma on the constitutional system,” said William Gumede, the chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. “This is really a moment in our country where we have to decide if we are either for constitutional democracy or we reject it fully.”

The stark contrast between Mr. Zuma’s and Mr. Ramaphosa’s willingness to engage with the commission reflects an escalating showdown within the A.N.C., Nelson Mandela’s once-celebrated movement for liberation which has governed the country since apartheid ended in 1994.

In recent years, the party has become deeply divided between those loyal to Mr. Zuma — and his vision of a liberation party that stands above the law — and those who support Mr. Ramaphosa’s efforts to overhaul it.

“Both represent two different faces of the party, the democratic and the undemocratic. Both are battling for the soul of the A.N.C.,” Mr. Gumede said.

In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa offered a thinly veiled but damning condemnation of Mr. Zuma and his allies who are also under investigation for graft, which Mr. Ramaphosa, analysts and watchdog groups have said remains a problem within the party’s ranks.

Many have been emboldened by Mr. Zuma’s recent defiance in efforts to hold officials accountable. They include another top A.N.C. official, Ace Magashule, who has refused to step down from his current post despite corruption charges prosecutors recently laid against him. He denies the charges.

“The position of the A.N.C. on leaders and members who have been complicit in acts of corruption or other crimes: Their actions are a direct violation not only of the laws of the Republic, but also of the A.N.C. constitution, its values and principles,” said Mr. Ramaphosa, sitting before the commission’s chief investigator in a large wood-paneled auditorium. “Such members must face the full legal consequences of their actions.”

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South Africa Court Set to Rule on Jacob Zuma, and an Era of Impunity

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — For nearly three years, South African investigators have been unearthing a web of corruption around the former president, Jacob Zuma, in a public inquiry that has captivated the country.

There were bribes paid in top-shelf whiskey, luxury cars and a cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton bag. High-ranking officials distributed lucrative government contracts in exchange for monthly handouts. That era of graft drained tens of billions of dollars from state coffers and has become one of the most infamous chapters of South Africa’s post-apartheid history.

Now, the country’s highest court will determine whether Mr. Zuma can be held accountable for contempt of court, and for an era of consequence-free corruption, in a hearing that represents one of the greatest tests for South Africa’s democratic institutions in recent years.

“This is an absolutely critical moment: The principle that all people will be equal before the law is being challenged and the constitutional system itself is being challenged,” said William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation, a South African nonprofit group. “Essentially, the former president is saying he is above the law of the country, he is above the Constitution, he is untouchable.”

Mr. Zuma defied a court order to appear before corruption investigators, a move that challenged the legitimacy of South Africa’s legal system and prompted the chief investigator to seek a two-year prison sentence for Mr. Zuma for contempt of court.

The Constitutional Court is unlikely to impose such a harsh sentence when the verdict is announced in the coming weeks. Doing so could trigger mass protests by supporters of Mr. Zuma and destabilize the country as it reels from the worst coronavirus outbreak on the continent, an economy battered by the pandemic and record-high unemployment.

Nonetheless, the hearing itself is seen as an important moment for South Africa, which has been plagued with corruption over the last decade, with few officials held accountable.

The case has also underscored the challenges facing the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has governed the country since the end of apartheid in 1994. During Mr. Zuma’s nine-year tenure, the party became consumed by corruption scandals that tarnished its image and sparked public outrage over mismanagement.

Mr. Zuma was ousted from the presidency in 2018, the A.N.C. became increasingly polarized between loyalists of the former president and supporters of his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who vowed to crack down on corruption and restore the public’s confidence.

allegations that he took bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s.

“For 15 years or more, Jacob Zuma has been using the strength of the South African court system to put off his day in court” by appealing cases against him, said Richard Calland, a constitutional law professor at the University of Cape Town. “But he is now running out of legal runway. This is the moment where he finally meets his Waterloo legally.”

Mr. Zuma has denied all allegations from both cases. In recent months, he has also accused the corruption inquiry’s leader, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of harboring a personal vendetta against him, and attacked the investigation itself.

Established in 2018, the investigation is known as the Commission on State Capture, a term that has become a buzzword in South Africa and refers to corruption at such a high level that private groups effectively purchased the power to divert state resources into their own hands.

So far the commission has interviewed more than 250 witnesses in televised hearings that have become a telenovela of sorts about the country’s deep-seated corruption. It is expected to end in June, and deliver a report to South African officials that could include suggestions for prosecution.

siphoned from state coffers during his tenure, which ended in 2018 amid public outrage over graft and bitter infighting within the governing party.

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