South Africa Deputy President Accuses ANC Youth League of Spreading 'Fake News'

Cyril Ramaphosa
South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa gestures at an election rally of the African National Congress (ANC) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, April 16, 2016. Ramaphosa is a likely successor to Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC. Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Updated | South Africa's deputy president has accused the ruling party's influential youth wing of spreading "fake news" about him, in a sign of the rifts within the African National Congress (ANC).

Cyril Ramaphosa, who is one of the ANC's most senior figures, made the accusation Wednesday during a parliamentary session, South Africa's IOL reported.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) has accused Ramaphosa, along with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, of purposefully trying to collapse the state-sponsored South African Airways (SAA) in order to benefit a company allegedly linked to the pair.

"I have told them that the matter they raised publicly was a lie, was a fabrication and, as you say, fake news, because there is no truth that I am conducting business with SAA or any other company," said Ramaphosa in response to a question from an opposition MP.

The dispute is evidence of the internal divisions within the ANC, which is facing some of its biggest challenges since the end of apartheid in 1994. The party recorded its worst election result since 1994 in the 2016 local government elections, and President Jacob Zuma has endured a stream of corruption and personal misconduct allegations.

Zuma is likely to step down as the ANC leader at a party conference scheduled before the end of 2017, and is constitutionally barred from running for another term as president of South Africa in the 2019 general election.

Ramaphosa is seen as one of the main contenders to replace Zuma, along with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former chairperson of the African Union Commission and Zuma's ex-wife. The ANCYL has expressed its backing for Dlamini-Zuma on several occasions.

At a briefing in January, the ANCYL said that Ramaphosa and Gordhan had collaborated to force the state aviation company to close some routes to allow Comair, a private South African airline, to take them over. The ANCYL said that Ramaphosa and Gordhan were stakeholders in companies affiliated to Comair and stood to gain from the collapse of SAA, according to South Africa's Eyewitness News.

Ramaphosa, a prominent businessman before entering government in 2012, has said that he renounced all business interests upon becoming deputy president in 2014. "I did not leave business to come into government business, to come and conduct fraudulent business in government," Ramaphosa told MPs Wednesday. A Treasury spokeswoman tells Newsweeek that Gordhan is not a stakeholder in Comair and that the allegations are "malicious."

Gordhan is widely seen as an opponent of Zuma. The president appointed Gordhan as finance minister in December 2015 after firing the previous incumbent and replacing him with a rookie, but Gordhan has opposed Zuma on several issues and has gone after the Guptas, a wealthy business family with close ties to Zuma that has been accused of wielding undue political influence.

In 2016, South Africa's elite police unit threatened to arrest Gordhan over allegations relating to his time at the head of the country's tax agency. The allegations were widely viewed as politicized, and the police dropped charges against Gordhan days before he was due in court. Ramaphosa expressed his "total support" for Gordhan at the time.

The ANCYL, which has remained loyal to Zuma, has openly criticized Gordhan. The group's firebrand leader, Collen Maine, recently called Gordhan an "impimpi" at a recent ANC gathering, The Times reported. Impimpi is a term that was used for spies working on behalf of the apartheid government; ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said Maine's comments were "reckless and regrettable."

This article has been updated to include a comment from the Treasury.