South Africa’s Embattled Deputy President Resigns

JOHANNESBURG — David Mabuza, the deputy president of South Africa whose political rise became emblematic of the scandals and leadership crises that have eroded the credibility of the governing African National Congress party, has resigned.

Mr. Mabuza was sworn in as deputy president in 2019. Despite longtime accusations of financial misdeeds against Mr. Mabuza, his enduring presence alongside Mr. Ramaphosa cast doubt on the president’s ability to root out corruption and restore the reputation of the governingparty.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Ramaphosa thanked Mr. Mabuza for his “exceptional service to the country over the last five years.”

Mr. Ramaphosa is set to reshuffle his cabinet soon, moving around lawmakers to reflect shifts within the A.N.C. He will also appoint a minister of electricity, a new position announced last month to steer the country out of a “state of disaster” caused by prolonged, daily power outages.

Mr. Mabuza rose from being a little-known union leader in a rural province to second in command of the A.N.C. As deputy president, he focused on land reform and the plight of military veterans demanding compensation, but he largely remained a shadowy figure among many voters.

His long medical absences and trips to Russia for treatment raised questions among South Africans. In November, just weeks before the A.N.C. held its crucial party conference, Mr. Mabuza’s motorcade was involved in a deadly crash that left one of his security guards dead.

Despite being Mr. Ramaphosa’s No. 2, Mr. Mabuza’s political influence had waned in recent years. Once nicknamed “the Cat” for his stealth political machinations, Mr. Mabuza failed to win a second term as the party’s deputy president at the A.N.C.’s conference last December, which meant he would have lost his national office. He was also left out of the party’s 80-person national executive committee.

With the writing on the wall, Mr. Mabuza told mourners during a private funeral service last month that he would soon leave office. Despite his election loss, his announcement seemed to catch the president off guard, according to local media reports. He is likely to be replaced by Paul Mashatile, an ambitious Johannesburg politician who beat out Mr. Mabuza as deputy president of the party.

A former mathematics teacher and school principal, Mr. Mabuza used his background in teachers’ unions and education activism to bolster his political career. After South Africa transitioned from apartheid to democracy, he rose rapidly, becoming A.N.C. chairman in 2007 and premier of Mpumalanga, a small province in the east of the country.

A 2018 investigation by The New York Times found that Mr. Mabuza and his allies had siphoned money from Mpumalanga province’s education system. Some schools were built as an easy way to funnel money, while many more classrooms crumbled. His critics say the money was used to helped build a powerful political machine with Mr. Mabuza at the helm. Mpumalanga is largely rural and impoverished, yet Mr. Mabuza became wealthy during his time as premier.

Mr. Mabuza only took office in 2019 once the A.N.C.’s internal disciplinary committee cleared him of any allegations, his office said. A recent sweeping judicial commission of inquiry into corruption also “started and finished without Mabuza’s name being mentioned,” Matshepo Seedat, Mr. Mabuza’s spokeswoman, said. He was never criminally charged.

Outside of provincial politics, he has been unable to sustain power and influence. His own province eventually snubbed him: Mpumalanga backed another candidate at the December conference.

“I am no kingmaker,” Mr. Mabuza said in response to The Times’s 2018 investigation, rejecting the report. “I abhor corruption. Any fiction to the contrary or ‘fake news’ is laughable.”

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