Africa

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now to South Africa, which is facing its own battle over corruption. Some prominent politicians in the ruling African National Congress are facing intense scrutiny over their luxury lifestyles. Critics are demanding that the government conduct what they call Lifestyle Audits.

NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault begins her story with a profile of one party politician under fire.

(Soundbite of crows chatter)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) see what you're giving us is free.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It was one of the more raucous press conferences I've attended, with ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu frequently flogging journalists investigating his president, Julius Malema, on conflict of interest charges, conflicting statements about his business interests and his questionable lifestyle.

Mr. FLOYD SHIVAMBU (Spokesman, ANC Youth League): Let us take all the questions proposed on this issue. The alleged - the investigator...

HUNTER-GAULT: Shivambu was calling on one of the many journalists digging into Julius Malemas business ties and his life style. Most of the dozen or so journalists have been working on stories about how the 29-year-old Malema could afford what has been widely described as his lavish lifestyle on his ANC salary - reportedly the equivalent of some $2500 a month.

City Press investigative reporter, Piet Rampedi, earlier referred to as the alleged investigator.

Mr. PIET RAMPEDI (Investigative Reporter, City Press): He owns, you know, very luxurious cars. He owns two houses - one worth 3.6 million rand, the other one worth 1.1 million rand. And he has bought all these properties since 2007. Common sense would tell you that there was no way he would have earned enough to buy those - those houses.

HUNTER-GAULT: Rampedi has been digging into the Malema story for many months, and he and other journalists have recently reported Malemas ongoing ties to several companies which benefited, into the millions, through government contracts in the countrys province Malema hails from - ties, Malema insists, he told his attorneys to break once he became Youth League president in 2008, but which are still being listed in public documents the journalists obtained.

Mr. RAMPEDI: There was always this big question from almost everybody that where does this guy gets all the money to sustain his seemingly, you know, luxurious lifestyle? He has always denied having any business links. He has always denied having any business interests. He has always denied having any interest in any company.

HUNTER-GAULT: The speculation in the media, among opposition parties and some civil society organizations, is that Malema is among some ruling African National Congress party politicians who have used their political power to enrich themselves and their friends - not only involving themselves in private enterprise, but ensuring their political allies are rewarded with lucrative business contracts or tenders, closing the door on others.

During a radio interview as combative as the press conference, Malema himself was asked by host Redi Direko, about the reports he had used his influence to make money. His response...

Mr. JULIUS MALEMA (President, ANC Youth League): These are all lies. This is a fabrication.

HUNTER-GAULT: Although so far hes refused to do so, Malema said he could account for where all of his money comes from.

Mr. MALEMA: Ill tell you this one comes from here, this one...

Ms. REDI DIREKO (Radio Host): So you did get some money from whichever quarter.

Mr. MALEMA: Theres nothing I got from a - this government, I mean, this...

Ms. DIREKO: Tenders.

Mr. MALEMA: ...tenders and companies involved here. So Im saying to you, Ive got nothing to do with stealing from the poor. Theres nothing wrong Ive done.

HUNTER-GAULT: But while not naming Malema specifically, the African National Congresss alliance partner, the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions, has been among the strongest voices calling for lifestyle audits.

COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi insists the offenders are a small minority, and while refusing to name names, he calls those being awarded lucrative contracts or tenders - tenderpreneurs.

Mr. ZWELINZIMA VAVI (General Secretary, Congress of South African Trade Unions): People like us - sick and tired of the stories that they have been reading in the newspapers of the tenderpreneurs, of these back-stabbers and crass materialists...

HUNTER-GAULT: But South African President Jacob Zuma, once charged and acquitted of corruption, has come out against the lifestyle audits. The debate is likely to intensify, not least because of a recent report of more than 2,000 government officials benefiting from government tenders worth more than the U.S. equivalent of some $26 million.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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